Captions Wherever You Go

It’s rare that a new app or product comes on the hearing device market that seems revolutionary. But Google has come out with a voice to text app that is potentially game-changing for those of us with severe hearing loss.

Although I have an excellent hearing aid and a state of the art cochlear implant, I still have trouble understanding speech in a group or in a noisy environment. Existing voice to text apps like AVA and Dragon Dictation help in those situations, but Google Transcribe far out performs them.

Google Transcribe is a free app that is currently available only for Android devices. I’ve been using it for the past month or so and didn’t want to write about it till I understood the pros and cons.

There are cons, as a glance at the photo illustrates. It starts out fine and then deteriorates.Google Transcribe IMG_0495

This transcript was made during a discussion with three other people. Looking at the transcript now, a day after the conversation took place, the text seems pretty garbled. It seemed perfectly clear at the time, probably because I can also hear enough to provide context. My book club was discussing Geraldine Brooks’ novel “March,” which imagines Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” from the perspective of the father who goes off to the Civil War. “Marmion” in this text refers to Marmee. I’m not sure what the word “Reversible” was supposed to be, but the rest of it seems clear enough.

Using the device at my book club, the discussion at first appeared in Spanish. Google Transcribe is also a translation app and has dozens of languages to choose from. I must have clicked on Spanish by mistake.

If you have an Android phone, all you need to do is download the Google Transcribe app. If, like me, you are a loyal Apple user, you’re out of luck unless you buy an Android device. Fellow blogger Shari Eberts, who wrote about Google Transcribe a few weeks ago, suggested buying an inexpensive Android device and not registering for phone service.

I bought this device. Since I’m not an Android user it took me a few tries to figure how to turn it on and navigate around it. I should have had the sales person show me how it works. It’s a nice slim phone and it charges quickly. As long as it’s connected to WiFi, it gets Internet access. I recently used this phone for GalaPro (see earlier post), because the type is clearer and larger than that on my iPhone. It even has a nice camera.

Live Transcribe also provides live captioning for any video, including podcasts, Skype calls and others. You can read more about this on Hearingtracker.com in an article by David Copithorne.

Live Transcribe is an artificial-intelligence based technology, which means that it learns how to hear speech. Your own voice will quickly be the most accurate, because it’s the one the app is most often exposed to. Other speakers will also transcribe more or less accurately depending on background noise, how clearly the speaker articulates and so on. It may take longer for Live Transcribe to recognize and accurately translate heavily accented speech.

Copithorne also wrote about Google’s Project Euphonia, which learns to recognize diverse speech patterns, for instance speech impediments. In partnership with the ALS Therapy Development Institute, Google Transcribe’s algorithms will enable it to learn to follow the speech patterns of people with ALS.

I haven’t tried Google Transcribe yet in a restaurant but I have successfully used it in environments that were previously very difficult. One is at our HLAA New York City chapter monthly meeting. The presentations are looped and captions are provided by CART. But I’ve always found it difficult to hear people who want to talk to me before or after the program. I used it this past week and it changed the whole experience. I could actually understand what people were saying. (CART, at least for now, is a superior caption provider, but since you can’t take your CART provider with you most of the time, Google Transcribe is a good substitute.)

Last week Apple stores were holding workshops for people with disabilities to demonstrate ways that Apple products could be of help. I had asked for CART captioning for the workshop, but Apple was unable to provide it. The workshop was held in a typically loud Apple Store. Apple had provided a portable hearing loop, which helped. But the only way I followed the presentation was on my Android phone using Google Translate.

It seems like heresy to use an Android phone in an Apple Store, but the presenters were impressed. Let’s hope Apple follows Google’s lead in this promising new technology.

 

UPDATE, MONDAY May 27:

Android’s Live Transcribe will let you save transcriptions and show ‘sound events’.

Click to read the article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hearing Mom

Sunday is Mother’s Day. I miss my mom. But I especially miss all the things I didn’t hear her say.Mom and me 2013

In her 80s, my mother’s mind and body succumbed to aging. She developed dementia, she had frequent falls and she often needed a wheelchair. But her hearing remained acute. Mine did not.

