AbilityNet Factsheet - April 2019

Hearing Loss and Computing

This factsheet gives information about how computers, tablets and smartphones can be used to enhance listening for people with some degree of hearing loss. It does not aim to be comprehensive but provides a useful introduction to some of the key assistive technology available.

Some 11 million people in the UK have hearing loss – that’s around one-in-six of the whole population. Levels of hearing loss – mild, moderate, severe or profound – are defined according to the quietest sound that you can hear. 

Generally, as hearing loss gets progressively worse, difficulties in communicating increase. People with milder hearing losses may struggle when there is some background noise and people with more severe hearing loss may not be able to manage even in very quiet environments.

Assistive devices and support can help individuals manage their hearing loss and transcend potential barriers to full participation in education, work and leisure activities. However, each person and their requirements are unique, and anyone with hearing loss should always seek expert assessment and advice from an audiologist or a specialist charity.

Similarly, businesses and service providers should also access expert advice on the adjustments, adaptations and support they can make to ensure that people with hearing loss can enjoy equal access to services and do not face barriers to employment or experience discrimination at work.

Last updated: April 2019

1. How can technology help?

A wide variety of devices are available to help people manage their hearing loss. Innovations and new products are being released all the time, and the latest assistive technology is smart, easy to use and relatively inexpensive. It can help you to get the best from your hearing aids, enabling you to participate far more fully in leisure, work and study activities.

Available equipment and services include:

  • text services
  • induction loops
  • assistive listening devices, including radio aids

You can also use a computer, tablet or smartphone to enhance your communications in many ways – including sound alerts, captioning and text services. An increasing array of useful apps are now available to assist people with hearing loss, while video calls can be extremely helpful for lip-reading and signing.

2. What should employers do?

Under the Equality Act, employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for people with deafness or hearing loss so that they are not put at a ‘substantial disadvantage’ with non-disabled people. Failure to make such adjustments renders employers vulnerable to claims of discrimination.

Employers therefore need to consider what reasonable adjustments they should make to ensure that any staff with a hearing loss enjoy equal access to everything involved in doing and keeping their job as any non-disabled colleague.

Any adjustments required do not necessarily need to cost a lot of money. What may be reasonable will depend, in part, on the size and nature of the organisation. For staff with hearing loss, reasonable adjustments could include:

  • installing relevant assistive technologies
  • making some changes to work organisation and the working environment
  • providing communications support – such as BSåçL interpreters, lip-speakers, electronic note-takers or speech-to-text reporters for meetings and training etc.

3. Adjusting your computer, tablet or smartphone

There are some very simple ways that people with hearing loss can adjust the settings on their computer, tablet or smartphone to make it easier to use. Potential options include:

  • changing the type of alerts so that you get a visual notification (such as the screen flashing) or a vibration when a sound is played
  • turning on captions so that these are displayed in all apps that use them, such as video apps with subtitles
  • connecting your hearing aid or cochlear implant directly to your device
  • enabling phone noise cancellation (to reduce ambient background noise).

Go to mcmw.abilitynet.org.uk/hearing/ for practical instructions on how to make these settings on different devices and operating systems.

4. Text services

Next Generation Text Service

Textphones are used by people who are unable to hear on a standard telephone. Users can either type or speak their part of the call and receive text back that they can read on the textphone's screen.

The Next Generation Text Service (NGTS) introduced by BT is the new national text relay service. As well as working with conventional textphones, NGTS allows you to make calls via your computer, tablet or smartphone. By using the NGT Lite app, you can communicate with another person either directly (if they also have the app) or through a Relay Assistant who will speak or type your words through to the other person and text you their response.

Visit www.ngts.org.uk for more information.

Speech-to-text reporters and electronic note-takers

Speech-to-text reporters (STTRs) help people with hearing loss to access spoken information via a laptop or computer / projection screen. STTRs use a special keyboard and system called Palantype or Stenograph to type words phonetically. This enables English translations to be provided in real time on your screen, and is most suitable for people who are capable of reading text quickly for long periods.

