Key Learnings from the Hearing Loss Association of America Annual Convention

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Returning to Washington, DC is usually a nostalgic experience because I spent time there while I was a student at Gallaudet University, the world’s only liberal arts university for the deaf. This time, however, I was looking to the future and not reminiscing about the past.Hearing Loss Association of America logo.

I was attending the annual Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) Convention as a representative of IBM Accessibility. The four-day event included 61 exhibitors, with roughly 1,500 attendees who are either deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing from 22 different countries. The diverse range of attendees may have lost their hearing at birth, early age, later in life, or through gradual loss of hearing over time and aging. Many wear cochlear implant(s) and/or hearing aid(s). Notwithstanding our differences, we all share the same motivation and strong drive to make the world a better place for all deaf and hard of hearingpeople.

The HLAA has evolved into an organization that strives to open the world of communication to roughly 48 million Americans with hearing loss. The organization provides information, education, support, and advocacy. IBM is proud to support the HLAA as it consistently embraces and encourages technological advancements to help promote communication access and assistive devices.

All of the sessions were real-time captioned and every room was looped, allowing direct delivery of the speakers’ speech into hearing aids and cochlear implants without external noise or other interference.  The looping system was arranged by Contacta. The captions also utilized a groundbreaking technology by 1CapApp that allowed positioning of captions above presenters’ PowerPoint presentations and could display captions in multiple languages.

As I explored the convention and talked to attendees, I learned of some amazing work being done across the industry to create new technologies to help the deaf and hard of hearing in captioning, speech recognition and haptics. Below are some of the highlights:

  • I spoke with my friend, Howard Rosenblum, the CEO of National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and asked him about his involvement with the convention and some of their ongoing work to help organizations improve accessibility initiatives. Here is my video interview with Howard:

  • Ava – A startup company with a mission to break down communication barriers between the deaf and hearing worlds has developed a system that employs speech recognition to transcribe spoken conversations in real-time. I participated in a live demo and was impressed by their easy-to-use interface and accuracy of transcriptions. Watch my video interview with the CEO and Founder, Thibault Duchemin, where he talks about being born to a deaf family and how he discovered the passion to create the app.
  • Ditto – A small wearable device that alerts users through stronger vibration than typically offered by smartphones. Custom notifications can be managed through the app and downloaded from the App Store or Google Play. I have missed too many urgent notifications from iPhone so this new device has nice benefits, including alerting you when you leave your phone behind.
  • OTOjOY – A company that specializes in installing hear loops throughout California. The system basically harnesses the existing t-coil mechanism in hearing aids and cochlear implants and delivers uninterrupted and crystal clear sounds to the devices. I saw how we could use an InEar Monitoring Cable plugged into an iPhone and paired with Siri to deliver automatic speech-to-text.
  • CaptionFirst – A long-time IBM partner for real-time and post-production captioning. They have captioned hundreds of thousands of hours of real-time captioning. I chatted with Sharaine Roberts, who is also deaf and works as the Marketing and Account Manager at CaptionFirst, and Karen Ruud, who is the Training Manager. One of the interesting challenges they face is transcribing technical terms and how their captionists work to understand specific industries to ensure more precise results.

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Advisory Software Engineer

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