After my father died, when Mom was 85, she wanted to stay in the house they’d lived in together. It was far away from any of her children, and she had 24-hour-a-day nurses’ aides. Despite this attention, she often fell or had other physical issues that would send her to the hospital, then into rehab to recover, then home again with an aide, only to fall or suffer heart problems or infections once again, and start the cycle over.

Eventually, against her wishes, my siblings and I decided she would be better in the long-term nursing care facility at the community where they lived. She ended up thriving there.

But while she was still living at home, my hearing was a significant obstacle. It was difficult for me to hear her on the phone — and frustrating for us both — so I visited as often as I could. Even when I visited her, though, her soft voice and increasing dementia made it hard for me to understand her. My hearing loss also created some potentially dangerous situations. If I had to call her doctor or even 911, I couldn’t hear their responses. I’d hand the phone to my mother to listen for me and hope she was correctly repeating whatever the doctor said. I didn’t know about captioned phones then, or I’d surely have ordered one. If Text 911 had existed, that would have removed another barrier to communication.

Once she was in the nursing facility, there were fewer crises. But as she became less clear mentally, and as her voice weakened, I not only couldn’t understand what she was saying, but I was never sure she was saying what I thought she was saying. It’s hard enough for a fully hearing person to converse with someone with dementia. Imagine what it’s like when you aren’t sure you’ve understood correctly.

My mother died in 2014. Every mother’s Day I think about all that I missed in those last years of her life. Despite hearing aids and a cochlear implant, and hearing-assistive devices galore, my hearing and her dementia still created an enormous gap. The only way across it was with smiles and hugs and just being there — for her and for me.

Most people’s hearing problems are not as severe as mine. But if you’re having trouble hearing an elderly parent with a whispery voice — or if the parent is having trouble hearing you — don’t let that happen. If you are not ready for hearing aids, buy yourself a handheld device such as a pocket talker.

But whatever solution you come up with, don’t let those words be lost forever.

(A version of this post was first published in 2015 in AARP online.)

Photo courtesy of Katherine Bouton

For more about hearing health, my book “Smart Hearing.” will tell you everything I know about hearing loss, hearing aids, and hearing health.Smart Hearing_Cover_highres

You can get it online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, in paperback or ebook for Kindle or Nook. You can also ask your library or favorite independent bookstore to order it.

Theatre for All

Theatre is one of the world’s oldest forms of entertainment, but in recent years I’d stopped going. My hearing loss was too big a barrier to enjoyment. Now, thanks to technology, I once again have access to theatre, and I’m loving it,

On Easter Sunday afternoon my husband and I went to see The Ferryman, the much acclaimed play by Jez Butterworth that takes place during the Troubles in Ireland. It’s a big cast with many voices. As recently as two years ago the only way I could have seen the play was if the Theater Development Fund had offered an open captioned performance through its Theater Access Program. iStock_000002637313Medium

This Sunday performance was not open captioned. But it was fully accessible to me, for two reasons.

The first is that the theater is owned by the Shubert Organization, which has installed a hearing loop. (For a list of other looped theaters, check out audiologist Louise Levy’s website.) If you have a hearing aid or cochlear implant with a telecoil, all you have to do is change the program to telecoil mode (usually by pushing a button on the earpiece) and the sound will go directly into your ear. If you don’t have a hearing aid with a telecoil, you can use the theater’s headset, which you get at the concierge desk. But really, just go back to your audiologist and ask for a telecoil. It costs almost nothing.

The second reason is captions. My hearing loss is severe enough that the enhanced sound delivered by a hearing loop is sometimes not enough especially in a multi-character play (with Irish accents). Understanding that the loop won’t help everyone, including the signing Deaf, many theaters usually also offer a handheld captioning device called I-Caption. Captions are also availably for your own phone or tablet from GalaPro. For I-Caption, you pick up the device at the concierge desk and drop it off when you leave.  It’s important to remember that captions are not available on I-Caption or GalaPro until four weeks after the show’s opening.

