“I want to watch the recording of this talk with captions, but they were not provided,” one of my hearing loss friends asked me a few weeks ago. Do you have any ideas how I can do this?
“I have many!” I replied.
“You could watch the video in the Google Chrome browser—it has automatic captioning built in—you just need to enable it in the settings,” I suggested. “Or you could use a speech-to-text app on your phone. Do you have any installed?” My favorites are Live Transcribe for Android phones and Otter.ai for iPhones.
My friend is not hearing-tech-savvy or perhaps described more accurately—she is hearing-tech resistant. I have encouraged her to embrace a variety of captioning tools over the years, but nothing has really stuck. But now she seemed motivated, so we set a date for me to visit her tech set-up at home and show her the ropes.
I thought this would be easy. Toggle a setting in Google Chrome and download a few apps. Done. “See,” I would say, “this was easy!”
But it turns out that the hearing technology was only half the battle.
Hearing Technology Needs to Be Easy
Our problems started almost immediately.
We logged into her computer and opened the video she wanted to watch in the Google Chrome browser, but the captioning didn’t work. We enabled Live Captions in the settings. It didn’t work. We updated the Chrome browser to the latest version. It didn’t work. We googled what to do when Google Live Captions aren’t working and tried the various suggestions. They didn’t work.
We rebooted the computer. It didn’t work. I considered updating the operating system (it was a generation behind) but chose not to. I didn’t want all my “helping” to make it harder for them to use the computer.
“See,” she said, “it’s no use.”
Frustrated but undeterred, I moved onto the speech-to-text app options. But we couldn’t access the app store on her phone. She didn’t remember the password or whether the apps were on her account or on her husband’s. We didn’t want to reset the password and block him out.
Eventually we updated the operating system on her phone, created a new iCloud account and downloaded Otter.ai, which she seemed to like.
I hope she uses it.
Frustration with Technology Can Lead to Isolation
Several times during this long and frustrating process, my friend wanted to give up. “This is what always happens when I try hearing technology,” she said, “so I quit.”
“But then you don’t have the access you need,” I replied.
She shrugged sadly as if to say, “Yeah, but I am used to it.”
I am sure my friend is not alone in her challenges with technology. It is hard to keep operating systems updated and passwords at-the-ready in normal situations, but when we require technology to communicate well—especially during a pandemic—it becomes mission-critical.
How can hearing-tech companies make it easier to incorporate their tools into a hodgepodge of pre-existing phones and computers at various stages of readiness?
Here are some ideas:
Apple to the rescue
Apple hosts daily training sessions at their retail locations and virtually for users of their products. Common titles include “Intro to iPhone,” “Art Skills: Sketching Ideas in Notes,” and “Photography on iPhone.” Why not add “Intro to Hearing Accessibility on iPhone” or “How to Set up your Mac for Hearing Accessibility?” Apple could advertise the sessions through local Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) chapters and/or audiologist offices. I bet the sessions would be packed!
Partner with tech-savvy people with hearing loss
Wonderful websites to explain hearing technology to people with hearing loss already exist—for example Tina Childress has a great selection of tutorials on her website. Hearing-tech companies could help enhance these with their own YouTube or other tutorials showing how to integrate their products into a variety of existing set-ups.
Leverage HLAA technology trainers
HLAA has a small but mighty network of volunteer trainers knowledgeable in hearing assistive technology. Hearing-tech companies can help equip this network with the tools they need to help less tech-savvy people with hearing loss get started with hearing-tech.
Hearing technology can be life changing—opening the world of communication for people with hearing loss. But for hearing technology to have the greatest impact, it must not only be easy to use, it must also be easy to integrate into a variety of technology set-ups. Let’s hope hearing technology companies will rally to the challenge.
Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss, (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with Shari: Blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.