Everybody who lived during 2020 will remember when things changed. How our lives change. They called it “unprecedented times.” We called it our worst nightmare. When the governments around the world issued us to wear medical masks or any homemade masks we could find, we saw the disappearance of the human lips. We realize that the human lips and lip reading were our lifelines when our hearing aids and cochlear implants failed to fill the gaps.
So when the face mask came on. We tried to push for clear face masks on others. And when that couldn’t happen, we stared and listened to sounds that no longer made sense anymore. Our minds started playing tricks that we no longer could comprehend our native language because the lips were part of our comprehension without realizing. Who knew that lipreading could be such an integral part of our communication?
So during the pandemic, the demand for voice-to-text, speech-to-text or automated voice recognition apps has increased more than ever before. When face masks became a norm, lipreading and hearing people speak were harder. While heading to the doctor’s office, picking up groceries, or chatting amongst friends, frustration was felt across the hard-of-hearing community. The Deaf community had the luxury of continuing to communicate with sign language without much disturbance but Deaf lip readers joined the frustration too.
Android users had Google Live Transcribe as their free choice and found a sense of relief and let others with hearing loss know. iPhone users were left trying to find their own solution. Some iPhone users took another route and used Google Meets by using their internet browser on their smartphone to get a similar effect. Finally, now iPhone users have the option of getting their own captioning on the devices.
What is needed to be the best voice-to-text app? Here are a few key things are worth mentioning to understand what makes a great app to have.
Using apps outside of your home can get very costly unless you have an unlimited data plan. Many of the speech-to-text apps require WiFi. Apps like Google Meets or Google Live Transcribe (at one time) required WiFi or internet connectivity to work.
The transcription work is not done on the phone, and WiFi or a data plan, for some apps, is needed. So instead, the voice transcription work is done remotely in a private space on the internet. This occurs because it takes a lot of energy to do the voice transcription work, and it’s best to save battery power on a smartphone.
Most people desire to use speech-to-text apps outside of the home. But, without realizing it, free often comes at a cost or an extra cost depending on how frequent you are using the app. So apps that you can download and run on your phone without internet connectivity are cost-effective.
The accuracy of the voice-to-text translation is best when more people are using it, the audio data is not private and freely shared through WiFi. When you are using a voice-to-text app, voice data is sent remotely behind the scenes to be processed and transcribed to you.
Some of the voice data is saved on the company’s virtual computer. That enabled them to collect a lot of audio data to improve the quality and accuracy of the app. In addition, some of the data can be saved for the company to repurpose and improve the app to learn different voices and annunciations. More data makes the app better over time. There are some companies that designed new technologies to make your voice data private.
You might find that your company or someone asks you not to use the app for privacy concerns. There are existing laws that protect your data from being shared. Our banking or health records are already legalized to be private, and these apps break the rules that many companies want to avoid.
When apps are not built with inclusivity in mind, poor accuracy shows. Many apps are created by men with similar speaking abilities. This is why not all apps are inclusive of people with disability, people of different nationalities, speaking abilities or gender at times. As we are deaf and hard of hearing, many of us have a slight or profound deaf accent. An app that has been trained with varied speech would work well for us.
Apps should understand specific conversations. Typically apps work well with basic vocabulary. However, if you are a neuroscientist or an archaeologist, the app may not have all the jargon or terminology used in your field. If you are allowed to add new vocabulary to the app, it could help improve the accuracy and enable you to follow the conversation a bit better.
Most people like the idea of free things. But nothing is ever free. You may be paying for it indirectly unless it is from a charity. Most likely, you paid for the free item by buying a device, paying your taxes, or through other interactions.
Behind the scenes of these apps, we are about to share are people who devote time because of lived experiences. All of them provide a paid version of some sort. By paying a fee, you’re not only helping the deaf and hard of hearing community, but you are showing what’s important to you.
Investing in apps designed by people with lived experiences, allow you to advancement the community. People with hearing loss are often unemployed because companies create systems that make it difficult for people with disabilities to advance in life or create generational wealth within the deaf community.
Lack of advancement in skills or leadership roles means deaf and hard of hearing people can’t control access to better wages in comparisons to hearing people or a chance to improve their overall livelihood. Some will never be able to be in leadership positions. How many executive leaders can you count in tech, finance, or communications at major companies that have a hearing loss?
With more people in our community seen in leadership roles, the more others can see themselves as leaders. It is like the story of Sir Roger Bannister. He was the first man to run a mile under four minutes. Many people seventy years ago believed that it wasn’t humanly possible. Not until Sir Roger proved that it could be done. Today, many athletes can easily run a mile in 4 minutes without a thought.
The rest of the article aims to let you know the options for iPhone users. iPhone users pay a premium for good quality smartphones, and with the highest quality smartphone, iPhone users expect quality apps to complement their smartphone devices. Therefore, we reviewed a few of the top and most popular voice-to-text apps built by the deaf community for the deaf community. In addition, we looked across the internet for feedback on each of the app where we can. Some of the apps below are in beta and we limited our review to the app features. However, these are thoughts from people with hearing loss just like you. We hope with this insight, you can decide which app to download and try today.
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