For the second act, I switched to GalaPro. This time I methodically set the captions up during the intermission, so they were ready to go as the curtain rose. The captions were almost perfectly synced to the dialogue and I barely missed a word from that point on.  Given the fast dialogue, Irish accents, and the need for sheer listening stamina (the play is three-plus hours), my guess is that I heard, and retained, more than most of the people in the theater. The combination of sound via the loop and sight via the captions may have made me the best hearing person in the theater.

The GalaPro app is free and available for iPhone or Android. You need to be sure you know the correct steps to activate the captions – before the play begins. It’s not difficult to set up, and the concierge desk can help, but don’t wait till the last minute to get started.

You begin by putting your phone into airplane mode and then sign onto the theater’s wifi system. Scroll down the list of shows to the show you’re attending, and fill in the password. This last step is the one that stumped me. What IS my GalaPro password? Turns out you don’t need one. The site actually tells you the password (GalaPro1). But if you wait till the curtain is about to go up before completing the setup, you’ll find yourself literally in the dark and caption-less until intermission. Yes, this has happened to me, more than once.

You can check whether GalaPro is available at the show you want to see by going on TheaterAccessNYC, another useful tool offered by the Theater Development Fund, in this case in partnership with the Broadway League. The website is just one of many TDF services that make Broadway theater accessible to almost all. In addition to open-captioned performances, TDF-TAP also offers ASL-interpretation, accessibility for the blind and for people with disabilities like autism. The TKTS booths (at Lincoln Center, in Times Square, and at the South Street Seaport) sell same-day half-price tickets. TDF also offers special pricing for students, the elderly and many other groups. See here to find out if you qualify for membership.

GalaPro does have limitations, especially in a play with very fast dialogue. I saw Theresa Rebeck’s Bernhardt/Hamlet last fall, with the magnificent Janet McTeer playing Sarah Bernhardt. The play itself is intricately layered with McTeer playing Bernhardt playing Hamlet. It’s also very very fast. Everyone once in a while GalaPro seemed to take a breather, so I did miss some lines.

I haven’t tried GalaPro at a musical but I imagine the captions have an easier time keeping up, especially with the songs, which inevitably repeat many phrases. I’m seeing Kiss Me Kate later this month, with open captions via TDF-TAP. I’ll keep an eye on GalaPro for comparison.

Meanwhile, the loop can work very well on its own for me. Last week I saw What the Constitution Means to Me, Heidi Schreck’s autobiographical play. I had good seats, with a good sightline to the actors, and thanks to the loop I understood every word.

I’m very lucky to live in New York, where I have easy access to the theater. Until recently, I didn’t go much because it was too hard to hear. Gala Pro, I-Caption, and looping have given me back the theater again.

Meanwhile, here’s a list of looped venues across the country, with thanks to David Myers and Jerry Bergman.

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For more about hearing health, my book “Smart Hearing.” will tell you everything I know about hearing loss, hearing aids, and hearing health. Smart Hearing_Cover_highres You can get it online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, in paperback or ebook for Kindle or Nook. You can also ask your library or favorite independent bookstore to order it.

It’s About Attitude

Ten years ago when my hearing dropped suddenly and severely, I despaired of ever living a hearing life again. Despite a cochlear implant and a sophisticated hearing aid, that despair seemed justified. I could hear, but I could not function in a hearing world

Some terrible times are burned into my memory.

balance business cobblestone conceptual
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Taking my daughter and some of her friends to a restaurant for her 21st birthday. My daughter sat next to me and helped with handwritten notes and clearly enunciated explanations, but that wasn’t enough. I was never even sure of her friends’ names, although I do know three of them were named Sarah.

Going to a college friend’s funeral in Cambridge in a beautiful Harvard chapel with terrible acoustics. Several old classmates were there but I didn’t recognize them and I couldn’t hear names clearly enough to know who I was talking to.

My children’s college graduations – both lovely occasions, of which I heard nothing, from start to finish. But even the milder hearing loss I had from age 30 on meant that I never really heard any school event, pre-k to graduate school.

The daily morning meeting of editors in my department at The New York Times. 15 to 20 people planning a daily section, of which about a fifth would be content I was responsible for. I delivered my information but I never heard the responses, or questions about it. I cringe at the memory.

