Dr Lorraine Gailey, Chief Executive of Hearing Link, outlines some of the ways in which new technologies are providing hearing impaired people with greater freedom
Do you ever get frustrated waiting for a reply to a text message? If you can hear or speak, you can just pick up your mobile, phone the person and get an immediate response.
This simple action has, until now, been off-limits to people who have difficulty hearing or talking. They haven’t had the option to give someone a call when they want to get hold of them urgently while out and about.
Most people couldn’t imagine life without being able to use their mobile phone to keep in touch with family and friends – but that has been the reality for most people who struggle to hear or talk.
A recent survey of hearing and/or speech impaired Britons found that nearly four in 10 are often frustrated by delayed responses to text messages and emails*. Indeed, as many as one in three say they have missed out on a social occasion or been frustrated by a last-minute change of plans, because they couldn’t easily contact the other person when away from home.
Deaf and hard of hearing people have often relied upon traditional text relay services to use the telephone when they don’t want to send a text message or email. Text relay technology – where an operator types spoken words, so those who can’t hear can communicate on the phone in real time – has been around for a while, but only for landline phones using specialist and sometimes costly equipment. We live now in an era of mobile telecommunications, but on-the-go communication has long been an area in which many hearing impaired people are at a disadvantage.
This week is Deaf Awareness Week, which is the perfect opportunity to raise awareness of a new technology which will change the relationship that hearing and speech-impaired people have with their mobiles for good.
Enter the next generation
The Next Generation Text (NGT) service is a new technology developed by BT on behalf of the communications industry that replaces its previous text relay service. NGT lets users make calls on a smartphone, laptop or tablet computer (as well as existing textphones) allowing for easier and quicker conversations when on the move.
For me, the most exciting part of this new service is the NGT Lite app for smartphones and tablets. The app is free to download for Apple and Android devices, and means that people can now get the benefits of text relay while out of the house. It lets those who struggle to hear or have difficulty talking use their mobile phone in the same way as everyone else – as a simple way to stay connected with family and friends when out and about. NGT will allow them to have more natural conversations in real-time, avoiding the delayed response of texts and emails.
The service works in the following ways:
– Callers who don’t use their voice or their hearing can type to a relay assistant, who will speak the caller’s words to the person on the other end of the phone. The relay assistant will then type their reply so the caller can read it on their display (‘type and read’).
– Callers who can’t hear but can use their voice can ‘speak and read’ via the relay assistant; they talk to the person they’re calling as usual, and the relay operator types that person’s reply so the caller can read it.
– Callers who can hear a little, but not enough to feel fully confident on the phone can talk direct to the person they’re calling, and listen to that person’s responses while also reading the relay assistant’s display for added reassurance (particularly useful in business contexts).
Levelling the playing field
Many people are already experiencing the benefits of the new service. Pierre Fachon from Bath, who has been deaf since birth, told me, “I always felt very reliant on hearing people when out of the house. I’ve often had to ask a hearing person to make a phone call on my behalf if I needed to get in contact with someone urgently.
“But the NGT app has levelled the playing field to a large extent – I’m now more independent, productive and confident when out and about on my own. I have the freedom of knowing that if I need to contact someone quickly by phone, I can.”
NGT has been developed by BT, but can be used with any phone provider. You can download the NGT Lite app for free from Apple’s App Store and Google Play. To find out more about the service, visit www.ngts.org.uk
*A survey of 500 speech and/or hearing impaired people in the UK was conducted by Onepoll on behalf of BT in November 2014