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For the typical consumer, a self-ordering kiosk at a restaurant is a convenience. For the disabled, it can be the reason for even wanting to go out to eat in the first place.

Juke Slot, a provider of kiosk solutions, has gone the extra step of developing a self-order kiosk that displays a virtual avatar that communicates with the hard of hearing in sign language. The Oublié, currently in beta test, can function as a normal self-ordering kiosk as well as cater to the needs of the hard of hearing.

Recognizing a need

Juke Slot developed the Oublié (French for “Forgotten”) after learning about a deaf woman who encountered a problem ordering food at an Alabama restaurant. After the woman provided her order on a piece of paper, those preparing her order were unable to decipher her handwriting. As a result, the order was incorrect and had to be remade.

“That was the particular spark that sparked that entire idea,” Juke Slot Chief Technology Officer David McHugh said.

The incident occurred in a restaurant that was installing a Juke Slot self order kiosk.

For those hard of hearing, such experiences are fairly common, said Jimmy Peterson, executive director of the Georgia Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. He said he is grateful for the two restaurants he patronizes that have self-ordering kiosks.

Juke Slot decided additional modifications were needed to make the ordering experience seamless for those who are hard of hearing. The company partnered with ProDeaf, a text and voice translation software provider, to develop the Oublié.

Juke Slot also worked with the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf to ensure the ordering interface continually meets users’ needs.

The Oublié allows a restaurant to display its full menu on the screen, and it allows customers to modify meals to their liking. The Android-based software enables users to change the interface language to sign language, including the virtual avatar that translates all customer selections in sign language.

“Everything they (the hard of hearing customer) select, the avatar translates it,” McHugh said.

The company noted in a recent press release that implementing kiosk solutions for persons with physical impairments, brain injuries and mental disabilities can be critical for those who also suffer food allergies. The kiosk ensures their messages or notes aren’t misunderstood.

A critical demographic

The technology enables restaurants to cater to a different segment of the population — people who struggle with basic communication, not only those who are deaf.

About 54 million Americans have some sort of disability, according to the ADA National Network, a federally funded project. Of those, some 15 percent of Americans — roughly 49 million people, based on U.S. Census Bureau statistics — are deaf or hard of hearing, according to the National Institute of Deafness and other Communication Disorders.

“They (restaurants) depend on someone coming in and writing things down with a piece of paper and pen, but what they don’t know is the average deaf person reads and writes below a fourth-grade level,” McHugh said.

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The Oublié has been installed in the same restaurant where the initial incident with the deaf woman occurred. While Juke Slot plans to offer the Oublié to restaurants, the software will also be available in the future to other kiosks, McHugh said.

“We do have a patent filed on the capability,” he said.

What the law requires

While there are no regulations specifically governing restaurant kiosk access, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires restaurants to accommodate those with disabilities. The ADA National Network, an organization funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommends that restaurants not only make their facilities accessible to all, but also provide disabled customers the ability to order, purchase and enjoy a meal as freely as an able person.

The ADA standards require forward reach for any element with a control or mechanism that a person uses in a publicly accessible space. Where a forward reach is unobstructed, the high forward reach should be 48 inches maximum and the low forward reach should be 15 inches minimum, above the finish floor or ground. The U.S. Justice Department has not yet published enforceable standards for accessible technology, according to Peter Berg, project coordinator for technical assistance at the ADA National Network.

The federal Office of Management and Budget considered accessible technology standards under the Obama Administration, Berg said, but chose not to take action. Web content accessibility guidelines have been developed in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world, Berg noted, to provide standards for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations and governments.

“There are very good guidelines out there that allow accessible technology to be developed,” Berg said.

Businesses must consider lawsuits

While accessibility requirements may take time to develop, businesses still have to consider the possibility of lawsuits.

“We do know that the amount of lawsuits from deaf, hearing-impaired individuals — disabled individuals — have increased tremendously within the past three to four years,” Juke Slot’s McHugh said.

“The reason why these lawsuits have increased tremendously is due to … knowledge (in that) more disabled people are becoming more aware of their rights. And one of the other things driving this is technology. … A lot of disabled people feel that businesses should provide this type of technology solution that’s available in the market,” McHugh said.

Establishments such as Starbucks in Malaysia and Chick-fil-A have hired employees that know sign language, he said.

Juke Slot will also be working on solutions for the visually impaired as well as language translation kiosks. The language translation kiosks make sense in areas where people speak different languages.

“That’s just for particular regions,” McHugh said.

Juke Slot and ProDeaf are also developing software for websites.

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