After the arrival of cat cafés and the likes, Amsterdam is now jumping on the bandwagon of having a sign language café called the Sign Language Coffee Bar where everyone has to order their coffee by signing. The café will open its doors on 19 October at noon, and you can already start practicing your order (videos, very cool).
Of course, you’ll be able to hone your signing skills with the same short videos mentioned above at the café. The coffee bar is part of a group of companies that find work for people who have visual or hearing impairments. Locals may already know the restaurant Ctaste where you can dine in the dark and be served by blind wait staff.
It’s interesting to know that the Dutch have five sign language dialects because they had five different schools that went their own way. Even though the coffee bar’s menu has items in Dutch (‘Jus d’orange’ is French, but in common use for ‘orange juice’ in Dutch), English and Italian, follow the videos and you’ll be fine.
If you want to take your skills up a notch, learn to sign the names of Dutch cities (sure, also learn the alphabet if you weren’t in Scouts or Girl Guides and know it already). I used the one for Amsterdam once and I know the one for Rotterdam, but this guy has you covered.
Together with the help of engineer Michiel van Overbeek who himself is hard of hearing language researcher Niels Schiller of Leiden University developed a pair of glasses that provides live subtitles during one-on-one conversations. The glasses display the translated conversation on the inside of the glass with a delay of some hundred milliseconds per word and at a rate of 172 words a minute. Film subtitling, which is commonplace in the Netherlands, runs at 120 to 160 words a minute.
Schiller claims this could really change the daily lives of people who are deaf and hard of hearing, especially the elderly who are not eligible for a cochlear implant and who have issues learning sign language. After testing the glasses, their comprehension went from 25% of a conversation to between 70% and 85%.
However, just like other translation devices, the glasses still get it wrong quite a bit and the speech recognition microphone doesn’t always work the way it should. Schiller points out that like when using autocorrect on an app, the person with the glasses on has to correct some words within the context. In the future, the glasses could be used when visiting a foreign country where a person can’t speak the language, and place a light on the outside of them so the person talking knows when the translation has been completed.
I trust a lot of issues have to be addressed: what happens when the wearer already wears glasses? Durability? Price? Quality of speech recognition in busy and loud places? And there’s nothing wrong sign language although the Dutch have five sign language dialects.
Next week, the Universiteit van Amsterdam will hold its very first formal speech in Dutch sign language, which will be translated into spoken language (no confirmation of which ones) by two interpreters, something that does happen in countries like the United States.
Fluent in sign language but not deaf, Professor Beppie van den Bogaerde sees this event as a gesture towards the deaf community. Usually people give speeches and have it translated into sign language, but this time it will be the other way round. I still don’t get why two interpreters are needed, but my best guess would be either they relay each other or there’s a Dutch and English version.
Van den Bogaerde points out that the deaf have each other’s full attention when they communicate because they have to look at each other, which she feels gives the deaf and hard of hearing a better sense of the here and now. My personal take on this from university is that we can speak about 150 words a minute but can understand 450 (three times as much), which means although we are easily distracted, it explains how interpreters can listen and talk at the same time.
The Netherlands has five sign language dialects because they five different schools decided to do their own thing. Based on French sign language, Dutch sign language is not officially recognised and is different than Flemish sign language, which has an unclear origin.
Enjoy a video of Happy by Pharrell Williams, performed and translated into sign language by the American Deaf Camp.
In March, but also just last month, there have been disruptions of the emergency number 112 throughout the country. In fact, the last time a man died because an ambulance came too late, as a result of 112 being difficult to reach.
This month, Dutch news programme Eenvandaag reports that the country’s deaf and hard of hearing population have had no access whatsoever to 112 for more than 70 days now. The clincher is that the company that provided them with a chat service to access 112, AnnieS, went bankrupt in late May, early June. Interest groups ask: why doesn’t 112 have the technology to supply this service themselves? AnnieS also helped people communicate with the tax office and other organisations as well as with one another.
Before this service, they had a text service that wasn’t great, but worked most of the time. When AnnieS was launched in September 2010, they didn’t hook up the existing text service dating back from 1997 and some deaths ensued.
The government is working on getting a Swedish company to get the AnnieS-like service up and running, which it says should be around mid September. However, in the mean time when a hearing man dies because 112 is not available it’s news, but if a deaf person dies because of this discriminatory situation, they’ll be treated as second class citizens due to the government’s inability to plan properly.