Hearing : Student Helps Hearing Impaired with Online Technology

An Internet-based sign language service launched by a university student a few years ago is finding its way into hotels, restaurants and other public places.

The service involves a notebook or tablet computer through which a hearing-impaired person at, say, a shoe store, speaks in sign language to an interpreter to get information from a sales clerk about trendy shoes. The interpreter then tells the clerk what the shopper wants.

The clerk's reply is convened to the shopper by the interpreter via the computer.

The service is available through ShuR Co. in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, established by Junto Ohki in 2008 when he was a second-year university student.

Ohki, 25, founded the company to help create "a society where everyone can live without feeling handicapped." He came to embrace the cause when he filmed a tourist with hearing difficulties, witnessing firsthand the hardships the hearing impaired experience every day.

Ohki set up a sign language circle at his university. As a student fluent in sign language, familiar with information technology and studying business administration, "I considered it possible to help them (hearing-impaired people) address hardships as a business," Ohki says, recalling his decision to establish ShuR.

Ohki became confident in the new service when he heard that a user, who asked a train station worker the way to a museum, received other kinds of information such as its closing time.

The service can exchange much more information and faster than communication through writing, he thought.

The service is now available at some 350 hotels, restaurants, train stations and other places. It is free of charge while interpreters are at the office.

There were an estimated 340,000 people in Japan with speaking and hearing difficulties in 2006, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Ohki is now developing an online dictionary to understand manual signs as part of efforts to contribute to hearing-impaired persons' social participation and pursuit of dreams.

© 2013 Kyodo News International, Inc