Electronic note-takers also produce notes onto a laptop, but with the communications support specialist providing a live, comprehensive summary of what is being said rather than a verbatim account. They are most commonly used in education.

5. Induction loops

The majority of modern hearing aids include a ‘telecoil’ which can be activated by an audiologist. By switching their device to the ‘T’ setting, users can access the Loop Programme. This enables their hearing aid to pick up sound signals from an induction loop. Switching to the Loop Programme switches off the hearing aid’s microphone – blocking out background noise so that you can focus on the sound you want to hear.

Induction Loop sign - an illustration of an ear with a wide line running diagonally from the bottom left to the top righ and the letter T in the bottom right corner.Public loops are often found in large public buildings (theatres, cinemas and churches), as well as in banks, advice centres and shops displaying the standard sign. 

A portable loop system may be the solution when a permanently fixed loop is not available or where usage is required in many areas within one building.

It is also possible to create room loops for use at home (for example, to pick up sound from your TV or Hi-Fi). These can provide sound for everyone in the room whereas personal neck-loops only work for the individual wearer.

6. Assistive listening devices

Radio aids

Wireless radio aid systems offer a very effective way of improving the signal-to-noise ratio (and, therefore, speech intelligibility) for people with a hearing aid or cochlear implant. They enhance your listening experience by delivering the sounds you want to hear directly to your hearing aid, unaffected by background noise and distance. The user wears a very small, discreet receiver while a transmitter with a microphone is worn by the person speaking.

The Connevans fmGenie is a very flexible, multichannel FM radio system that is widely used in the workplace, in schools and by university students. It can easily be integrated with other equipment including TVs, computers, voice recorders and phones. The Comfort Contego is a similar portable system developed by Comfort Audio.

The Phonak Roger is an easy to use digital system that also offers excellent speech quality – but without any need to change radio channels (to avoid possible interference).

A variety of transmitters are available, including the Roger EasyPen. This can be worn around the neck; or be directed ‘interview style’ towards the person speaking; or be placed in the middle of a table ‘conference style’ to listen to a group of people. The EasyPen is an intelligent product that detects the situation you are in and automatically adapts its microphone settings.

The Roger Pen offers all the same features as the EasyPen but with the addition of Bluetooth – providing a mobile phone facility to make and receive calls – and a manual microphone select function. As well as recharging the microphone, the Roger Pen docking station can also transmit audio from your TV, or computer/tablet directly into your hearing aid. Clip-on, table and touch-screen mics are also available for the Roger system, while Comfort Audio’s DigiSystem offers similar functionality.

The Roger Select mic is a recent addition to the Phonak offering. It is disc shaped with multiple microphones facing in six directions, each of which can be selected individually. This can be used on a table during a group discussion or attached to a speaker’s clothing. It can also be used for phone calls via a Bluetooth® connection.

Go to www.connevans.co.uk/catalogue/102/fmGenie-Radio-Aid-Systems for more information about the fmGenie system.

Go to www.phonak.com/uk/en/hearing-aids/accessories/roger.html to find out more about the Roger system.

Go to www.comfortaudio.com/ for details of the Comfort Contego and DigiSystem.

Personal listening devices

Personal listening devices are mobile phone or remote control sized products that help you to hear more clearly, whether you have a hearing aid or not. You point them in the direction you want to listen, and they amplify and transfer the sound direct to your hearing aid(s), or ears, via a variety of options (such as neckloops and headphones).

Some devices have an omni-directional microphone which can help improve speech intelligibility in more difficult circumstances, such as meetings etc. Many assistive listening devices are equally suited for TV and audio listening and have different input options, enabling you to change between microphone, direct audio and loop pickup.

Assistive listening for TV and audio

A wide range of infra-red and digital systems are available specifically to assist with listening to TV, radio and hi-fi. These include neckloop options for hearing aid wearers or stereo headsets for people who don’t wear a hearing aid.

