Google unveils Android accessibility apps for hearing-impaired users

Google unveils Android accessibility apps for hearing-impaired users

Smartphones do a pretty good job of adapting for visually-impaired users, but what about making life easier for the hard of hearing? Google has just unveiled a pair of apps that aim to make deaf users’ day-to-day interactions that bit easier.

The two apps are Live Transcribe and Sound Amplifier, and while the former is currently only in beta, the latter is available for anyone to download right now. Google is so confident in them, that they’ll come pre-installed on Pixel phones moving forwards, too.

So what do they do? Well, let’s start with the one that anyone can download right now: Sound Amplifier. Connect a pair of wired headphones and you can filter loud noises out of the environment, leaving the quieter sounds that you actually want to hear.

While this is most useful to hearing-impaired users, Google thinks this could be of use to any user in a distractingly loud environment, from cafes to airport lounges. All the processing is done on the phone itself, so no internet access is required.

You will need internet access for the Live Transcribe app, however. That’s because the app relies on the Google Cloud speech API to do its heavy lifting. As the name suggests, it transcribes speech in real time, allowing deaf users to read what is being said to them.

That may sound like the kind of simple functionality that could be introduced via any transcription app, but it has some neat extras that make it especially suited to its mission.

It has haptic feedback, for example, and will vibrate if it detects somebody talking to you, making it harder to miss speech, even if you can’t see the person vying for your attention.

An indicator also appears in the top right corner of the screen showing the general loudness of the environment, so the phone owner can clearly see when they need to speak up in reply. If they don’t want to reply out loud, they can just type text directly into the app, of course.

While no transcription software is perfect (believe me, I’ve tried most of them in search of the holy grail for interview write-ups), Live Transcribe lets you connect an external microphone for greater accuracy, and impressively it works in over 70 languages.

The fact that it needs an internet connection is disappointing, ruling out certain environments, but it’s clearly a product that would struggle using just a phone’s internal processing alone.
"The World Health Organisation estimates that by the year 2055, there will be 900 million people with hearing loss,” Brian Kemler, Google’s product manager for Android Accessibility wrote in a blog post introducing the new apps.

“With both Live Transcribe and Sound Amplifier, our goal is to help the hundreds of millions of people who are deaf or hard of hearing communicate more clearly.”

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