May is Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM). An annual series of events designated to raising awareness about communication disorders and highlighting the Speech Language Pathologists (SLP) and Audiologist professionals who are dedicated to providing treatment. The theme for 2016 is “Communication Takes Care”, with the focus being how today’s personal technology and its overuse can be harmful to the long-term development of communication skills.
For SLP professionals, however, technology plays a critical role in treating individuals who face challenges from a variety of communication disorders. Let’s take a brief look at a few of the emerging technologies that are being used by SLP’s and Audiologists today.
Assistive Technology Applications.
While too much personal technology can be detrimental as evidenced by this year’s BHSM theme, everyone deserves the opportunity to take advantage of the amazing personal technologies that are being developed and enhanced. For individuals with motor and speech impairments, utilizing a tablet or smartphone to interact with friends and family can be limited. New applications, such as AntzFree, are designed to allow users to interact with their computers interface through head movements. The application allows users to write and speak text messages.
Another software-based solution called Talkitt, enables users with motor, speech, and language challenges to utilize their voice to communicate. The software can be trained to translate unintelligible pronunciations into speech that is easily understood by others. Because this application can operate on any smartphone, tablet, or computer, users have the freedom to communicate with anyone, anytime, anywhere.
One segment of the tech world that is advancing more rapidly than consumers can keep up with is wearable technology. For hearing and speech professionals, wearable tech is providing new opportunities for successful interventions. For the hearing impaired, traditional American Sign Language (ASL) has been the main method of communication for decades. While ASL is a robust method of communication, most people that can hear, have never learned the language which creates a significant barrier for the hearing impaired. Two students from the University of Washington have recently designed a pair of gloves that can instantly translate ASL into spoken words. The gloves have sensors that track hand movement and transmits data to a computer via Bluetooth where they are translated into words and spoken aloud by the computer. Still in development, it is safe to say that this technology, with further development, will be available in the near future.
“Smart” Technology Comes to Hearing Aids.
Hearing aid technology has come a long way from the original bulky devices, called “ear trumpets,” used in the 17th century. In the 1980’s, transistor based hearing aids, still featured straps, long wires, and spotty performance. Today, hearing aids are virtually undetectable and provide increasingly superior performance. The latest advancements include technology that analyzes the acoustic environment and filters out noise that is not recognized as speech, and even has the capability of enriching music to emulate “high-definition” for the listener. Smartphone users now have access to applications that are provided with the latest hearing aids to customize their experience, control various filter settings, and even connect to Bluetooth enabled devices allowing the audio to be streamed directly to the hearing aid.
Neural Command Technology.
Utilizing brainwaves to control communication devices is the next greatest advancement in communication therapy. Many available applications allow users to tap, swipe, or gesture within the program triggering the device to speak for the individual. The idea that a person could “think a command” has been thought of sci-fi movie fantasy, until now. A company called Smartstones, Inc. has developed communication technology that can integrate with a headset to control their :prose communication application. The headset, utilizes sensors emulating an EEG, to push the notification command to the application. Still in its infancy, this incredible advancement has the potential to impact millions of people suffering from communication challenges due to autism, Parkinson’s and ALS disease, stroke victims, and more.
The more than 150,000 Hearing and Speech professionals have a vast array of technology at their disposal as they provide treatment for the nearly 50 million people in the United States with a hearing or language disorder. As new technologies continue to emerge, more individuals will gain the ability to connect more easily with their friends and family, readily express their needs, wants, and desires, and have an opportunity to participate fully in meaningful employment and community activities by unlocking their communication barriers. Share your thoughts with us about your experiences with the latest technologies in the comment section below, or stop by our Facebook page and drop us a line.