Top tips for how tech can help with hearing loss

During our free webinar on Tuesday 6 December, at 1pm GMT, AbilityNet, Thoughtworks, and SignHealth, shared their top tips on how tech can help d/Deaf people and those who have experienced hearing loss.Hearing aid being put on someone's ear

  • Find out about the tech available that can help with hearing loss
  • Panellists will discuss their experiences of hearing loss and deafness, and share examples of their most useful tech solutions
  • Pose your questions about hearing loss to the panel

The Q&A responses will be available on this page soon. The slides and transcript are available at the bottom of this page.

Top tips for how tech can help with hearing - AbilityNet webinar slides via SlideShare

Meet the panel

Matthew Johnston smiling at cameraMatthew Johnston 

Matthew Johnston is Global Head of Disability Inclusion at Thoughtworks and a Digital Accessibility Advocate who has spent his career so far in the tech industry. Matthew is also a trustee of Stagetext and Scope charities, and encourages and embraces inclusive design as a culture and practice. Matthew was born deaf. 

James Watson-O'Neill

James Watson-O'Neill smilingJames joined the Deaf health charity SignHealth as chief executive in 2016 and has worked in the charity sector since 2001, including a variety of roles at Scope and the NSPCC. James is a trustee of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group; a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce; and a Leadership Fellow at the Society of Leadership Fellows at the College of St George at Windsor Castle. James was awarded an OBE for services to Deaf people in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours 2022.

Iain Wilson, smiling at cameraIain Wilson 

Iain Wilson is AbilityNet's County Coordinator for Warwickshire Tech Volunteers. He has lived experience of hearing loss and can share information about hearing aids linked to iPhones, and how using captions on Zoom and Teams can help when you have hearing loss.

Stuart Goldberg

Stuart Goldberg smiling at cameraStuart Goldberg is AbilityNet’s County Coordinator for Hertfordshire Tech Volunteers. His main role is to oversee the requests to AbilityNet Free Services from Hertfordshire clients and the allocation of them to suitable volunteers. Stuart retired after a varied IT career spanning over 40 years. He has a hearing impairment and uses technology where he can to mitigate this.

Q&As

This webinar lasted 60 minutes and included an opportunity to pose questions to the guests. The panel were able to answer many questions from attendees during the live session, which you can find by watching the webinar playback or accessing the transcript. Here are some additional questions we weren't able to answer at the time:

Q: What free apps/software is available for live captions and transcription?

Stuart from AbilityNet: Speech-to-text apps: Microsoft Translator (iPhone & Android), Hearing Helper (iPhone), Visual Hearing Aid (Android). Also, do a search for ‘speech to text’ on the iPhone or Android app stores. There are quite a few apps available.

Q: Are all the Bluetooth-enabled hearing aid devices Stuart and Iain mentioned available on the NHS, or do they have to be purchased privately?

Stuart from AbilityNet: I asked a local charity, Hertfordshire Hearing Aid Service. The lady there said that Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids are starting to become available on the NHS. Hearing aid users should contact their local Audiology Department or NHS hearing aid service.

Q: My wife has Bluetooth hearing aids successfully paired and connected to her iPad.  She has recently acquired a Motorola android smartphone but all attempts to pair with her hearing aids have failed. Could it be that the hearing aids are only capable of pairing with one device?

Matthew from Thoughtworks: Yes that is the case. You have to disconnect the pairing to connect to another Bluetooth device.

Q: Is anyone aware of more help and or research there is to help d/Deaf people who have dementia?

Stuart from AbilityNet: I did a search on the RNID website and found these results

Q: Electric cars with no sound are deadly - what can we do?

Stuart from AbilityNet: Keep a lookout. In practice, I have found that electric vehicles that I have encountered do emit some sound.

Q: Is there guidance for configuring Teams and Zoom software to use captioning?

Stuart from AbilityNet

For Teams:

  1. Select More actions '...' Icon in the meeting controls and choose the CC icon to turn on live captions.
  2. Choose the language to use and select Confirm. Captions appear at the bottom of the screen. Captions are not recorded. If you need a transcript, use these Turn transcription on or off instructions.
  3. To turn captions off, select More actions '...' icon and choose the CC icon to turn off live captions.

For Zoom: 

Press the CC button on the control bar (if available). Note that Closed Captions will have to be enabled by the meeting organiser.

