The parable of signing gloves: how and why to avoid making junk for people who don’t want it

The parable of signing gloves: how and why to avoid making junk for people who don’t want it

August 19, 2022 from 11:00 am to 11:50 am

Speaker: Zoë Hector, Grace Covey

Talk Description

‘Signing gloves’ that supposedly translate signed into spoken language pop up every few years, typically created by hearing engineers. Some developers have gained accolades, financial prizes, and scientific publications. The public get warm fuzzies and share these stories on their socials. However… signed languages, just like spoken languages, don’t function in discrete units: signing gloves don’t work. Moreover – Deaf people don’t want them. Like other marginalised communities, Deaf people would prefer to have their fundamental human rights recognised than have their languages appropriated, and profited from, by outsiders. ‘Signing gloves’ and their hearing creators detract from the stories and needs of Deaf people.

In a booming market, it can be tempting for any game or product designer to find a niche, or struggle with a ‘real world’ application of a novel technology. Even well-intended co-design approaches run the risk of causing harm when working with a marginalised community. When creating a product where you’re representing someone other than yourself, or are not the intended user – ask: am I the right person for this? Or who can I facilitate and support to lead this instead? And do they want it?

Zoë and Grace will share their experiences and insights from working in marginalised spaces. Talk Town is a serious role-player game for Deaf youth, which empowers players with vital self-advocacy and social communication skills. Kara Technologies utilises cutting edge AI, motion capture and hyper-realistic avatars to create accessible digital content for Deaf audiences. Both enterprises center Deaf users in everything we do.

Talk Takeaways

This talk is relevant for all game developers, with takeaways applicable for any situation where creators aim to represent or target users other than themselves. Unique insights to the New Zealand and international Deaf communities will also be gained.

© 2022 New Zealand Game Developers Association