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Communications of the ACM

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Technical Perspective: Computation Where the (inter)Action Is

watch and soundwaves, illustration

SoundWatch is a prototype system that detects audio events and displays descriptions of them to deaf and hard-of-hearing people via the screen of their smartwatch. Beyond the system itself, SoundWatch contributes a case study of the opportunities and challenges we might expect as computation continues to move closer to where the interaction happens.

Access technology has long been a window into the future, and so we can learn a lot from prototypes like SoundWatch. As one example, speech recognition is now mainstream, but the people who have relied on it the longest are those who found it difficult to type otherwise. Mainstream user interfaces focus on a small set of modalities, whereas accessibility necessarily explores interactions beyond common ability assumptions.


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