Muhimu is a supporting service for deaf students to be integrated into mainstream school environments without the dependency on interpreters. It's core service isto provide such user groups the ability to perceive sound, facilitated through technology, using visual and tactile sensory systems. Enabled by a set of smart rings anda connected app, deaf students are able then to immerse themselves in auditory-based environments by empathizing with others and understanding different levels ofinformation in real time. This service assists deaf students to proactively engage with their surroundings freely without the dependency of others. Research showsthat 75% of deaf students are enrolling in mainstream school environments (of hearing students) with a graduation rate of only 25%. Primary research shows the lack of resources for deaf students to freely navigate on their own and feel comfortable. The dependency of interpreters at all timescreate friction and barriers between deaf student's involvement and what the education environment has to offer. Muhimu's objective is to give the deaf students theability to feel emerged in their surroundings by engaging with sound in the most natural way –through the sensory systems. Both smart rings, connected with the app,communicate haptic feedback to the deaf student in order raise awareness of sound. Through a pattern customized system, users are able to recognize these hapticpatterns and perceive sound information. Through the app, users are able to selectively choose the sounds they want to feel. Likewise, allowing them to receivevisual feedback if needed. In classroom and group meetings, Muhimu is able to translate spoken conversations in text with the addition of illustrating the tone behindeach message from a flat or high pitch to determine excitement or impartiality. 38% of people's speech impact comes from how it is spoken rather than what is actually being spoken. Technology redefines this engagement by allowing deaf students to feel and see sounds from different levels, at their own time, in schoolenvironments.
Born deaf students struggle through educational involvement and success in auditory based classrooms.
To enable deaf students to be aware of their auditory-based surroundings without depending on interpreters
Muhimu is a service for integrating deaf and mute students in auditory college education environments. A product service that came from the result of twenty weeks of work, including research, ideation, testing, and development. I believe that with the continued growth of technology advances, there is a lack of innovation within products and services for the deaf community. As I approached my thesis project and developed Muhimu, my objective was to deliver a solution that is human centered, trying to answer real user needs.
My project inspiration came from taking a school class with a deaf student about few months before I began my thesis. During the three months that the class lasted, through observation I was introduced to this unique experience. As a designer, I realized at a high level the different break points within the service flow, and as a class mate, I empathized with the student's frustration but willingness to learn. As I started the discovery phase of the project I conducted primary research through 15 interviews, ranging between deaf students and hearing students, interpreters, and professors. One of the biggest and yet unexpected findings within this process was the perception of deafness within the deaf community. Being born deaf is as equal as being born with dark hair color, a trait that is never treated as a condition. Deaf communities are proud communities, those of which the disability point of view is only a perception of others. This finding made me realize the impact it meant for my design solution, because it couldn't be something that took away the culture they have well established at the same time as something that labeled them as "disabled". Another unexpected finding was a repeated behavior I found through all my interviews with deaf users, how they used vibrations to feel from the beat of music, to airplanes flying by. I realized that a person who is deaf uses vibrations when the occasion provides it, to be aware of their surroundings.
Among other relevant findings, I moved to secondary research in order to understand the scale of the problem. I browsed through user segmentations, competitive audit, etc. With a U.S user based of 28 million deaf and mute populations, a number increasing exponentially for 24,000 born for every year. Research shows, that the number of enrolled deaf students in auditory-based learning environments is increasing by 75% because of ADA laws (Americans with Disabilities Act) on universities, however, with an only 25% graduation rate. Through both primary and secondary research, I was able to understand a variety of problems within deaf students enrolled in auditory based classrooms. There are four key needs from a deaf student: language, support, accommodation, and identity. All of which, are currently aided through interpreting services. Some of the problems however, are due to language barriers between deaf student and interpreters because of ASL language's complexity and distinction between pronunciation and grammar. Because of the information being exchange is exponentially at high speed in short amount of time, deaf students are unfairly experiencing cognitive overload caused by visual split attention. For deaf students, is hard to grasp at once what others are saying, how they are saying it, and who is saying it. In addition to their full dependency on interpreter's time and availability. For interpreters, is a challenge to provide all content, including unfamiliar class related vocabulary, along with context.
To conclude the discovery phase, I "affinitized" all research findings in order to understand the different sections and hierarchies of all problems. The challenge was to focus in one problem having empathized and understood a wide range of pain points. I narrowed down and developed my three key insights that led the next phase of the project. I started with empathy maps to create personas, made user journeys to highlight pain points, and based on that began brainstorming concepts.
The development of the concept couldn't be medical-oriented, nor diminishing deafness. Initial concepts and testing led me to arrive to the conclusion that the physical product of my concept had to be a wearable device. I ideated across different possible solutions, tested them with users, and arrived to the final concept of a set of smart rings with a connected app, a portable charger, and wearable ring cases.
Our hands are the most sensitive part of the body when it comes to the touch sensory system. In order to create a new language system, based on vibration patterns, deaf students have to grasp the subtle vibrations accurately. For the development phase of the ring, I collaborated with a jewelry design major student, Monica Valera, to build the final prototype made out of silver. This made me realize a lot of the challenges that fall under the making of one simple ring. Considering technology needs in relation to size and comfort, are the challenges for future technology and the next steps to follow.
How it works
Through the use of sound tracking technology, Muhimu filters surrounding noise by analyzing and identifying the sound, matching it with a pre-recorded library of stored sounds. These identified sound is sent to the Muhimu rings in the respective haptic pattern behavior, alongside the respective visual feedback on the app if desired. Both haptic patterns and visual feedback are a series of user-customized settings through which deaf students can eventually recognize through tactile and visual memory. Through the app, users can select between "my sounds" and "chat" to proactively be engaged in their surroundings.
Muhimu's "my sounds", is a wide range list of pre-recorded sounds that deaf students are able to be sensitive to. Each of these sounds are pre-recorded by Muhimu to enable deaf students to feel and see such sounds. A sound could vary between user's own name, to keywords such as "pizza", to the sound of lightning. Each of these, however, is outputted through different haptic patterns via the smart rings and through visual communication via the app. On this feature, it allows schools to create their spaces friendly to deaf students by providing Muhimu with recorded sounds and words that are only identified at the school.
Muhimu's "chat" on the other hand, focuses on typical speech to text technology to translate to deaf students spoken information within classrooms and group meetings. Through the app, users' can follow along the conversation through emotional interface. Aside from receiving speech content in the form of text, through the use of "emoji's" deaf students can understand the context of how the information is being shared. Speech technology that analyzes the tone of voice through the inflection and timbre, deaf students can understand the difference of content shared with excitement or with indifference.
The portable charger for the smart rings allow deaf students to take them everywhere and have them fully charged and ready to be used. Muhimu's strategy behind the ring cases is to deliver a service that is modern and fun, fully personalized to each user. Providing the ability to customize the smart rings through the website, users select among a variety of ring case designs. Muhimu provides value to its' users by enabling them beyond just functionality, the ability to have a service completely tailored to them. At a greater scale, users could start 3D printing their own cases through shared STL files provided from Muhimu.
Muhimu is an analog and digital service experience to fit deaf student needs.