When Seeing is Hearing

Isolation isn’t conducive to writing about communication difficulties. Since communication difficulties are what this blog is about, I haven’t written much in recent months.

I’m getting along just fine with no one to talk to. I’m hearing well. Or at least I feel like I’m hearing well. But that’s because everything I hear – the television, the telephone, Zoom calls – is captioned. When I can see the words, I can also hear them.

That seeing enhances hearing is a well known phenomenon, which I’ve written about in the past. Researchers call it the McGurk effect, named after one of the British scientists who discovered in the 1970s that people comprehend speech better if they also see it. They called it “hearing lips and seeing voices.”

This is why good communication strategies are important. It’s why we need to make sure we can see a speaker in order to hear them. We all intuitively speech read. The speaker’s facial expressions contribute to our comprehension.  How the words are formed in the mouth and on the lips is also important, which is why we used to call it lipreading. Now we know that lipreading is augmented by facial expression and body language, and we call it speechreading.

I’m a good speechreader, but only if I can also hear what’s being said. If I hit the trifecta — hear the speaker, see the speaker, AND get captions — I hear perfectly! Fortunately for me, that’s often the case with virtual meetings and conversations.

There are times when captions fail me, however, especially with live TV. I like to watch the network news to catch up on the day. One network, my favorite, has terrible captioning. The captions routinely start stuttering, the same few words repeated over and over again while the speakers cluelessly move on. Eventually I give up and change the channel. Readers if you also have this experience, is it worse on a particular network? I’m reluctant to slam mine, but feel free chime in.

This network is presumably using ASR — Automatic Speech Recognition. Unfortunately the network’s system can’t even recognize the names of the network’s star correspondents. Far superior is CART captioning — Communication Access Real Time Translation. It would seem well worth the small investment in a good CART captioner. Networks, listen up! increase your viewership. The same problem exists, by the way, with live sports captioning.

Maybe I AM hearing better. Without the anxiety and stress of trying to hear and understand all day — trying to communicate — I’m more relaxed. These past few months, as bad as they’ve been, have for me included one benefit, a big benefit. I can hear.

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Here is a link for filing a complaint to the FCC. You will not be able to complain about a recurring problem, just one specific station/show on one specific date. So if you are trying to watch NBC Nightly News, for instance, you will have to choose one specific date and time to complain about.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on Hearing Loss

KB in Seattle copyInterview with Stu Nunnery, After hearing loss, Katherine Bouton finds new purpose in life. This paragraph about HLAA is just one part. Click on the link to read the whole interview.

Stu: Hearing loss has many side effects short and long term and most troubling to many of us is the isolation, depression, and other long term health issues.

Katherine: This is why I advocate for HLAA. Joining your local chapter of HLAA is the best way you can find others like you. It doesn’t mean you give up your hearing friends or your hearing life, but you meet new friends. And because many HLAA meetings have Communication Access Real Time (CART) capability, you can actually comfortably “hear” in these meetings.  I’ve learned a huge amount in casual conversation with my HLAA friends, and even more from the structured programs we sponsor. That said, in contrast to the very culturally vibrant deaf community, outside of HLAA (and maybe ALDA) there isn’t a hearing-loss community at all, much less a vibrant one. I think active HLAA members do have a vibrant community, but it’s hard to get people interested.

 

Source: After hearing loss, Katherine Bouton finds new purpose in life