By Joy M. Lazcano
S&T Media Service, DOST-STII
At first, you might think “I Hear U” is just a textspeak, sounding hip especially for today’s text generation. But I Hear U somewhere in Palawan is beyond that. It is an android mobile application to help persons with hearing impairment learn the ropes on finger spelling or communicating using alpha and numerical systems through hand gestures.
While most teens are busy posting status messages and selfies, Marian Elaine Dechaves and Charmaine Aubrey Galindez are doing something more serious for their age. They hang out longer on their computers, not to post their outfits of the day or OOTDs, throwback Thursday or TBT photos, and hashtags but rather, they are writing program codes which someday could become huge especially in the age of the Internet of Things.
During the celebration of the Regional Invention Contests and Exhibits which coincided with the Southern Luzon Cluster Science and Technology Fair held in Puerto Princesa City Coliseum in Puerto Prinsesa City, Palawan, schoolmates Marian and Charmaine of Bansud National High School- Regional Science High School for MIMAROPA proudly showed their official entry in the Department of Science and Technology-sponsored invention contest.
I Hear U is an ingenious brand name to relay its service as a two-way communication app for persons with hearing disability. The app is basically an instant messaging system with icons showing the various dactyl or hand gestures representing letters and numerals to spell-out words to relay messages.
From its main menu, users can choose from Normal or Deaf configurations. The Deaf option shows a keypad with various finger gestures icons with its equivalent alphabet subscripts.
The user then types in the desired message using the dactyl alphabets and send it through the phone’s built-in Bluetooth file transferring device. The recipient then receives the message in pure alphabet characters. Marian explained that originally, the person on the other phone would receive the message in dactyl icons. However, intended end-users prefer to receive the normal apha-numeric characters rather than the icons.
The application is still on its early stage, and Marian says that its SMS capability will follow further in the development stage.
The data transfer using Bluetooth technology can only reach up to 10 meters only. And since the messages are transferred using Bluetooth technology, Charmaine explained that the phones need to be paired every time the app is used.
Although I Hear U is still on its development stage, the duo gets a lot of advice from random users on how to improve their invention.
Surprisingly, both Marian and Charmaine are still in grade school and too early for them to mind real-world problems. However, the two seem to care less on their age as they already recognize the needs of some underserved communities in the country. “We developed this app because we noticed that majority of apps cater only to the typical type of consumer and we want an app that will address the needs of persons with special needs,” explains Marian.
Also, the two are hardly experts in programming. According to Marian, she only learned about programming or writing codes a few months back. “I just taught myself to code,” says Marian. Similarly, Charmaine says that programming for her was more of a hobby. “We get to learn to code using the Ai2Live Complete software, which gives also gives us the needed tutorials,” says Charmaine.
Aside from coding algorithms for the app, the two also learned the nitty-gritty of designs. Marian explained that she consciously picked fonts and colors that match the preferences of intended clients. “You cannot use red, because the color is too strong and could hurt your sight in the long run. Then someone suggested to use blue, but blue and other dark colors are attractive to mosquitoes,” she informs.
Consequently, I Hear U went live a few months from its development and was demonstrated in Gloria Central School and Juan Morente Sr. Memorial Pilot School in Oriental Mindoro. The demo was evaluated by 30 users in the Special Education class of the said schools. The app was evaluated based on the apps ease of use, accuracy, and speed of data transfer. Out of the three parameters, the users found the app easy to use, with accurate and fast data transferring capability.
However, the app can only be used locally since there is no standard in finger spelling technique. Charmaine explained that internationally, the technique varies in different countries like in Germany where finger spelling is based on the palm lines, while India has different sets of references.
The SLC S&T Fair is a yearly celebration that promotes S&T awareness to the public. The Fair highlights the various strides in the local science community, particularly in Southern Luzon which include the National Capital Region, Regions III, IV-A, IV-B, and V. For this year, DOST Regional Office IV-B hosted the three day celebration.