Most of the 2008-2010 theater seasons. As theater editor I was expected to see as much as possible. No one said anything about hearing it. I remember going to a play with Ben Brantley, the theater critic. Not only could I not hear a word of the play but I couldn’t hear him in the intermission either. Did I tell him? Vaguely. Maybe. At that point in my career the stigma of hearing loss and aging was terrifying. (Readers of my memoir, Shouting Won’t Help, know that that strategy did not work!)

Now a mere a decade later, technology has delivered the tools I need to function in a hearing world. Over the next few weeks, I’ll discuss some that I personally use. Some allow me to hear at the theater, some at the movies, some over dinner in a noisy restaurant, some in a gym class, some to hear music again. I can go hiking and hear my companion ten feet ahead of me. I can hear everyone at my book club (as long as they speak one at a time). I can communicate with friends who are even deafer than me, friends I used to “talk” to over our computers sitting side by side. I can understand on a windy cold morning when someone asks me my dog’s name. (Oliver.)

Ollie on bed
Oliver

But it’s not just technology that allows me to hear better now. It’s attitude. I ask for CART captions. I ask for a seat in the front. I ask people to repeat themselves slowly and clearly. I ask my Pilates teacher to wear my clip-on mic so I can hear her. I make myself tell everyone that I have hearing loss, and explain to them over and over again how to talk so that I can understand them. I credit my friends at the Hearing Loss Association of America, #HLAA, for showing me the way.

In addition, instead of giving in to my hearing loss, I make myself hear better. I make myself listen. I did auditory rehabilitation – that is, I practiced listening — in both informal and formal programs, and part of what I learned was how to listen.

I accept my hearing loss – I use my devices, flawed as they sometimes seem, I ask for help. Most of all, I demand respect. It’s surprising how successful that is.

Next week I’ll write about how technology has allowed me to  love theater again. The week after, I’ll write about the new live captioning devices that me possible conversation in a noisy place. And the week after that I’ll write about how a new hearing aid can completely change the way you hear, even if the one you already had was top of the line and cost more than you’ve ever spent on any one thing except maybe a car or a house.

 

For more about hearing health, my book “Smart Hearing.” will tell you everything I know about hearing loss, hearing aids, and hearing health.

Smart Hearing_Cover_highres

You can get it online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, in paperback or ebook for Kindle or Nook. You can also ask your library or favorite independent bookstore to order it.

 

 

 

 

 

Crowdsourcing Hearing Info

The Mayo Clinic, in collaboration with the Hearing Loss Association of America (#HLAA) and the Ida Institute, an independent non-profit organization that promotes hearing health, has established an online forum where you can find support, answers to specific questions, share experiences and even gripe if you feel like it.

black and white business career close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The forum is monitored by Mayo Clinic staff as well as volunteer mentors, and this oversight should help keep the discussions civil and the information credible. I’ve been following it for the past couple of weeks and I’ve found a lot of interesting information, and a lot of people whose hearing-loss experiences help put my own in perspective.

To join the group:

Go to https://connect.mayoclinic.org/group/hearing-loss/.Click on the “Join” button at the top, create a user name (you can use a nickname or a first name plus @ — for instance Katherine@), enter your email address and follow the prompts.

Anyone can read the discussions, whether or not you join, but if you want to initiate a topic or comment on an existing discussion, you’ll need to fill in information in the section titled “Introduce Yourself.”

An online forum is not a substitute for an in-person support group. Whether you are new to hearing loss or a veteran of hearing loss, you might benefit from joining an HLAA or ALDA (Association of Late Deafened Adults) chapter near you. But I also recommend joining this forum. You can learn from the discussions and also contribute to others’ knowledge.

(If you think you’ve already read this post, you’re right! It was published in a longer form a few weeks ago. Now that I’ve had a chance to read the discussions over a few weeks, I thought it was worth another post. Please share your experiences.)

Treating Hearing Loss Globally

Earlier this month, marking World Hearing Day, the prestigious medical journal The Lancet announced the formation of a commission to study the impact of hearing loss across the globe.  Worldwide, more than 1.3 billion people have hearing loss and more than half a billion have disabling hearing loss. We usually think of hearing loss in terms of our own country, where the numbers are large – around 50 million – but minuscule in proportion to the staggering global numbers.

