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The Daily Tar Heel

Student researches technology for deaf community

Meghana Ganapathiraju, a sophomore computer science and biology double major, started a research project this semester studying deaf literacy issues within the deaf and hard of hearing community on campus. 

She is working alongside Gary Bishop, a professor in the computer science department, to create technological tools and resources for deaf students to use in classes and with schoolwork. 

According to the National Association for the Deaf, public colleges and universities are currently required to provide qualified interpreters, real-time captioning, assistive listening devices and other auxiliary aids and services. This is to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing individuals receive effective communication and are able to participate equally and effectively in college programs. 

But Ganapathiraju said there is still a break in communication with deaf students in the classroom.

While volunteering at a deaf school in India over the summer, she noticed there were not enough resources for deaf students in learning other languages and translating sign languages to other languages.

“A lot of the problems that they face is because of lack of communication, so I wanted to see how could technology help this," she said.

Ganapathiraju said she thought a technological tool would be the best way to fix this. She met with Bishop at the beginning of the semester to pitch the idea to him.

Bishop said he has worked on multiple projects with the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at UNC in the past, including Tar Heel Reader — a literacy website — and Tar Heel Gameplay — a game site for children with disabilities. 

He said he was super impressed with Ganapathiraju and her ideas for this research study. 

"When smart, capable, energetic, excited students come to me with an idea for doing something with disabilities, I'm all for it," Bishop said.  

Ganapathiraju and Bishop are in the beginning stages of the project, and are currently working with Accessibility Resources and Service on campus to find consultants and members of the deaf community to help them with their research. 

Ganapathiraju said her long-term goal for this project is to build an application, computer program or browser tool that works as an interpreter for the hard of hearing.

Bishop said he is confident they can make this happen.

For now, they are looking to see what kind of tool would be most useful for members of the deaf community. Then, they will work to develop something and see how well it works within the community.

Ganapathiraju said she is very excited to build this project from the ground up, and create something that can continue to build on itself. 

"It's a really good experience for me to start this project myself, and figure out the groundwork to make it actually happen," she said.

 Bishop said he is excited to find individuals from the community to collaborate with. 

“I’d love to see this be something useful that people out in the community are using," he said.


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