Sally Shaw: The platform that personalises phone calls to match deaf people’s listening needs

Posted on March 29, 2016

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I am passionate about encouraging change that improves things for people with hearing loss.

It is why I set up the not-for-profit enterprise Ideas for Ears, and it is why I was so pleased to be invited to monitor the trial of a new type of phone technology called the Goshawk Speech Platform.

The Goshawk Speech Platform works by modifying the audio dynamics of calls made over telecoms or IP networks to match the specific hearing requirements of the telephone user.

Basically, this means that sound is tweaked and tailored to reflect your hearing ability before it comes through the handset – there’s no adjustment required to the actual phone.

With the sound modified to match your hearing ability, the expected end result is that you will hear more clearly and easily. It is a solution aimed at people with mild, moderate or severe hearing loss.

I was intrigued by the concept and jumped at the chance to monitor the experiences of the volunteers testing the technology.

The trial took place on the Isle of Man in November and December last year. It focused calls made on mobile phones.

Volunteers completed a short hearing test afterwards their mobile phone signal was personalised to reflect their hearing needs.

The trial was funded by the Wellcome Trust and was a collaboration between Goshawk Communications, the Isle of Man Department of Health and Social Care’s Audiology Service and the Island’s leading mobile phone provider, Manx Telecom.

The aim was to find out if the Goshawk Speech Platform resulted in improved speech intelligibility – i.e. did it make conversation crisper and clearer so it was easier to understand?

The trial results

Feedback from the volunteers was exciting. The vast majority found they experienced improved clarity and that this was helping them on calls.

As well as improved clarity, participants reported benefits from not having to struggle to use their mobile phone with their hearing aid. Mostly, this was because they didn’t need to use their hearing aid at all as the modified sound was of sufficient clarity and volume to allow them to simply put the phone straight to their ear.

For some, it was the first time in a long time they no longer had to use the speaker phone function to take calls. It meant they could take calls in public places again.

The participants were aged between 27 and 81 and all but three had hearing loss of a mild, moderate or severe level.

What’s next?

As to be expected with the innovation of a new and complex technology, the trial was not without some issues. For some participants, including some who reported improved clarity, there were issues like echo, sound interference, delays in sound and some text message issues.

Further testing and trialling is now planned to refine the technology and remedy the teething issues. A second trial is expected to take place on the Isle of Man in the summer and a trial in the UK is also possible.

Anyone interested in being involved in future trials can let me know as I’m adding names to a list of potential volunteers.

Matthew Turner, CEO of Goshawk Communications, says that although there is work still to do, the first trial has “succeeded in demonstrating as a global first that it is possible to process a live voice signal specific to the hearing needs of a mobile phone user.”

He reckons he is on the cusp of producing something special. I reckon he could be right.

Sally Shaw is the founder and director of Ideas for Ears, a social enterprise based in Scotland. Ideas for Ears supports organisations in creating customer and staff environments that are comfortable and appropriate for people of all hearing abilities. Sally’s interest in the Goshawk Speech Platform arises from work she is doing with various organisations that suggest significant numbers of office staff find their phones lack the clarity they need. Sally can be contacted at sally.shaw@ideasforears.org.uk or see www.ideasforears.org.uk

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Posted in: access, sally shaw