Hearing impaired people may not necessarily face more severe problems than visually impaired individuals, but their situation is as bad as any. Imagine living in a world where you aren’t able to hear your mother’s voice waking you up in the morning or the birds chirping to one another or listening to sweet music. You’re enclosed in a world of a silence that isn’t your choice. Life would no doubt become a kind of prison where you long to hear even the minutest of sounds. Being able to hear lends color to your life and is so vital in so many ways. Keeping in mind the importance of hearing, continuous attempts are being made to come up with devices using the latest in technology to help the hearing-impaired realize the world of sounds.
Hearing-impaired people are those who cannot hear sounds at low decibels, though there are cases with the lack of ability to hear any sound at all. For such instances, designers have come up with various ideas and techniques to make hearing possible. Louder volumes, better amplifiers and the use of colors and lights to symbolize the rise and fall of sound pitch and vibrations are some of the techniques that have been used. Sensors are also being employed in some cases.
The target audience for these devices is senior citizens whose hearing senses have become weak with age and also younger hearing-impaired people who cannot grasp sounds at normal frequencies.
Lack of hearing is nearly as dangerous for development as lack of vision. Following are the reasons for the development of devices for hearing-impaired people:
- To let them hear the voices of other people and give them hope that they are not alone in the world
- To make them aware of their surroundings which can help them exercise caution in certain situations such as crossing the road
- To help them learn better for much of the learning process is based on oral communication
- To help them interact with other people normally with minimum use of sign language which is largely unknown to the masses
- To help them perceive new meanings and goals in life and get the strength to achieve them
The new devices for the hearing-impaired have several common features that make them stand out from the piles of others. Some of them are:
- Better amplifiers that amplify sounds many more times than a normal amplifier in a cellphone or other audio device would
- High vibration-producing applications to enable the targeted audience to listen to sounds by feeling vibration patterns
- Use of non-audio signals such as colors and lights to display the patterns of music played
- Text-to-sound and sound-to-text converters for easy communication of the hearing-impaired with other people
Communicaid is a communication device designed mainly for hearing-impaired persons. It consists of three devices that work in different environments as per the demand.
The first device, with two microphones, is designed for indoor use and its purpose is to help the deaf recognize specific sounds like doorbells, fire alarms, voices or the crashing sound of broken china. It then converts them onto a screen as pictograms or blinking lights. This allows the deaf to be more aware of important sound-based social signals that they may encounter in their routine work or home environment.
The second device that comes in Communicaid is a pair of glasses that can also capture sounds which are then brought to the user’s attention via blinking light emitting diodes or LEDs. It is like a hairband which is worn over the eyes. This device is meant for outdoor use where the Sound Station cannot be carried around such as during jogging, walking, running, driving or working. It makes the user aware of sounds coming from their surroundings.
The mobile communicator is the most vital part of Communicaid. It converts spoken words into text on the screen, helping the user understand what has been said by the other person. The user can in turn also enter text into the device which is then converted into speech for the listener. As the display is a curved slide-out, the user does not have to change his position to read the text. This helps the deaf to communicate in the most effective way with those who are able to hear without resorting to signs, thus allowing them to mix with others easily.
2. Soft Touch
The Soft Touch device is not like any other alarm clock that merely wakes a person. Along with its attractive looks and basic alarm clock features, the device also incorporates the ability to make the user aware of impending dangers. Soft Touch is loaded with sensors such as a fire-sensor and smoke-sensor which help in detecting any dangers around like an explosion, gas leakage or fire. The display does not only notify the user but its inflatable band squeezes around the waist to draw the user’s attention. Soft Touch is still in the conceptual stage but it is hoped to become a reality soon.
Designed for both hearing-enabled and hearing-impaired people, Ictus is an innovative cushion created by a group of designers with the Swedish Association of Hard of Hearing. These cushions have built-in vibrating speakers, which, while enabling the hearing-impaired to experience sound through vibrations, also enhances the sound experience for others. The cushion can be used while watching TV, playing games and listening to music without disturbing others.
4. Beyond Silence Digital Piano
Beyond Silence Digital Piano is based on the relation between vibrations and sound to let the hearing-impaired enjoy music. Developed by Korean designers – Hakyung Kim, Jina Kim and Suyoung Lee – the device works on the concept that those who cannot hear have an enhanced sense of feeling vibrations and as every musical piece produces vibrations, this device is an answer for the deaf. Beyond Silence is also useful for children learning the piano. With its help, kids can feel the waves and vibrations emitted from the board while playing. These vibrations are enhanced by the use of diaphragms which increase the effectiveness of vibration reception of the hearing-impaired.