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New Technology on the Horizon for Deaf Students

robotic hand

For students who have a hearing deficit or are deaf, things can be more challenging for them in a mainstream classroom. We often take simple things for granted. What happens if they are unable to read lips and the substitute teacher for the day does not know sign language? While writing may be a solution for older students, it won’t always work with younger children. This situation could happen any given day or at events outside of the normal school day. These students have rights and it is our responsibility to make sure they are able to communicate with others.

Shortage of Sign Language Interpreters

The reality is that there is a big sign language interpreter shortage in the United States and beyond. While schools do their best to have interpreters available for big meetings, events, and situations they cannot always be there. This means that schools have had to get creative in ways to assist students when situations come up.

The ability to go online and reach someone who may not be local has helped a lot in recent years. This means that an individual interpreter may assist more than one location at a time. Even with this as a possibility, there is still an overwhelming need for more assistance. In addition to this, the cost of a person can be a lot after a certain amount of time.

Project Aslan Robotic Arm

Engineers at the University of Antwerp, Belgium have created Aslan. Aslan stands for Antwerp’s Sign Language Actuating Node. This robotic arm has been made using a 3D printer. The plastic parts are printed and then moved by 16 motors, three motor controls, a microcomputer, and other components. Aslan helps to translate spoken word and text into sign gestures on the hand. Aslan’s robotic hand is connected to a computer which sends messages to it so it is able to fingerspell items. The hand gestures are clear enough to be understood.

The cost of Aslan makes it very promising for future use in schools and more. It costs under $600 to make. Over time, they hope to make a set of hands that will work together to do more traditional sign language and not simply fingerspelling. The ultimate goal is not for these robotic hands to replace interpreters, but to make services more readily available to those in need.

Teachers of the deaf and sign language interpreters must keep up to date on new technology that is coming out. Work with your department to see what you may be able to incorporate into your budget and use to make students more successful in their academic setting. How would you utilize an Aslan robotic arm if you had it in your school?


All the new technology being used in healthcare and in school is exciting! Make your career just as exciting by finding your next school-based position. Start here to check out our current openings.

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