Google+ Hangouts To Add Sign Language Support

By Megan O'Neill Comment

Google+ just launched and they’re already talking about new updates and features.  One such update will be especially appreciated by deaf Google+ users.  According to GigaOM’s NewTeeVee, Google will be launching a field test with a set of users that are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) in an effort to make Hangouts more accessible to the deaf and hearing impaired.

NewTeeVee’s Janko Roettgers writes that the Hangouts field test for the hearing impaired will be led by Google Engineering Director Chee Chew and Google Technical Program Manager for Accessibility Engineering Naomi Black.  Chee Chew elaborates on the initiative, as well as his connection to it, in a post on Google Plus:

“One area that I’m personally quite passionate about is facilitating communications and community for the deaf.  My grandfather, aunt, and uncle were/are all deaf.  While I’m very much a novice, I find ASL to be a beautiful expressive language.  I hope that Hangouts can be awesome for the deaf and hh (hard of hearing) community as well as the hearing.”

In his post, Chew invites deaf and hard of hearing users and their signing families to join Google+ and partner with them to give feedback as they strive to make Google+ better for the hearing impaired.  Chew asks that those who are interested send him a private post to get involved.

Many video chat applications, like Skype, are great for the hearing impaired.  Google+ makes things a little difficult, however, because it alternates focus between different chat members based on who happens to be talking.  If users are speaking sign language, this becomes difficult, as there is no audible talking going on.  Google, therefore, needs to find other indicators to know who to showcase in a conversation.

As our culture moves further and further online, accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing has become more and more of an issue.  New regulations are requiring online video to be captioned, lawsuits are being filed against sites that don’t make their material accessible to the hearing impaired, and I’m happy to see that Google is doing their part to help.

What’s your take on this news?  And if you or someone you know is deaf or hard of hearing, do you have any suggestions for ways in which Hangouts could become more accessible for the hearing impaired?

Image via Big Red Flutes

Megan O’Neill is the resident web video enthusiast here at Social Times.  Megan covers everything from the latest viral videos to online video news and tips, and has a passion for bizarre, original and revolutionary content and ideas.