Q: Is there guidance for configuring Teams and Zoom software to use captioning?

Stuart from AbilityNet: The Multi-Mic that I use is proprietary to my hearing aid manufacturer. Assuming that the question refers to this one, the answer is ‘no’.

Q: Deaf persons who communicate with the use of sign language often prefer doctors and nurses who know some sign language or have an interpreter at health institutions. Is this true for the UK? (no information provided as to where this is in comparison/contrast to)

Matthew from Thoughtworks: I don't think it is fair to expect the doctors and nurses to learn sign language - deaf persons can ask for a sign language interpreter but NHS needs plenty of notice. In case of emergency, the doctors and nurses should have notebooks ready to write down or have a speech-to-text app on their smartphones.

James from SignHealth: While it’s great for health and care staff to learn sign language there is a risk if a deaf patient who is a BSL user is not supported by a qualified and registered BSL Interpreter with relevant experience. There is often a lot of very precise and technical language being exchanged in a doctor/patient scenario and the risk of misunderstanding, for example how much medication to take and how often, is very high. Also, health providers (Hospitals, GP surgeries, etc) should be commissioning BSL Interpreting using the NHS best practice guide attached and their Integrated Care Board should be following the recommendations of NHS England’s review of BSL Interpreting last year (also attached). It’s not appropriate for deaf patients to be told that they have to wait weeks for an appointment just to get an interpreter, there are alternative ways of accessing interpreters at short notice, including through video relay services like SignVideo, for example. All health and care staff should be properly trained on the Accessible Information Standard and know how to book interpreters and how to access an interpreter online in an emergency.

Q: How accurate are captions (as a figure) - human versus machine? - Is there a big accuracy difference?

Matthew from Thoughtworks: 

There are several factors that affect the accuracy of the captions:

  • Latency/wifi connection
  • The quality of the microphone
  • Background noises
  • Accent
  • Speech impairment

The human captions are generally more accurate but there are usually a few seconds of delay. Machine (auto) captions are faster. If there are no background noise and the speaker speaks clearly then there is very little difference except the machine captions are almost real-time. The machine captions have become more accurate in the past years that I now rarely use human captions except for large meetings and conferences.

Q: How accurate are captions (as a figure) - human versus machine? - Is there a big accuracy difference?

Matthew from Thoughtworks: I agree that we should be given options to control the sounds and captions on TV. I know some TV companies are providing controls on captions such as size, colours, and location. As for sounds, I am not aware if they will provide controls on the sounds but it is an interesting concept. I could ask Sony who is working hard to make their smart TV to be fully accessible. 

Q: James, who can we follow up with the re-launch you are saying is next year?

James from SignHealth: NHS England will actively promote the relaunch of the Accessible Information Standard but we’ll be doing lots to promote it at SignHealth too. You can find us on all the social media platforms – just search for SignHealth. We led a review of compliance with the Standard, working with lots of other charities, last year and you can see more information about that on our website here.

Q: Is there anything to prevent health personnel from having a Speech To Text (STT) app on the tablet most of them use for records?

James from SignHealth: Many health and care staff may not have easy access to a smartphone or tablet while at work and hospital wifi is notoriously bad so this may not be an easy option. It’s important to note that the Accessible Information Standard empowers the person receiving treatment or care to ask for communication in the way they want it – they may not want the health and care professional to use a Speech To Text app, they may instead ask for a BSL Interpreter, Lipspeaker, or for a mixture of approaches. We must encourage health and care professionals to be ready to adapt their practice to suit the needs of each individual person. 

Q: Is there anything to prevent health personnel from having a Speech To Text (STT) app on the tablet most of them use for records?

James from SignHealth: Yes – on most smartphones you can update your notification settings so that only certain apps make sounds.

Q: Any tips for uni students who attend face-to-face lectures and have hearing loss?

James from SignHealth: Contact your university’s Disabled Students’ Team and ask about the Disabled Students Allowance (DSAs). Matthew mentioned the use of a Roger microphone which connects to some hearing aids (and most others, with an additional bit of equipment) – the Roger mic can be easily clipped onto the lecturer’s clothes and picks up sound very well. But if you need support from a BSL Interpreter or notetaker your Disabled Students’ Team should be able to offer more advice.

Useful links

Date of webinar: 
6 Dec 2022 - 13:00