BEIJING, Dec. 4 (Xinhua) -- As a baby, Yao Dengfeng lost almost all of his hearing. Growing up, he felt that he would live in a silent world for the rest of his life as he could not talk and interact the same way as other children.
In 1984, the medical field was not very developed for the hearing impaired, and Yao's doctor said that his hearing would never recover. However, Yao's mother did not give up.
"I still remember my mother continued to train and guide me to speak out, and she once spent half of her annual wages on a speech training device. After countless attempts, I finally learned to produce sounds, although I could not hear," Yao said.
Though Yao's mother kept encouraging him to talk with others, it became even harder when he attended primary school, since a large part of his understanding in class depended on guessing. "If there had been a device helping me 'see' what the teacher said, it would have been much easier," he said.
At the Special Education College of Beijing Union University, Yao, now a 42-year-old associate professor, researches computer science, linguistics and education, trying to allow more hearing-impaired people to interact with the colorful world.
In an audio-visual information cognitive computing laboratory, he was testing a special pair of glasses that can transcribe voice into texts on the lens of glasses, with which the hearing-impaired can actually "see" what others say rather than guess through lip reading.
Yao delivered a 40-minute speech in English about information accessibility at the International Conference of World Wide Web in Spain in 2009. It took him about 20 years from understanding to expressing. He said, "I hope there will be a barrier-free society in which each of us can equally obtain and use information."
Currently, Yao concentrates on the machine recognition of sign language, through which the hearing-impaired can communicate with others more conveniently. "My first graduate students studied the machine recognition of traffic police gestures, which has been applied in autonomous vehicles. Some dangerous acts, smoking at a gas station, for example, can also be detected to avoid potential risks," he said.
"China is now progressing toward a barrier-free society in which information is accessible to the hearing-impaired," Yao said, adding that a sign-language database can greatly facilitate recognition, but more video data is needed to enhance its scope and preciseness.
Yao realized the study at the present stage is still in the phase of visual signal recognition, but speech identification is even more important for helping the hearing-impaired to acquire information and communicate with others.
"An interdisciplinary study, covering linguistics, computer science and brain cognition, is required to further improve the information accessibility for the hearing-impaired, which is also my research orientation, and I feel a sense of mission," Yao said.
Nowadays, society offers more care and help to the disabled, and they also strive to embrace a bright future. "Many of my students who are hearing-impaired endeavor to practice what they have learned to change their own life with great confidence and perseverance," he said.
When Yao applied for a master's degree at Peking University, he asked the professors before the interview whether they could write down the questions for him in case he failed to hear the words clearly.
"Actually, I was able to communicate with others through lip-reading at that time, but for the people that I first met, I had to gradually get used to their pronunciation. It was the smile of the interviewees that made me relaxed and assured," he said.
Now, Yao, an associate professor with a master's degree from Peking University and a doctorate's degree from Tsinghua University, brings knowledge and hope to his students, inspiring the hearing-impaired like him to tackle the difficulties and pursue better lives.
"I believe that the strength of willingness and knowledge can vitalize the world, which can lead us to overcome the obstacles in our life. I hope more people can join us in the research on information accessibility, so as to allow more people with hearing impairments to communicate with others easily," Yao said.
"We should endeavor to assist more people with disabilities as well as the elderly to live in an accessible world, enabling more people to find the value of life," he added.