For many people with hearing loss, even those who wear assistive technology such as hearing aids or cochlear implants, daily communication can be quite challenging, often exhausting, and at times present safety concerns. Smartphone technology has offered new ways and opportunities to ease communication for people with hearing loss. In fact, a smartphone itself can be considered a hearing assistive technology: it is portable, controls volume, has direct audio input, Bluetooth capability, text communication, haptic (vibration) alerts, and face-to-face communication. In addition, numerous apps are available for people with hearing loss and other auditory disorders, to help assist in communication interactions. The apps listed below, some of which are free, are just a few of the many available apps for Android and iPhone. Before proceeding, it’s worth mentioning, that if you are experiencing hearing loss or tinnitus, you should consult your physician or audiologist before using any of these apps. Apps and descriptions are not endorsed, nor are they to be considered medical advice and the apps themselves are not medical treatment for hearing loss, tinnitus, or other otological and audiological symptoms.
Face-to-Face Communication Apps
For people with hearing loss, access to visual cues can be imperative to successful communication. Visual cues include lip-reading, as well as being able to see a person’s face, expressions, and gestures which betters communication for people with hearing loss. There are many apps which allow face-to-face communication; listed below are just a few.
- FaceTime: Apple’s proprietary video-telephone technology, built in to most Apple Inc. platforms.
- Google Hangouts: Google’s version of video chat allows for one-on-one or group communication.
- Skype: video telecommunication software allowing one-on-one or group communication.
Mobile Captioning Apps
Mobile captioning apps allow the user to both hear telephone conversations, as well as read word-for-word captions of what’s being said. These apps may require a user’s hearing aids or cochlear implant to have Bluetooth capability. Some of these apps even provide captioning in multiple languages.
- Hamilton CapTel: provides word-for-word captions of telephone conversations.
- ClearCaptions: another app that provides word-for-word captions of telephone conversations.
- Subtitles Viewer: provides subtitles for television programs, movies at home, and movies at the theater.
Voice Recognition Apps
There are many readily available voice recognition apps, mainly used for hands-free dictation; however, such apps can be particularly useful for people with hearing loss since they turn speech to text in real time. The advantage of having two forms of communication, text and sound, can decrease the amount of listening effort exerted, especially in difficult listening environments. Below are a few voice recognition apps, some of which are free, that transcribe spoken words in real time.
There are accessibility features built within smartphones for people with hearing loss. Such features include haptic (vibration) and sighted alerts. Other apps, such as Braci or TapTap, can alert users to other environmental sounds.
Tinnitus Relief Apps
With tinnitus being one of the most common auditory disorders, it’s no wonder there are numerous apps offering to provide relief from bothersome tinnitus. Many offer melodies, white noise, binaural beats, or other modulated tones to help reduce and/or mask tinnitus, as well as provide relaxation. Listed below are just a few of the many apps available.
- Relax Melodies: designed to help with sleep hygiene, this app plays a wide variety of sounds
- myNoise: a personalized noise machine to mask bothersome environmental noises, with more pleasant sounds
- Eq HearAid: designed to be both a sound amplifier and a tinnitus masker
Auditory Training Apps
Auditory training refers to programs or listening activities to optimize speech perception, especially for people with hearing loss. These can be formal or informal and as simple as repeating words in quiet, or as complex as repeating sentences in background noise. Auditory training is often recommended after a person with hearing loss is fit with amplification (e.g., hearing aid, cochlear implant). The goal is to strengthen the pathways in the brain that process auditory information. Research shows that auditory training is best when done regularly; however, many traditional programs are not readily available and involve one-on-one sessions with an audiologist or speech-language pathologist. In order to achieve the best possible hearing outcomes, smartphone apps have been developed to allow people with hearing loss to participate in such programs at their convenience. Some of the programs listed, if not available as an app, are available as a web-based program.
- AB CLIX: a free app for adults using hearing aids or cochlear implants who want to practice listening for word differences in both quiet and noise.
- LACE Auditory Training: a 20-minute daily training program designed to help develop strategies for communicating in difficult hearing situations.
- i-Angel Sound: an interactive, self-paced program focused on identifying and discriminating speech sounds at varying difficulty levels.
- Hear Coach: listening games designed for auditory and cognitive training allowing users to track their progress over time.
- Read My Quips: practice exercises with and without visual cues, as well as listening in noise training.
Hearing Protection Apps
Not only is our world ever-changing with technology, but it’s also increasingly noisy. There are hearing protection apps available to help monitor environmental sounds and noise exposure level.
- Sound Meter and Decibel X: uses the smartphone’s embedded microphone to measure noise volume in decibels (dB).
- Soundcheck: measures environmental noise levels and a quick way to screen hearing.
- Hearcules: measures the current noise exposure and notifies the user when they should take a break to help save their hearing.
Hearing Loss Simulator Apps
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have a hearing loss, or if you have a hearing loss but are looking for an effective way to counsel your communication partners, you may find hearing loss simulators useful. An app called, Hearing Loss Simulator, allows you to choose a hearing loss configuration, and listen to speech and environmental sounds as though you have that hearing loss.
In addition to the many apps listed, most major hearing aid and cochlear implant manufacturers have developed apps that connect to their devices allowing for remote control of volume and program settings, as well as audio streaming and other connectivity. Also available are prescribed tinnitus treatment apps. If you are a current hearing aid or cochlear implant user, you should inquire further with your audiologist about apps that might help you and your hearing needs.
Sarah Sohns is an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Hearing and Speech Clinic at the University of Maryland. Sarah received her Au.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, and was a LEND pediatric fellow; most recently she has been an Instructor at Temple University Lewis Katz School of Medicine.