What is it?
The Hearing Loop Listener is a combination of hardware and software application which allows people with mild to moderate hearing loss, who don’t wear a hearing aid, make use of hearing loops in public places.
How does it work?
A small piece of hardware, linked to a smartphone using Bluetooth, allows users to benefit from hearing loops via their own headphones. A smartphone app controls the device allowing the user to switch the assistance on and off as needed, and determine the volume and tone required.
Who’s behind it?
The product was created by a development team at charity Action on Hearing Loss. The team have been working with developers Zoterope to build the prototype, and consultant James O’Halloran on shaping the business plan for the product.
Of the 11 million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss, it is estimated that two million wear hearing aids. “The Hearing Loop Listener will allow hearing loops to be used more widely and discreetly, by people that don’t wear hearing aids,” says Kevin Taylor, Product Technologist at Action on Hearing Loss.
The concept was developed following a series of ideas sessions at the charity, says Kevin. “Because of our knowledge of the area, and our experience selling assistive tech, we know where there are gaps in the market, and this was one of them.”
However, the Action on Hearing Loss team originally intended the smartphone app to handle all of the processing required to make the product work, which would have allowed users to listen to a hearing loop on their smartphone or tablet, but soon realised this needed to be done by the external device. Delays in processing via the app resulted in sound delays, causing an echo for users between the app and their own hearing.
The team are currently working on developing ways to shrink the prototype device to make it as small and discreet as possible, without compromising on performance.
Funding from the Inclusive Technology Prize has helped with the development of the device prototypes as well as the cost of securing contractual agreements for the IP involved.
Additional features the team are hoping to add include a function which would allow easy and direct reporting of faulty hearing loops, as well as a rate and locate system so users have a directory of where they can access them.
The aim of the Inclusive Technology Prize was to inspire technological innovation from individuals and small businesses to improve or develop assistive living aids, adaptations, products and systems that will make a real difference to the lives of disabled people.