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Phone service for hearing impaired helps promote independent lifestyles: survey

TOKYO -- A new phone service that translates sign language gestures or written text into audio for the person on the end of the line enables people with impaired hearing to feel more independent and like valuable members of society, a survey by the Nippon Foundation has shown.

The phone relay service is a unique model project that has been conducted by the foundation since 2013. Those with impaired hearing communicate online with an operator in sign language or in writing, and the operator relays the message to the person at the end of the phone line.

Commenting on the survey, an official at the foundation said, "Our service helps to improve the quality of life for those with hearing impairments."

In the summer of 2018, the foundation emailed registered service users and asked them to assess the service based on a five-point rating scale, and it gathered responses from 1,299 users, some 26 percent.

According to the survey results, in response to a question about whether they live independent lives, the ratio of those who answered positively rose by 14 points after the respondents used the service, from 70 percent to 84 percent. In answering a question about whether they can express clearly what they think, the ratio rose by 19 points after they used the service, from 54 percent to 73 percent. The ratio rose by 9 points, from 45 percent to 54 percent in response to question about whether they feel accepted as valuable members of society.

Moreover, more than half of the service users think that they can smoothly facilitate necessary procedures and contracts often needed for daily life and they can also deal with urgent matters, compared to less than half of them who thought so before using the service.

Masayuki Inoue, associate professor specializing in welfare information engineering at Tsukuba University of Technology, pointed out, "Those who don't know a world with sounds have fewer chances of being involved in society than those who do. The experience of communicating with those with hearing on the phone without relying on others will lead those with hearing impairments to become more confident."

(Japanese original by Hitomi Tanimoto, Medical Welfare News Department)

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