Every year, at the start of the new year, hundreds of thousands of people arrive in Nevada for the Consumer Technology Association’s Consumer Electronic Show (CES). Most governments from various countries and private investors give and invest billions of dollars into companies and startups to research and develop new technologies. The results of their investments are displayed at the CES for industry leaders at the event.
Accessibility technologies also have their place at CES. Some of the technologies we will see in the future, and others will join the graveyard of technologies that never see the light of day. Social media was buzzing with hearing loss leaders attending the event willing to pay the $1275 US ticket to be in a room of thought leaders and innovators from our current technological revolution.
For those of us who couldn’t or wouldn’t attend an event, this article will give you the play-by-play of the changes I’ve seen in the hearing care and assistive tech sector for people with hearing loss.
Automated captioning allowed so many people to benefit from following along with verbal communications in all kinds of settings. During the global pandemic, automated captioning became essential. There weren’t enough trained professionals to facilitate the manual closed-captioning needed for Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART). It was physically impossible for CART professionals to appear in every home or group meeting worldwide. Automated captioning saved the day even when it wasn’t the most accurate translation. However, many of us choose this when no other solution is available.
Automated captioning is available for desktops, laptops, tablets, TVs and smartphones. Beyond that, it has limited capacities. New hardware devices are being designed to help with automated captioning that is more portable for use outside the building. Using glasses or wearable devices with display screens are some of the technologies that are creating buzz today. More devices can access automated captioning to help us in all situations.
I may be biased here because, as a founder of Lisnen, we’re producing technology to allow people with hearing loss to be aware of sounds calling for their immediate attention. The ability for you to act and respond right away to an event is very critical for many. Sounds are not just for emergency situations, but they can also be for pleasure as well.
Many musicians and those who are into music often lose their hearing later in life due to poor hearing care. They often miss the sounds of musical instruments and singers’ vocals as their hearing deteriorates. When they are introduced to hearing aids, all that listening experience is gone. As most hearing aids are designed for speech, using hearing aids to listen to music sounds horrible to audiophiles. New technologies will go beyond speech and focus on other pleasing sounds that can bring joy to anyone who enjoys music.
Hearing aid and cochlear implant manufacturers took leadership and worked with smartphone manufacturers to create a smooth experience that allowed us to hear better with our smartphones through our hearing aids. That collaboration of two opposite competing companies was necessary for the success.
More hardware connectivity may be in store, especially with the new technology expected to disrupt the hearing loop system, such as Bluetooth LE, that will allow many people with hearing loss to connect to any speaker system in public spaces. Imagine attending a sports bar to watch the world cup soccer (or football, for our European readers), and be able to connect your hearing aids to the tv monitor smoothly. Connectivity will be important for us to feel a sense of belonging in the spaces that we are in.
People who sign as their primary language only had the option of using automated captioning, but now video recognition technology has made it possible for people who communicate using sign language to benefit from the automated translation. Translating speech to sign language is quickly picking up speed and becoming mainstream.
Soon enough, people who sign will be able to receive translations from other sign languages from around the world, making the deaf community globally more connected than ever before.
The group with the most number of people with hearing loss is the older adult population. They are driving the change in hearing aids and cochlear implant development. In the western world, older adults have needs that can overshadow young adults and children with their own individual needs. Just check the ads for hearing aids that rarely speak to the rest of the population with hearing loss.
Yet, older adults increasingly prioritize their health to live longer and more independently, and hearing device manufacturers want to support their desire. Devices often sold to older adults, such as fall detection or health monitors, are being built into the hearing devices.
Technology follows the demand of the consumer and what they want to see. As people with hearing loss, we are not used to new technologies coming to our hands every month or often. However, a small pocket of innovators, from researchers to start-ups and billion-dollar tech companies, are shaping and creating new technologies to help us live our best lives.
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