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Phone captioning apps for people with hearing loss

Having a smartphone has always been a bit ironic for those of us with hearing loss. We tend to use it for everything except making actual phone calls. But now there are phone captioning apps that allow us to make and receive phone calls.

Phone captioning apps for people with hearing loss

Olelo

The newest player on the market is Olelo. Olelo is the Hawaiian word for “language,” or “to speak.”

“We think [the name is] a nice fit for our service, and is a beautiful sounding word, and is also cool because it’s a palindrome,” says Erik Strand, founder and CEO of MachineGenius, the company that developed Olelo.

MachineGenius was founded in January 2017 with the express purpose of bringing a modern approach to captioned calls to the Internet Protocol Telephone Service (IP CTS) program. Strand and co-founder Tony Garcia (CTO) have deep experience in both large-scale automated speech recognition (ASR) and efficient, scalable mobile app development and delivery. The Olelo Captioned Calls app is their only product.

In May 2020, MachineGenius became the first “ASR-only” IP CTS provider to be certified by the FCC. Olelo was officially launched in August 2020, and has had over 10,000 installs. A FCC study assessed Olelo and found that it had a lower/better Word Error Rate (WER) and caption delay than other providers.

Olelo loves user feedback and has already incorporated changes, such as displaying caller ID for incoming calls. Not everyone likes being able to see both sides of the conversation in the captions, so this will be an available option soon. There have also been reports that Olelo censors curse words; this will also become an optional setting. To share ideas for improvement or any thoughts about the app, email oleloteam@machinegenius.com.

InnoCaption

Probably the most well-known of the phone captioning apps is InnoCaption, which was launched in July 2016. At the time, it was the only captioned phone service provider to offer a mobile app-based service across both iOS and Android devices. A record year was had in 2020, with 65 percent growth in active users.

What makes InnoCaption stand out is that it is the only mobile app that offers users a choice between real time captioning through live stenographers and ASR software. InnoCaption Marketing Director Matt Goncalves says that ASR is still a fairly new technology when it comes to captioned phone services. InnoCaption only began offering fully automated captions as a feature in early 2019. The company has seen a gradual adoption among their users.

“Currently, a majority of our calls are still captioned by live stenographers, but we are seeing more and more users try ASR, especially after we implemented the mid-call switching feature, which lets users switch between caption modes even during calls,” Goncalves says.

Live stenographer and ASR captioning modes each have different strengths and weaknesses, which are discussed in an InnoCaption blog post.

A new version of the iOS mobile app was released in May. It has a completely redesigned user interface with numerous features added to the app and a more modern look, Goncalves says. All the new features were added based on user feedback. They include light/dark modes and visual voicemail. The update was made available for Android devices a couple of weeks ago.

Phonak myCall-to-Text

Did you know that Phonak also has a phone captioning app called myCall-to-Text? It has live transcription in more than 80 languages. The app works optimally with Phonak Marvel hearing aids. Because Phonak is International, the app is available not just in the U.S., but Canada, UK, and Germany app stores.

Read more: Speech-to-text apps for the deaf community

Other Phone Captioning Apps

There are three other phone captioning apps on the market:

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Interview with Tamika Catchings

Tamika Catchings has been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Not only is she the first women’s player from the University of Tennessee to achieve this high honor, she is the first with hearing loss.

Impressive Career

Tamika Catchings has called her moderate to severe hearing loss her “superpower.” It certainly didn’t hinder her career, which includes winning the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) Defensive Player of the Year Award five times in her 15 seasons with the Indiana Fever and four Olympic gold medals. She’s garnished lots of other awards and acclaim, and she still holds the league’s career record for steals. A particular distinction she can be proud of is being the WNBA’s only player to spend an entire career of 16 or more seasons with the same franchise.

The daughter of former NBA player Harvey Catchings retired after the 2016 season. She now serves as director of player programs and franchise development with Pacers Sports & Entertainment. Catchings also operates the Tea’s Me Café on the north side of downtown Indianapolis, and serves as an ambassador with the NBA and WNBA. Additionally, she serves on a developmental committee with USA Basketball and as an SEC ESPN Women’s Basketball Analyst.

A cause close to her heart is the Catch the Stars Foundation, which she founded in 2004. It provides basketball camps, fitness clinics, mentoring, and literacy programs for underprivileged children to help them become successful in sports and academics.

