Google+ Hangouts had an innovative way to help control audio issues during video chats by automatically switching speakers. What this meant was whoever is talking the most or the loudest is seen in the main video area while the rest of the members of the Hangout are in smaller video thumbnails. Therefore it works by voice activation. This, of course, wouldn't work with communicators using sign language as whoever would have the main screen would usually be the person who had the loudest background noise. Because of this, members of the Hangout were trying to read sign language from other members in thumbnails. In order to facilitate the automatic switching for sign language based communication, Google's introduced the “Taking the Floor” feature.


Using Google+ Hangout's “Taking the Floor” feature

Google engineering director Chee Chew explained how the “Taking the Floor” function works in three steps. First, all the members of the conversation need to mute their audio. When one member wants to sign something, they need to hit Shift+s. Finally, when that member sees themselves in the main video window, that's their cue. They've got the floor and everyone is looking at them so reading their communication is possible.

Chew also said, “We’ve noticed over the past few weeks that the stability and quality of the video in Hangouts has improved as well, which also makes it easier for the hearing impaired to see and understand sign language.”

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