A new device will let people who communicate through sign language to translate their hand movements into spoken words.
The Sign Language Ring created by six designers from Asia University won one of the coveted 2013 Red Dot Design Concept Awards, an international competition that received more than 15,500 applications.
The device, which actually incorporates multiple rings and two bracelets, was inspired by Buddhist prayer beads.
The rings "read" the hand movements of sign language and the bracelets then transmit or "speak" those words out loud. If another person responds verbally, the device can translate the voice to text that appears on the bracelet.
Users can also pre-record certain movements to customize their device and develop conversational shortcuts, or even slang.
But some people in the deaf community have reservations about the device's ability to fully translate sign language.
Guillaume Chastel, senior lecturer in the American Sign Language Department at the University of Rochester in New York, said that unlike a live interpreter, the device could make mistakes in translating his sign language.
Chastel recognizes, however, that a live interpreter is not always available, and that the Sign Language Ring device could help deaf people with such activities as running errands.
"We do use gestures or write notes ... [but] writing back and forth takes so long," said Chastel about communicating while at a store. "If you're doing something basic and you can throw on these bracelets, that would be a good option."
Others worry that the device could miss crucial information conveyed in the face or in the movements of the person signing.
Howard Rosenblum, the CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, said in a statement that association officials worried about the accuracy of the device.
"American Sign Language encompasses more than what would be measured in the wrist and fingers. ASL relies on wrist movements, handshapes, finger-spelling, body movements and facial expressions," said Rosenblum, who emphasized that he had not seen the device. "The National Association of the Deaf encourages the developers of this emerging technology to work with the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, and the hearing community, to ensure that their innovative product meets our needs."
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, two to three of every 1,000 children in the United States are born deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Nine out of 10 children born deaf have parents who can hear.