Hall of Fame Speech

“Basketball chose me,” she said in her Hall of Fame speech. “An awkward, lanky, introverted tomboy born with a hearing disability, a speech impediment, and a will to overcome obstacles, dream big, and to change the world.”

Catchings also passed on what she learned from her parents.

“We all have dreams and goals. And whether you’re young or old, born with a disability or have been told of the things you can’t accomplish, tonight I share the same words that my parents shared with me, with a twist. If anyone can do it, you can. Shoot for the stars, work hard, and catch your dream.”

Read more: Notable deaf athletes you should know about

Hearing Loss

It wasn’t until Catchings was three years old that her parents realized she had a hearing loss. Her dad was behind her at a playground, calling her name, when he noticed she didn’t react at all. Her older brother was diagnosed with a hearing loss a few years earlier. After this incident, her parents got her hearing tested and discovered she had been born with a hearing loss. Soon after her diagnosis, she was fitted with hearing aids.

Unfortunately, the family moved around a lot. Because of this and other differences – of which hearing loss was just one – Catchings was bullied in school. One day in third grade, out of frustration, she threw her hearing aids into a tall field of grass. After looking unsuccessfully for them, Catchings’ mother told her they couldn’t afford to buy new ones and she had to learn to live without them. That same year, however, she started playing organized basketball. It wasn’t until she was playing basketball in college that she realized she needed hearing aids. Hearing Like Me had a chance to ask her about this and more.

Interview with Tamika Catchings

HLM: What is the cause of your hearing loss, if known?

Tamika: We don’t know. Outside of my brother and I, no one else in our family has a hearing loss.

HLM: What has it been like having a sibling with hearing loss?

Tamika: Kenyon and I have something in common, so it’s been great being able to share some of our challenges together.

HLM: What was your hearing journey after diagnosis?

Tamika: I received hearing aids as early as I can remember. We were always in mainstream schools. My mom and dad made sure that we were involved and engaged in a lot of different things.

HLM: You didn’t accept your hearing loss until freshman year of college. How did you feel about it prior to that, and what changed?

Tamika: I threw out my hearing aids for a period of time because of the bullying in my early years. After a conversation I had with my college coach, Pat Summitt, about my hearing, she encouraged me to wear them and told me I would one day have a story to tell about this.

HLM: When did you and/or your dad realize you took after him and were a skilled basketball player?

Tamika: We played a lot of sports growing up, so I think it was later. I made a goal my seventh grade year of one day playing in the NBA. Working with my dad at that point, I know we all started realizing my drive and dedication to the game.

HLM: How did your hearing loss affect your playing – both positively and negatively?

Tamika: I think that my hearing loss made me a better player. It forced me to develop in other areas and become more observant. The obvious part of it would be not hearing the plays and having to adjust. But all in all, I think it made me a better player.

“I think that my hearing loss made me a better player.”

HLM: What was it like playing overseas during the WNBA offseason as someone with hearing loss?

Tamika: I think the hardest part of playing overseas was trying to understand not just another language, but our translator with their accents. I enjoyed being engulfed in a different culture.

HLM: How have your teammates and coaches reacted to your hearing loss?

Tamika: Because I am comfortable with myself, there are times we just laugh and joke about it. If I miss something, or if they sense I missed something, they really try to help me out.

HLM: What accommodations, if any, have you requested during your career?

Tamika: I haven’t had any accommodations. I just try to make sure that I’m always positioned right in front to be able to catch all of the information in the huddles.

HLM: What are some standout moments from your career?

Tamika: Winning the 2012 WNBA Championship will always be at the forefront for me because of how special Indianapolis is and what the city has meant to me since being drafted.

HLM: What was it like being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame?

Tamika: Amazing! Being able to share in the moment with my hubby (Parnell) and all of our family was absolutely magical.

HLM: What do you want people with hearing loss to know?

Tamika: Our hearing loss does NOT define who we are or the level of success we can have. I look at my hearing loss as a superpower and am so grateful that God chose me to share my journey. Anything we dream, we can have WITH hard work and a commitment to accomplish our goals.

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Managing hearing loss and mental health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. To bring awareness to this issue, we’re addressing the research behind hearing loss and mental health.

As someone with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, depression, and anxiety, it’s sometimes hard to tell which came first. However, I have learned some good ways to cope.

