Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hawai‘i Residents Develop Apps to Aid People Who Are Deaf and Blind

Both mobile phone programs, MyEar and UniDescription, are available for download in the App Store.


Phone apps

Photo: Thinkstock


Brandon Isobe always thought becoming a doctor would be the best way to help his father, who was born deaf. But the 30-year-old Punahou graduate discovered a different path to aid his dad, Gerald, in ways he never imagined—software development.


The father-son duo developed the MyEar app, released in the Apple Store in November for $9.99. It translates voice to text to help those who are deaf or hearing impaired better communicate.


It’s easy to use—you speak into a headset that is plugged into an iPhone and the app translates audio into text, which someone who is deaf or hearing impaired can read on the screen. It is also available in Spanish, Japanese and other languages.


Prior to the app, Gerald Isobe, 66, would lip read because no one in his family knew sign language until Brandon took American Sign Language classes in college. The elder Isobe didn’t learn sign language until his first year of college—there were very few resources and opportunities to learn ASL growing up. He now uses the app every day at work (he’s an accountant at Pearl Harbor), at home and when running errands.


“It’s difficult for somebody to rely on lip reading if you’re talking too fast. There’s a lot that my dad would miss out on,” says the younger Isobe, who lives in San Francisco. “My dad and I are still big advocates for sign language, but this supplement can help a lot.”


Meanwhile, Brett Oppegaard, a UH Mānoa communications professor, saw an accessibility gap at the national parks for people who are blind or visually impaired.


A few years ago, he began working on the UniDescription project, which seeks to translate visual media at national parks, such as photos and maps, into acoustic formats.


The app provides mp3 files and audio descriptions of dozens of National Park Service brochures, including Hawai‘i Volcanoes, Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks. It is available for free on Apple and Android devices.


“We want to give everybody the opportunity to enjoy the national parks,” Oppegaard says. “You might think that someone blind or visually impaired might not be able to … but there are other ways they can: the smells, the sounds, the conversations with people.”


The project received two National Park Service grants totaling about $350,000, as well as an additional $75,000 from Google.


The team, which includes Oppegaard’s research assistant, Sajja Koirala, who is blind, spent a day in November testing the app with 26 blind and visually impaired people at Yosemite National Park. He says reception to the app has been positive, and that the goal is to “audio describe the world.”




Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Subscribe to Honolulu

Honolulu Magazine May 2018
Edit ModuleShow Tags



Colin Nishida, Beloved Chef and Restaurateur, Leaves a Culinary Legacy

Colin Nishida

An entire community remembers the owner of Side Street Inn.


Closing of Popular Lanikai Pillbox Hike Delayed Until Further Notice

Lanikai Pillbox Hike

The state asks for public input as it works to repair the old concrete observation stations on the trail, commonly known as “pillboxes.”


First Look: Panda Dimsum in Kalihi

Panda Dim Sum

Frogs, hedgehogs and bees, oh my! This spot dishes up cute, Instagrammable dumplings.


Kaimukī Gets da Shop, a New Kind of Bookstore and Event Space

Da Shop

It takes guts to open a brick-and-mortar bookstore in the days of instant online gratification, but in da Shop, local publisher Bess Press has found a way to allow fickle/loyal readers to have their cake and eat it, too.


20 Great O‘ahu Hikes

Explore 20 great adventures that offer beautiful vistas, waterfalls and more.



Edit ModuleShow Tags