How Deaf friendly are our gadgets?

How Deaf friendly are our gadgets? Bluetooth is spreading everywhere: Bluetooth speakers, Bluetooth earphones and now, even hearing aids can be Bluetooth speakers.

Since September 2019, Android 10 devices can connect wirelessly with hearing aids. Hearing aids can now function as Bluetooth headsets, streaming music and voice calls. This is done via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) so that neither device runs out of power. They use the Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids (ASHA) protocol. This protocol is free to use so manufacturers can write their own versions.

Google has already helped the Deaf community in February 2019 when it released the Sound Amplifier app. This means you can turn your smartphone into a hearing aid. One could argue that it’s about time as we can already use our smartphones as torches, maps, books, even phones.

The app works with your headphones, it enables you to reduce background noise and increase the volume of those you’re talking to. It is particularly useful in rural areas as it does not need an internet connection.

At the same time, Google also released an app called Live Transcribe. This app does what it says on the tin but unfortunately it does need an internet connection. This app starts transcribing as soon as it is open, warns you of how noisy the environment is, lets you know when you need to be louder and vibrates when someone is behind you. If it is too noisy you can type messages. It can understand the context of words as well as 70 languages.

GN Hearing were the first to make iOS friendly hearing aids in April 2014. They can be preset to cope with noisy environments and you can check the battery status by pressing the iPhone home button three times. You can turn on Live Listen so you can move your device to the person you are listening to.

Charlotte Marshall, who has used these hearing aids, had a warning for users:

“The sound quality is great, but a word of advice…NEVER have the volume on full before connecting the bluetooth up, it gives you the fright of your life, especially when the phone call connects without you realising.”

Brian Dam Pedersen, Chief Technology Officer at GN Hearing, explained that:

“Previously, people used an intermediate streamer device for streaming sound from their Android smartphone to their hearing aid. This was far from ideal, as it meant having to carry additional equipment and keeping an additional battery charged.

The intermediate device also converted the streaming from high-energy consuming Bluetooth from the smartphone, also called Classic Bluetooth, a type of low-energy consuming Bluetooth to the hearing aids. This was done to preserve the battery life of the hearing aids and is now increasingly becoming a thing of the past for many Android users. Using BLE from the get-go allows people to use technology designed for streaming all day while preserving the battery life of their hearing devices.”

Tom Staniford is a Deaf Para-Cycling Champion. In 2011, Tom became the youngest-ever rider to win an individual senior title as the solo British National Paracycling Circuit Race champion. He used to find cycling very dangerous, but not since he adopted Android friendly hearing aids. They enabled him to practice on open roads, something he wasn’t able to do safely before.

Edmund West is an autistic freelance journalist who has been writing articles since 2007. He also works with Autistic adults and has an MA in history. He has written for several magazines: Press Gazette, Wired, Military History Monthly, History Today, etc.