Read more: Study: The impact of hearing loss on mental health

Why Hearing Loss Affects Your Mental Health

The first step in learning to juggle hearing loss and mental health is understanding how the two connect. There have been a few scientific studies into hearing loss and depression, and hearing loss and dementia.

Experts believe the extra cognitive load caused by your brain working harder to hear could cause mental health problems in people with hearing loss, but there are no clear causes yet. The isolation and difficulty communicating that can be part of hearing loss can also affect mental health.

Read more: How depression and hearing loss are connected

Managing Your Hearing Loss

Managing your hearing loss is an important step in managing your mental health. Unaided hearing loss can create more cognitive strain, putting individuals at higher risk of mental health problems.

Read more: Who is impacted by hearing loss and dementia?

However, hearing loss is notoriously difficult to accept. I struggled with my hearing loss for years before I booked a hearing test and started dealing with it. I got my diagnosis when I was 26-years-old, but I’d struggled for at least a decade beforehand. When I finally reached out for help, I got such a confidence boost, partly through having better hearing with hearing aids and partly through accepting my hearing loss instead of avoiding it. Just admitting it felt like a load off my shoulders.

“When I finally reached out for help, I got such a confidence boost…”

Hearing loss can cause low self esteem, isolation, and anxiety. Taking good care of your hearing loss and supporting your communication needs where you can are excellent ways to overcome some of these issues.

The first step is usually a visit to a primary care physician or getting a hearing test from an audiologist or ENT. Hearing tests are easy and don’t cause discomfort or pain in any way. After this, you can discuss your results with an audiologist and decide what to do next. For lots of people, hearing aids might help, but they aren’t your only option. Simply becoming aware of your hearing loss can help your mental health a great deal.

Read more: Hearing test

Improving Your Mental Health with Socialization and Communication

Mental health problems are always easier to manage with support or at least an active social life. If you find in person socializing difficult, try reaching out online. This can be a great place to start if you’re unsure of social situations. Try joining an online book group, like one of the hundreds on Goodreads. With a book club, you’re automatically given something to discuss, a place to start a conversation.

The isolation that comes with hearing loss doesn’t have to be debilitating. There are many ways to ease loneliness, such as social media, friendship apps, or local groups. Why not check out a hearing loss support group? Some meet in person, some meet online, and there are plenty of forums too. If you’re uncomfortable discussing your hearing loss, an off-topic group or forum can be the best place to start.

It can also be helpful to discuss your mental health with your existing social circle. Reach out to friends, family members, or even your healthcare provider to share some of your feelings about mental health. It’s beneficial for you to discuss how your hearing loss makes you feel too. If you’re not comfortable doing this with anyone you know, try a professional or a support forum.

Managing Your Mental Health

If you’re already dealing with your hearing loss, you’ll still need to manage your mental health itself. One of the best ways to do this is to create a routine that includes exercise and healthy eating. You can also lift your mood and manage stress and anxiety by getting regular exercise. Making sure you get out of the house is crucial. The more you get out, the better you learn to handle your hearing loss.

If in doubt, book an appointment with your primary care physician, and discuss your thoughts with them. It’s essential to get things appropriately assessed and access treatment if need be. If you’re finding that your hearing loss causes your mental health problems, be sure to mention this to your doctor. There are even therapist who are specially equipped to handle psychological issues connected to hearing loss.

In general, take care of yourself, and don’t forget that you aren’t alone. Lots of us have been through similar experiences. Don’t be afraid to reach out!

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What caused my hearing loss?

There is a tendency to assume that all age-related hearing loss is caused by loud noises, such as listening to loud music, working in loud environments or attending loud concerts in the past. The truth, of course, is very different.

In reality, there are multiple causes of hearing loss that affects us with age. I was curious to learn how other adults lost their hearing, so I talked to some people in to find out.

What caused my hearing loss?

Age-related hearing loss is one of the most common health conditions affecting older adults, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.  In the U.S., it is estimated that one-third of people over age 65, and half of those over 85, have some hearing loss.

The hearing loss that affects people as they age is caused by a number of factors. Prolonged exposure to loud noise is included, but this only just scratches the surface.

From a personal viewpoint, my deafness does mainly appear to have been caused by listening to loud music back in the day – before anyone told us not to.  However, my hearing was made worse after wax buildup and removal.

Read more: Who is at risk for age-related hearing loss?

