Hearing loss is a growing concern worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, by 2050, one in four people will experience hearing difficulty. In the US alone, 13% of adults currently experience hearing loss.
Leading global technology giants, such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft, have been investing in research and development to make their communication devices and solutions more accessible for users with hearing impairments. Let us look at some innovative features these companies have already introduced in this area.
Apple’s iOS platform has incorporated several hearing accessibility features that work well with the iPhone, iPad, AirPods, iPod Touch, Apple Watch, and Mac to support users with limited or unique hearing needs.
Apple has developed hearing aids and sound processors that work with iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch to provide high-quality sound and many easy-to-use features. Once the hearing aid is paired with the iOS device, the user can control it and apply the desired environmental presets when they visit outdoors or are in noisy locations, such as stores or restaurants.
This feature has an assistive listening design to help users with hearing impairment have clearer conversations in noisy locations. The user can simply turn on the feature when needed and move their iOS device closer to the person(s) with whom they are having a conversation. The device microphone will pick up the audio and transmit it to their made-for-iPhone hearing aids or wireless headphones to enable clearer hearing.
Visual or Sensory Alerts
This feature allows a user with hearing impairment to notice when they receive an incoming phone call, text message, email, or calendar event. Users can choose between visual and vibrating alerts as needed.
For example, settings in the iPhone can be set to flash an LED light when there’s an incoming call, or the screen can change to display the caller’s photo. Similarly, when an app on a Mac computer needs attention, it will start flashing on the screen. Turning on the Taptic Engine on the Apple Watch will give the user a gentle tap each time they receive a notification.
For people with hearing impairments who use Android devices, Google has designed several features that improve accessibility and are compatible with Android phones and tablets.
Google’s Live Caption feature makes online content more accessible for people with hearing impairments. Many websites and online platforms include audio or video content that does not have captions. With Live Caption on Google Chrome, users can automatically generate real-time or live captions for video sites, radio sites, podcasts, and audio or video chat services.
Google has introduced a Live Transcribe app, which works well with any Android phone to convert speech to text on the user’s phone screen in real-time. The app supports multiple languages and makes everyday phone conversations and surrounding sounds more accessible for people with hearing impairments.
Hearing Aid Streaming
Google introduced default hearing aid support for people with hearing impairments who use Android 10.0 or later devices. Connecting and streaming support is directly built into Android (no requirement for a dongle) and ensures low latency. For enhanced audio clarity and augmented sound, users can use the Sound Amplifier app from Google for Android phones.
Windows Sound Settings
Microsoft lets users with hearing difficulties set up windows to fit their hearing. Its mono audio setting in Windows enables the user to convert stereo sound into a single channel using the mono audio toggle button in audio settings. This helps ensure they can hear everything, even with one headphone.
Windows settings allow audio alerts to be displayed visually. When a notification is received, it can flash on the entire screen, active window, or the title bar. The settings also allow the user to make Windows notifications stick around longer if they want more time to read them.
Substitute Listening with Viewing
In the Microsoft PowerPoint program, there is a provision to make the presentations more accessible for people with hearing impairments by adding subtitles or closed captions to audio and video files. People who create PowerPoint presentations for large audiences can utilize this feature to follow best accessibility practices.
Users with hearing disabilities can turn on live captions and subtitles during Skype audio or video calls to read the words spoken during the call. Similarly, the company has introduced real-time captions to make a Microsoft Teams online meeting more accessible. Users with hearing difficulties can read what is spoken, and speaker attribution will inform them who is saying what.
Considering the large number of people with hearing difficulties who can benefit from digital accessibility solutions, it makes sense for technology companies to continue investing in research and develop more inclusive and accessible digital innovations. Both economic and reputational benefits are enormous for companies when they focus on accessibility, while users gain an improved quality of life. This is a win-win proposition that smart technology developers cannot afford to ignore.