What does “disabling” mean when you’re talking about hearing loss? What is the impact of disabling loss on half a billion people?

For children, a disabling loss affects their ability to learn to speak, resulting in lower literacy and lower quality of life. For adults, a disabling loss can lead to profound isolation, withdrawal from community and family, an increased risk of psychological illness, and of cognitive decline, including dementia.

The new commission will include experts in otology, audiology, neuroscience, engineering, public health and public policy. Half the commissioners will be from low-income and middle-income countries. More than 80 percent of those with hearing loss are from these countries. The report is expected to be released on World Hearing Day in 2021.

In a Lancet article last July, (see my post The Toll of Hearing Loss is Global), several of those forming this commission described the need for a two-fold approach: Prevention and Treatment.

Prevention of childhood hearing loss would most benefit poorer countries, in a profound way: The authors suggested that prevention could reduce prevalence by 50 percent or more. Among the many possible solutions for prevention are vaccinations against rubella, measles and mumps, education about and treatment of other conditions, better maternal health care and universal screening of newborns.

Among the possible solutions for treatment are some that are already familiar to Americans with hearing loss: the use of non-FDA-approved hearing devices (less expensive than FDA approved hearing aids), better accessibility to hearing health care, the use of smartphone apps, telemedicine, solar powered batteries, and much else.

Although the incidence of hearing loss in the United States is lower it still is much higher than it should be, given our national wealth and resources. Our issue is not so much prevention as the lack of adequate and affordable treatment. In addition, in the U.S. hearing loss can sometimes seem like an invisible condition – and accommodations are often hard to find.

The commission’s attention to the worldwide toll of hearing loss should serve as a reminder that hearing loss is also a debilitating problem for many people here at home. Older Americans and the poor are disproportionately affected. We owe the same attention to treating hearing loss in the U.S., especially among the poor and elderly, that the Lancet Commission will be paying to the issue worldwide.

 

 

Answers to Questions About Hearing Health

black and white business career close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We all have questions about our hearing, our hearing aids, and our life with hearing loss. How can we enhance our hearing experience? How do we deal with hearing related issues like tinnitus and vertigo? How does hearing loss affect cognitive health?

Sometimes these issues may be addressed at HLAA chapter meetings, or through informal contacts made at HLAA’s annual convention (to be held this year in Rochester, June 20-23). Books like mine also offer information, as does the HLAA website. But now the Mayo Clinic is offering a new service where people with hearing loss, at every stage of their life, can get and share information with others.

The Mayo Clinic, in collaboration with the Hearing Loss Association of America (#HLAA) and the Ida Institute, an independent non-profit organization that promotes hearing health, has established an online forum where you can find support, answers to specific questions, share experiences and even gripe if you feel like it.

The forum is monitored by Mayo Clinic staff as well as volunteer mentors, and this oversight should help keep the discussions civil and the information credible.

To join the group go to https://connect.mayoclinic.org/group/hearing-loss/. Click on the “Join” button at the top, create a user name (you can use a nickname or a first name plus @ — for instance Katherine@), enter your email address and follow the prompts.

Anyone can read the discussions, whether or not you join, but if you want to initiate a topic or comment on an existing discussion, you’ll need to fill in information in the section titled “Introduce Yourself.”

Existing discussions address hyperacusis, how to improve hearing clarity, tips for speaking to someone with hearing loss, acoustic neuroma, trouble with TV captions, Meniere’s disease, dealing with tinnitus and much more.

An online forum is not a substitute for an in-person support group. Whether you are new to hearing loss or a veteran of hearing loss, you might benefit from joining an HLAA or ALDA (Association of Late Deafened Adults) chapter near you. But I also recommend joining this forum. You can learn from the discussions and also contribute to others’ knowledge.

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For more about hearing health, my book “Smart Hearing.” (2018) will tell you everything I know about hearing loss, hearing aids, and hearing health. “Shouting Won’t Help,” (2013) will tell you how I coped with unexpected hearing loss 

You can get them online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, in paperback or ebook for Kindle or Nook. You can also ask your library or favorite independent bookstore to order it.