Common causes of age-related hearing loss

According to The National Institute for Aging, people with hearing loss may find it hard to have conversations with friends and family, as well as have trouble understanding a doctor’s advice, responding to warnings, and hearing doorbells and alarms.

Medical News Today lists some diseases or circumstances that can cause deafness:

  • chicken pox
  • cytomegalovirus
  • mumps
  • meningitis
  • sickle cell disease
  • syphilis
  • lyme disease
  • diabetes
  • a treatment for tuberculosis (TB), streptomycin, that is believed to be a key risk factor
  • hypothyroidism
  • arthritis
  • some cancers

Considering the above list isn’t by any means exhaustive, this just shows that those who have hearing loss have no need to reproach themselves. If we are having to contend with inherited ailments and disease, not to mention volume induced loss, is it any wonder that those experiencing these disabilities are so often confused as to where they came from?

Read more: Hearing Loss

What caused your hearing loss?

To learn what caused other adults’ hearing loss, I asked members of a UK Hearing Loss Community on Facebook what caused their later onset hearing loss.

The answers, which follow in the members’ own words, just might surprise you. I know they did for me.

  • “I caught shingles, which they think damaged my left ear. Profound loss in that ear. When tested, right ear flagged up loss top. They think this could be hereditary. Severe to profound loss in right ear.” – Elaine Badger.
  • “Mine I believe is hereditary. My mother, aunts, and grandmother were hard of hearing.”
  • “I have only recently had hearing loss within the last year. I am 58, and found out that I had this disease 25 years ago. Have had four big ops to remove the cholesteatoma. The beast has returned four times. Had Combined Approach Tympanoplasty, stage 1-4. Plus mastoid surgery as this area was diseased too. I had been free from cholesteatoma for 10 years in 2016, but became very unwell with constant ear infection to left side that would not clear easily. I then had real issues with vertigo and could hardly walk for six weeks. They did an MRI scan and the disease had returned extensively, attaching itself to my balance organs and facial nerve. Removed it all in Feb 2017. The beast had eaten my hearing bones. They tried to do prosthetic TORP, but this failed. Hearing test showed that I was profoundly deaf in left ear, with 75 percent hearing in right. This was a shock really as did not imagine the damage that cholesteatoma could do.” – Gordon

Why treat age-related hearing loss?

As you can see from the examples I’ve shown here, there really is so much more to hearing loss than loud noises and bad headphone management.

“There really is so much more to hearing loss than loud noises and bad headphone management.”

This is why it’s so important to get your hearing tested if you have trouble hearing. It’s all too easy to assume that if you’ve never listened to loud music or been exposed to noise at high decibels, that hearing loss could never happen to you.

Quite simply, hearing loss can happen – and does to approximately 15% of the world’s adult population.

Read more: Why treat age-related hearing loss?

We should allow ourselves to be open to the reality that hearing loss is only the symptom presenting itself and not the cause.

Thinking of it this way may let us be more open to the way this disability affects others and how we may begin to understand hearing loss a little better.

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5 everyday hearing loss challenges made a little easier

When you have hearing loss, it is inevitable that you’ll experience challenges, but, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do to make your life easier.

There is an old saying that “knowledge is power,” and, without resorting to any other cliches, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared, especially when going into certain situations. Here are 5 hearing loss challenges that can be made easier through advocacy.

Hearing loss challenges

1. When darkness falls

Light isn’t something that comes to mind when you think about hearing issues. However, trust me, when the light fails problems are often not that far behind. You see whether you realize it or not, if you are hard of hearing, the chances are that you rely on light more than you think in your overall daily communication.

You don’t have to know sign language to seek clarification when holding a conversation with someone.

We all use body language during conversations, communication is far more than words, we not only use such things as pitch and depth, but we also focus on the face. The human face conveys what is being experienced in a person’s emotional system. When facing another person while talking, we are constantly looking for clues as to the exact meaning of their words.

Also, people who have hearing loss tend to lip read, whether they’re aware of it or not. This is why you might find yourself really looking hard at someone’s face if you’re struggling to hear them. Because of these reasons if at all possible try to avoid areas when you go out which are too dark.

If you go to the cinema explain to whoever you’re with that you need to just concentrate on the movie, but will be happy to talk when you come out after.

Avoid those romantic candlelit dinners and, instead, opt for bright enough mood lighting. This way you’ll be able to eat and talk without missing out on a large part of the communication.

