How the digital world is transforming the lives of the deaf community
The technology transformation that we are currently living through has brought both opportunities and challenges. However, we believe that the accessibility and diversity of differing types of technology is essential, for not only communication, but also education and rehabilitation. From the evolution of hearing aids, to the progression of sources available online, technology is definitely having a positive impact on the deaf community, and on a global scale.
Hearing aids have already significantly changed the lives of their users. But today, hearable companies are rethinking the hearing aid. Companies are now by-passing features to make them ‘cool’, and instead looking into how they can help the 466 million people worldwide who suffer from hearing loss. The human ear has become a focus in the development of new technologies, with hearables breathing new life into hearing aids.
Technology driven and outcome-based hearing healthcare approaches for consumers, patients and providers, are on a mission to improve the overall health of people who are suffering from hearing loss. The new generation of hearables are transforming the industry and are a point of convergence.
For people with hearing loss, a solution that is quick, convenient, simple and affordable is a major priority. Hearing aids are not something you can usually buy off the shelf, however in 2017, a new law was passed in the United States that allows people to buy hearing aids over the counter. This is designed to increase access to hearing products. Cochlear implantation has also grown throughout the world, bringing opportunities to the hearing impaired community that can provide the opportunity to improve the quality of life for many individuals.
Personalisation of hearables
Over the past decade, hearing aids have changed enormously. From a basic device that amplifies sound, their processing power has increased at an exponential rate, with no signs of slowing down. We have seen advancements in the audiological capabilities of hearing aids, from scanning the environment to reducing noise before delivering the sound to its user. These rapid developments have greatly improved the lives of users.
Researchers are also looking into the connection between hearing and cognition, and the link between what the ears hear and how the brain interprets the nervous reflux. With a more in depth understanding of how the brain processes information, hearing aids may have the ability to be configured to the brain capacity of each individual. Further research is looking into if hearing aids are able to collect data on brain activity. With more information collected, settings of the hearing aid could be modified and automatically configure to the brain concentration level of the user.
Online spaces for sign language
Companies are moving online to enable the hearing impaired to feel part of a community and have access to resources to further their knowledge and development. For parents of deaf children, these online communities and resources provide much needed support and guidance through what may be challenging times. 90% of all deaf children are born to hearing parents, so to enable communication sign language may be the only means of communication. Like a spoken language, children will naturally learn to sign if their parents and other people around them use it.
From free online lessons to visual tutorials, learning to sign has never been easier, thanks to the internet.
For this visual language, one of the easiest ways to learn to sign is through video tutorials. With the growing amount of people turning to Youtube for everything from ‘how to’ videos or watching daily vlogs, learning to sign is no different. This video hosting site has dozens of teachers and language users providing free lessons on how to sign the alphabet, numbers, common phrases and more. Video content is highly engaging, for both adults and children and these types of video resources have become a first point of call of a basic understanding of the language.
The internet offers an abundance of resources for those wanting to learn sign language. These types of resources include courses, quizzes and fingerspelling practices. For parents of deaf children, these types of resources can be highly beneficial for both themselves and children when learning the language. Full online courses can also be an alternative to attending classes. Not only are these more flexible, they can be done in a users own time with no pressure.
Online communities and blogs can also provide much needed support from the signing community. For parents who are a first-time parent to a deaf child, the journey of being able to communication can be lonely. These platforms provide support, guidance and encouragement to parents all around the world.
For learning how to sign on the go, mobile applications are becoming increasingly popular. On-the-go sign language lessons and resources can help users stay up-to-date with learning and are accessible when a user wants to look up a word or symbol up. Apps are available for every demographic, with some being recommended by medical professionals such as speech therapists. Apps targeted at children use animated characters to teach different letters and words, also including interactive features for parents to use to engage their children. These types of resources provide a self-paced learning program.
Google has recently announced a new feature; Live Transcribe, designed as an accessibility feature to aid people who are deaf or hard of hearing, available on Android phones.
Live transcribe is an app that automatically transcribes speech in almost real-time, giving people the opportunity to communicate in situations where they otherwise may have not been able to. So, whether you are meeting someone or just having a coffee, Live Transcribe helps the user communicate in the moment. This app can be used in over 70 languages and dialects to produce accurate transcriptions, along with a keyboard feature to allow a conversation between two people. This system is powered by Google’s speech recognition technology, meaning captions adjust as a conversation flows. All conversations that are transcribed in the app are also secure as they are not stored on any server. This app has also been built by experts in the field. Google partnered with Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf and hard of hearing based in Washington D.C. This was to ensure Live Transcribe could be used in everyday life and would prove to be useful. Live Transcribe can be used anywhere and once opened, it instantly starts transcribing what it hears in large and easy-to-read text.