Action on Hearing Loss Logo
    Total results:
    Search
      Total results:

      Engineering the future of assistive technology

      The assistive technology community has long been close knit. The result? Limited innovation. Now it’s opening up to much wider influence, particularly from the world of engineering. Could this be a breakthrough in finding solutions to the problems people with deafness, tinnitus and hearing loss face every day? Our Technology Manager, Jesal Vishnuram, finds out.

      By: Jesal Vishnuram | 13 August 2018

      Action on Hearing Loss is well placed to understand the needs of people with deafness, tinnitus and hearing loss. But what’s missing are the knowledge and technical skills to develop technology to meet those needs. That’s why we’ve joined forces with the BBC’s The Big Life Fix. The programme’s engineering team addresses the real-life problems faced by people with disabilities and comes up with innovative solutions.

       

      Fixing it for Bobby


      Bobby is 73 years old and has lost his hearing through brittle bone disease. He’s no longer able to use hearing aids or a cochlear implant and his lipreading skills have deteriorated. He’s completely dependent on his wife to communicate for him in all aspects of his life. Bobby is also extremely worried about his safety when out and about, as he isn’t able to hear or locate the sound of cars, bicycle bells, sirens and other environmental sounds.


      His situation will be familiar to many people with hearing loss and deafness, even those who use hearing aids and cochlear implants. For many, in an increasingly noisy world, assistive devices such as remote microphones, amplified telephones and Bluetooth streaming devices still aren’t enough.

       

      The research


      The Big Life Fix
      engineer Akram Hussein jumped at the chance to help Bobby. Keen to put himself in Bobby’s shoes, he filled his ears with silicon to simulate hearing loss. Although not as severe as Bobby’s condition, the loss of hearing quickly helped Akram understand what it’s like not being able to hear speech or localise sound, and how isolating it feels to be cut off from the world and people around you.


      We helped Akram with his research by demonstrating the current range of assistive technologies, discussing what works well and their limitations. The most popular is the Phonak Roger Pen, which helps hearing aid and cochlear implant users hear speech more clearly in one-to-one and group conversations, and on landline and mobile phones, including streaming audio from smartphones and tablets. We also went through other popular devices, including conversations listeners, amplified phones and TV listeners. For full details of the products reviewed, visit the Action on Hearing Loss webpage.

       

      There’s a tablet for that


      Akram, who specialises in software and app development, quickly identified speech-to-text (STT) software as a fix. STT has been around for a long time. It’s used mainly in the business world to translate telephone calls such as Skype, and for typing up medical notes. Currently, there’s no handy, off-the-shelf STT solution for people with deafness or hearing loss.


      Akram set about solving the group conversation problem, quickly developing a test version of an STT app for us to try on a tablet. We all had to wear a fairly large, heavy tablet around our necks that picked up our speech via the microphone and translated it into text on the tablet – not the most practical solution.


      The test helped Akram identify the speed, accuracy and ease of reading the text translations. The speed was very impressive and accuracy seemed to improve as the conversation went on and the software ‘learned’ the context of the conversation. However, without any breaks in the text, it was very difficult to follow long conversations or identify who was speaking in the group while focused on reading text on the tablet.


      With this feedback, Akram went back to tweak the technology so that it was easy and practical for Bobby to use. Akram also worked on his second fix – a cap to help alert Bobby to environmental dangers when out and about. The cap had four vibrating pads at the back with a phone attached. Any moving images picked up by the phone’s camera would alert Bobby to the direction of the moving vehicle or bike.

       

      To find out how Bobby got on with his new devices, and more about how Akram’s inventive solutions work, watch The Big Life Fix now on BBC iPlayer.

       

      To find out more about assistive products that can help you, visit our online shop. 

      Recent Posts

      Our top 10 conversation listeners

      Do you struggle to follow what’s going on because you can’t always hear what people are saying? If so, a conversation listener will help you join in again. It’s ideal for day-to-day situations, such as family get-togethers, shopping trips, meetings or meals out. You’ll hear more clearly, whether or not you have hearing aids. From 30 May to 7 June, enjoy 10% off in our Conversation Listeners Sale.

      By: Sally Bromham
      30 May 2019

      What app?

      With so many speech-to-text (STT) apps out there, it’s hard to distinguish which work well and are worth paying for. We asked 40 people who have hearing loss to help us test some apps and identify the best and worst performers.

      By: Jesal Vishnuram
      24 May 2019

      How to protect your ears from noise-related damage

      To mark Noise Action Week, we’re raising awareness of noise-related hearing loss. Have you’ve ever experienced ringing in your ears after a live concert or sporting event? It’s a sign of hearing damage that could become irreversible if you don’t protect your ears. Find out how to avoid unnecessary noise exposure by using hearing protection.

      By: Sally Bromham
      20 May 2019

      Our campaign to save NHS hearing aids

      NHS hearing aids have been available, free of charge, since 1948. We launched our Hands off Our Hearing Aids campaign in 2014 to tackle the biggest threat to NHS hearing aids since the birth of the NHS. Our Campaigns team shares the story of the campaign so far.

      By: Jessica McNulty
      17 May 2019

      Recent Posts

      Our top 10 conversation listeners

      Do you struggle to follow what’s going on because you can’t always hear what people are saying? If so, a conversation listener will help you join in again. It’s ideal for day-to-day situations, such as family get-togethers, shopping trips, meetings or meals out. You’ll hear more clearly, whether or not you have hearing aids. From 30 May to 7 June, enjoy 10% off in our Conversation Listeners Sale.

      By: Sally Bromham
      30 May 2019

      What app?

      With so many speech-to-text (STT) apps out there, it’s hard to distinguish which work well and are worth paying for. We asked 40 people who have hearing loss to help us test some apps and identify the best and worst performers.

      By: Jesal Vishnuram
      24 May 2019

      How to protect your ears from noise-related damage

      To mark Noise Action Week, we’re raising awareness of noise-related hearing loss. Have you’ve ever experienced ringing in your ears after a live concert or sporting event? It’s a sign of hearing damage that could become irreversible if you don’t protect your ears. Find out how to avoid unnecessary noise exposure by using hearing protection.

      By: Sally Bromham
      20 May 2019

      Our campaign to save NHS hearing aids

      NHS hearing aids have been available, free of charge, since 1948. We launched our Hands off Our Hearing Aids campaign in 2014 to tackle the biggest threat to NHS hearing aids since the birth of the NHS. Our Campaigns team shares the story of the campaign so far.

      By: Jessica McNulty
      17 May 2019

      More like this

      We're really proud of everyone who's a part of Action on Hearing Loss, and hope you'll feel inspired to become a part of our community.​

      We campaign for changes that make life better for people who are confronting deafness, tinnitus and hearing loss.

      Our ears are our organs of hearing and balance. They have three parts: the outer, middle and inner ear.