“Avoid those romantic candlelit dinners and, instead, opt for bright enough mood lighting.”

2. Not being tapped on the shoulder

One of the most annoying things, and, this happens almost every day, is when a person begins speaking to you, having not got your attention first. Those of us with hearing difficulties often find it almost impossible to hear the first word or two spoken. This is because our concentration is somewhere else.

It can also be linked to our technology. For example, my hearing aids have automatic volume controls. This means that if a voice suddenly speaks they will take a short time to tune that sound in. It might be a split second to the hearing aid, but to me, it can mean one or two words missing from a sentence. I am then forced to ask them to repeat what they have just said.

This can then lead to the other person wrongly assuming that either my hearing aids are not working or that they are not speaking loud enough.

Often this scenario ends in the other person shouting when there really is no need at all. Thankfully, if the person is a friend or relative or even if they are new to you, there is something which is very easy and, also happens to be extremely effective. Having explained that your hearing aid needs a moment to enable you to tune into a conversation, simply ask that should the person want your attention at any time, to firmly tap you on the shoulder.

Shoulder tapping is very well known within the Deaf community but tends to be underused in the hearing loss community.

3. Jump scare city

When you have hearing loss sounds can easily take on different meanings and it’s all too easy to become startled.

The problem is that hearing aids are not perfect. Despite how amazing they can be, they only operate really well when you are facing a person directly. The microphones fitted inside aids will often fail to distinguish background from the foreground and, this can lead to confusion.

To make things more comfortable for yourself try to make sure that you are always seated in a corner facing out when sitting in cafe’s, coffee shops and restaurants. Nothing can spoil an evening out like jumping out of your skin every few minutes because of not being aware of where people are coming from. Also, when going into a place for the first time, take a moment or two to familiarize yourself with the overall layout of the place. Try to arrange it so that you can sit away from the bar or shop counter.

“To make things more comfortable for yourself try to make sure that you are always seated in a corner facing out when sitting in cafe’s, coffee shops and restaurants.”

By doing this you can avoid having to fight through a barrage of noise from both customers and staff. As well as coffee machines, cocktail shakers, and other miscellaneous s sounds.

Just by knowing your surroundings and the placement of both people and objects, you can make your experience so much better.

4. Public announcements

Whenever you find yourself having to use crowded public areas where passengers congregate, such as airports, train and bus stations, here is something to bear in mind, if you would like to save yourself a headache or two.

Hearing people struggle with understanding announcers coming across public address systems at the best of times, doubt that? Just stand and watch your fellow passengers expressions, as they attempt to unravel whether what has just been said might apply to them.

Save yourself the hassle and, don’t even try to struggle with announcements, instead I do one of the following things.

Be certain to check online ahead of time any and all information that will be useful for your journey.

See if you can get an app for your mobile phone. The chances are that you’ll be able to get a free app which will allow you to keep up on any and all arrivals, departures and changes.

Read more: Tips for using public transportation with hearing loss

As soon as you come in through the entrance look around and find the information desk or kiosk. If you head over to them, they’re certain to have all of the up to the minute information and you will be talking one on one.

You should also look for illuminated signboards; these will show all important relevant helpful information.

5. Caring for hearing technology

We need to all be very thankful for the amazing hearing technology which we wear day after day and, which allows us a pathway into the hearing world.

Inside that small plastic shell is housed some very high-quality sophisticated equipment. These miniature computers can be delicate and need taking good care of.

Look after your hearing aids and, they will be free to do their job perfectly.

The good news, is that looking after a hearing aid is not rocket science. As long as you do one or two things right, they practically take care of themselves.

Be certain to change your batteries on a regular basis, as these can leak and, if this happens it can damage the aid. Also, always be sure to carry spare batteries, because you never know when you might need them.

Avoid moisture and be sure to always store your aids in a dry place. You can always get a dry cup. This is used with a drying tablet which removes moisture and, will keep it perfectly dry, when not in use.

Keep aids clean, be sure to wipe off any wax which has accumulated. On the device or mould. You can use a soft toothbrush or a cotton bud, do this very gently.

If you keep these 5 things in mind, you’ll easily be able to turn potential problems into challenges you are happy to meet head-on.

Living with hearing loss is not difficult as long as you are well prepared and you do a little forward thinking and planning.