Introduction to the Center on Access Technology
RIT’s National Technical Institute of the Deaf’s (NTID) Center on Access Technology (CAT) is a center where innovative accessible solutions for the Deaf and hard of hearing community are imagined and created. Students work alongside RIT faculty and staff to explore how current and emerging technology can be used for accessibility purposes. At times, these projects provide CAT with the opportunity to partner with professional organizations, industries, and other educational institutions.
It is CAT’s goal is to provide prototypes or solutions that are easy to obtain and use, by people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or deafblind. The projects being explored by CAT are ones that can be used in classrooms, wireless notification devices, captioning services, mobile apps for accessibility, and more. For example, the Center on Access Technology team recently created a progressive web application to assist with communication on campus. TigerChat was created to help faculty, staff, and students communicate with each other while masked; a change of social norms due to COVID.
A CAT team of 5 students and 5 staff developed TigerChat during the summer and the web-based speech to text translation service was launched campus-wide at the start of school. To date, more than 1500 members of the RIT community are using TigerChat. Another project recently explored in CAT involved ways to improve communication for Deaf athletes on RIT’s rowing team. This project required collaborating with RIT’s athletic department and the varsity rowing team. In an 8-person racing boat where timing is crucial, everyone on the boat needs to be stroking simultaneously. The rowing strokes are called out using verbal commands by the coxswain. Deaf rowers are left to rely on the actions of their teammates instead of the verbal cues provided. Led by student researchers, a CAT team explored ways to provide captioning through automatic speech recognition that did not depend on Wi-Fi connectivity, was water-proof, easy to detach and move throughout the boat, and was easy to read. The team created a prototype and continues to explore ways of making rowing inclusive for Deaf athletes.
Other projects that have been explored in CAT include: swimming start lights, starting blocks for runners, hybrid captioning, accessibility apps, and accessible telecommunication solutions.
CAT’s research in accessible telecommunication solutions has resulted in a multi-year project called IRIS, named for the Greek goddess of communication. IRIS is a collaborative research project with video relay service providers, captioned telephone service providers, The MITRE Corporation, the FCC, and telecommunication companies to explore ways to make accessible solutions native to wireless technology. Project IRIS started with a simple question, “Can we connect directly with relay service using our mobile device’s cellular number and skip all the apps & multiple phone numbers we need for access today?”
If you would like more information about NTID’s Center on Access Technology, please visit https://www.rit.edu/accesstechnology/.