Yesterday, thanks to my generous dean, I attended a conference at RIT. The purpose of it was to explore and celebrate advancing effective access technologies for disabled people. During one of the keynote addresses, the speaker commented on how new communication technologies, set to be available in the new year, meant that signing people would have easier access to businesses and services via visual (ie. sign language) means.
As I sat there, I couldn’t help but think of a paradox that seems to be brewing between people who support communication access services such as virtual interpreting services, and the medical technologies industries working hard at eliminating signing peoples.
I also was reflecting on the current students at NTID who cannot understand their signing professors and need oral interpreters in the classrooms there. Aren’t ever-improving medical technologies companies and advancing communications access firms chasing each others tails? What good will sign-access technologies be to a future generation of people who don’t sign? Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think sign is going to disappear. It’s become too popular as a second language in secondary schools. But I do see the irony of hearing kids learning a language that deaf children’s parents are still, unbelievably (!), actively discouraged to teach their children.
What was remarkable about the conference yesterday was the chance to see the entrepreneurs making headway promoting technologies that weren’t so much about assimilation as they were emancipation. These technologies aren’t looking to fix people, rather they are looking to adapt the spaces to suit the needs of people who occupy them. Now that’s cool stuff.