A mains-powered transmitter base station is placed in a prominent position near the source. Most commonly this is connected directly (using SCART or audio connections) but it can also be operated with a wired microphone attached to the loudspeaker. The rechargeable wireless receiver worn by the listener is placed in the transmitter’s charging cradle when not in use.

7. Useful software and apps

The range of apps and specialist software designed to assist people with hearing loss (some of which utilise voice recognition) is expanding all the time. Many of these are available on different platforms, with potential options including:

  • Sonocent Audio Notetaker for capturing live recordings (or imported audio) and converting these into accessible chunks of text for subsequent editing. Sonocent Recorder is a free companion app that works with this software on both Android and iOS.
  • Roger Voice for captioning telephone calls and voice messages (rogervoice.com/en/)
  • Vox Sciences for transcribing voicemails and delivering these to your mobile as a text message or email (www.voxsci.com/)
  • MobileSign and BSL Finger Spelling for learning British Sign Language
  • InterpreterNow – an instant video-relay service that allows deaf people to make a video call in sign language, with an interpreter voicing what the deaf person says in real time (interpreternow.co.uk/)
  • Braci, OtoSense and TapTap provide are sound recognition applications that provide visual and sensory alerts to draw attention to nearby sounds
  • TapSOS is a non-verbal way to connect with the emergency services – launching soon (www.tapsos.com/)

8. How important is specialist advice and training?

People with hearing loss will only realise the full potential of any of the solutions outlined in this factsheet if they receive specialist assessment and support. One size does not fit all, and each person’s abilities and needs are unique.

Getting the most out of assistive technology also often requires receiving adequate training and having sufficient opportunity to become familiar and proficient with the products. Generally, training is most effective when it is spread over time and specifically geared towards the individual and their specific circumstances and requirements.

9. Useful contacts

Action on Hearing Loss

Action on Hearing Loss (formerly the RNID) is a UK-wide charity providing practical support and advice for people with hearing loss and tinnitus. It also provides day-to-day care, communication services and training, as well as campaigning to change public policy around hearing loss issues and supporting research into an eventual cure. Visit www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/

British Deaf Association (BDA)

The BDA is a UK-wide membership organisation and registered charity run by Deaf people for Deaf people. It delivers a range of services to achieve its aims of empowering Deaf people to overcome difficulties that they face on a daily basis.

Hearing Link

Hearing Link is a UK-wide charity for people with hearing loss, their families and friends. It aims to help people adjust to the practical and emotional challenges that hearing loss can bring – offering shared experiences, practical support and guidance.

Specialist suppliers – contact details

Specialist suppliers of assistive technology for people with hearing loss include:

10. How AbilityNet can help you

My Computer My Way

My Computer My Way is an AbilityNet run website packed with articles explaining how to use the accessibility features built into your computer, tablet or smartphone. The site is routinely updated as new features and changes are made to the Windows, MacOS, iOS, Chrome OS and Android operating systems. The site is broken down into the following sections:

  • Vision – computer adjustments to do with vision and colour
  • Hearing – computer adjustments to do with hearing, communication and speech
  • Motor – computer adjustments to do mobility, stamina and dexterity
  • Cognitive – computer adjustments to do with attention, learning and memory

Use it for free at mcmw.abilitynet.org.uk

Advice and information

If you have any questions please contact us at AbilityNet and we will do all we can to help.

IT support at Home

If you’re looking for in-person support, you can book a free visit from one of our disclosure-checked volunteers. Many of our volunteers are former IT professionals who give their time to help older people and people with disabilities to use technology to achieve their goals. Our friendly volunteers can help with most major computer systems, laptops, tablet devices and smartphones.

https://abilitynet.org.uk/at-home

Copyright information

This factsheet is licensed by AbilityNet under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. View a copy of this license at creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/

 
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