I was walking from my house in Druzhby Narodiv towards the botanical garden a few years ago when I passed a large group of deaf people having a meeting at the side of the road.

I don’t know why they stuck in my mind, but since that day I started to notice how many other deaf groups there were in Kyiv. Normally I noticed them on the bus or Metro, but more than once I’ve sat on Maidan Square or Kreshatik watching a group of deaf teenagers talk their animated talk.

Perhaps they stand out because they are the only people moving/talking on the metro (it is customary to stand still and look seriously stern), or perhaps I just noticed them because I had taken part in a one day training course about deafness before I came to Ukraine. Either way, there are certainly more deaf people in Kyiv than there are in Oxford – a lot more.

So, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised to see that TIME magazine had honored four Ukrainian students with the 7th best invention of 2012. Their invention was – talking gloves.

I’ll let Forbes magazine explain…

At the front of an auditorium filled with hundreds of people, a programmer from the Ukraine slipped on a pair of thick, black gloves, each dotted with flex sensors and a micro controller. A couple of feet away was a smartphone receiving signals from the gloves via Bluetooth. When the time was right, the programmer made a gesture, carefully and deliberately moving his hands and arms, before an automated female voice boomed through the speakers: “Nice to meet you.” The audience cheered.

Here they are:

They are undeniably cool, and they potentially give a very clear voice to the voiceless. However, I’d be interested to know what people are saying (signing) about them in the deaf communities. Are they a fantastic way to alleviate a frustrating disability? or, are they a threat to deaf culture and the various national sign languages?

Also, how should a non-deaf person respond?

Maybe they will also invent a machine that waves your hand and arms in sign speech when you talk. Until then, I would settle for a machine that translates Ukrainian.

Anyway, thumbs up to Ukraine. If a deaf person starts shouting at me on the metro next year – I will know why.