Assistive Technology and Sensory Substitution

Over the last several decades, a number of new assistive technologies, many based on electronics and computers, have been adopted as more effective ways of promoting sensory substitution. This is especially true for ameliorating blindness. For example, access to print and other forms of text has been improved with these technologies: electronic braille displays, vibtrotactile display of optically sensed print (Bliss et al. 1970), and speech display of text sensed by video camera (Kurzweil 1989). For obstacle avoidance and sensing of the local environment, a number of ultrasonic sensors have been developed that use either auditory or tactile displays (Brabyn 1985; Collins 1985; Kay 1985). For help with large-scale wayfinding, assistive technologies now include electronic signage, like the system of Talking Signs (Crandall et al. 1993; Loughborough 1979; see also http://www.talkingsigns.com/), and navigation systems relying on the Global Positioning System (Loomis et al. 2001), both of which make use of auditory displays. For deaf people, improved access to spoken language has been made possible by automatic speech recognition coupled with visible display of text; in addition, research has been conducted on vibrotactile speech displays (Weisenberger et al. 1989) and synthetic visual displays of sign language (Pavel et al. 1987). Finally, for deaf-blind people, exploratory research has been conducted with electromechanical Tadoma displays (Tan et al. 1989) and finger spelling displays (Jaffe 1994).

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