For those of you with a hearing loss who are reading this, welcome to the club. For those who do not (yet!) have a hearing loss, odds are you know several people who do. Hearing loss affects as many as 1 in 6 Americans. Only 20% of individuals who benefit from hearing aids actually have them.
Many people with hearing loss cannot afford high-priced hearing technology or do not have access to the few income- and age-based programs that provide hearing aids at low or no cost.
Perhaps you are already familiar with the pocket-sized devices that people with hearing loss use to enhance face-to-face communication, also called personal amplification devices, or Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs). One popular ALD is the Pocketalker, which, although no substitute for the sophistication of modern digital hearing aids, is a relatively low-cost alternative.
But you may not be aware that ALD technology is now also available free-of-charge to smartphone users. For example, there is an app called Mobile Ears that turns your iPhone into an ALD. I discovered this technology in response to a question from a friend who works with people whose voices are compromised by advanced illness; she was curious if there was something she could download to her smartphone to provide amplification unobtrusively. Google to the rescue! Had the app up and running in no time.
I must say, I am very pleased with its effectiveness, although it doesn’t offer tone control and it is not quite as loud or clear as the Pocketalker and other standalone ALDs, but at that price point and convenience of use it will be of benefit to many. Unfortunately, right now it is available only for i-device users, but luckily it’s not the only one. Here are some others to try:
And while we’re on the topic of Android devices and apps for enhancing face-to-face communication, there’s Ava. Ava provides real-time transcription of face-to-face conversations so that people with hearing loss who are comfortable with written English can engage in conversation with others. While it’s not perfect — it doesn’t always pick up the difference between who’s talking — it can be a good resource for obtaining clarification on words or sentences that a person may not have heard correctly. Like many apps, there’s a free version with limited functionality, and then a paid version that includes more bells and whistles.
Stay tuned for more info about free communication apps, the evolution never sleeps!