Swimming: Sight-based starting system a green signal for deaf swimmers

The locally-designed SwimSight device (foreground, attached to cords) switches from orange to green to signal the start of a race as a visual alert for hearing-impaired swimmers.
The locally-designed SwimSight device (foreground, attached to cords) switches from orange to green to signal the start of a race as a visual alert for hearing-impaired swimmers.PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Competitors and spectators at yesterday's SPH Foundation National Inclusive Swimming Championships at the Toa Payoh Swimming Complex saw first-hand a new start system to help athletes with hearing impairments get off their starting blocks.

Developed at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, the system - called SwimSight - uses two colours (orange and green) to alert deaf swimmers to race starts and is compatible with professional timing devices.

The SwimSight device is placed at the side of each starting block and its position can be adjusted by the athlete to his or her preference, unlike previous static designs. It emits an orange light, which then turns to green at the start of the race.

Said Samitha Elvitigala, a research engineer who is part of the system's design team at Augmented Human Lab: "The president of the Singapore Deaf Association came to us and said they needed something that enabled deaf swimmers to start without any problems.

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"Previously they used a system that was not intuitive enough for the swimmers, and it was also not compatible with the timing system.

"We designed it in a way that is really intuitive and user-friendly for the swimmers."

Yesterday was the fourth time SwimSight was used for swimmers with hearing impairments, but the first occasion that non-deaf swimmers also used the system.

Hearing-impaired swimmer Tan Jian Hao said: "We felt like we were all equal. I could see the light and the others could hear (the start horn) and we jumped in at the same time."

The 23-year-old added: "I would say it's 100 per cent better (than the old flagging system). You had to turn your neck to see the flag at the corner of the pool, and it constrained us. The (SwimSight) light is right in front of you, it makes the start the same for everyone else."

SwimSight could potentially be used to aid hearing-impaired athletes in other sports as well.

Elvitigala, 26, said: "It could be used in any athletic events that need the use of signals for hearing-impaired athletes... in an intuitive way."

There were 235 entries for the annual swimming event, which is into its seventh year with SPH Foundation as its title sponsor.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 02, 2017, with the headline 'Sight-based starting system a green signal for deaf swimmers'. Print Edition | Subscribe