ATU480 – Wear and Hear with Ruth Bridger

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.
Show Notes:
Ruth Bridger – Marketing Director or Assistive Products – Alango Wear and Hear
Visit their website: www.wearandhear.com
Wake Words Story:  https://bit.ly/3frE6RW
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—————– Transcript Starts Here ———————

Ruth Bridger:
Hi. This is Ruth Bridger and I’m the marketing director of the assistive products at Alango, Wear and Hear, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.Josh Anderson:
Hello and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update. A weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to episode 480 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on August 7th, 2020.

Josh Anderson:
On today’s show, we’re very excited to have Ruth Bridger on, and she is from Alango Wear and Hear, and here to talk about the BeHear Now and some other accommodations that they have available to help individuals with hearing loss. We also have a story about some different words you can use to wake your smart home speakers and other devices. I’ll be nice and not use those words right now so hopefully I don’t accidentally trigger those.

Josh Anderson:
Don’t forget that we always love to hear from you so you can always shoot us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org. Call our listener line at 317-721-7124 or shoot us a line on Twitter @INDATAproject. Now without any further ado, let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
A lot of us have smart speakers or smart home assistants in our homes these days. We may keep them in the kitchen, in the living room, somewhere where we actually kind of need them, but how many times has your smart speaker started talking to you and you haven’t even used the keyword? It’s actually been found lately that there’s about a thousand different words that can accidentally trigger Amazon Alexa, Google Home or Apple HomePod. So I found an interesting story over at Fast Company and it’s written by Jared Newman. It’s called Tired of Saying “Hey Google” and “Alexa”? Change It Up With These Unintentional Wake Words.

Josh Anderson:
It kind of makes fun of this phenomenon where again, maybe you’re watching a movie or something like that and suddenly your smart speaker will start talking to you. It says here, instead of saying “Hey Google” or “Okay, Google,” try “Okay, cool” or “Okay, who’s reading?” or “Cocaine noodles.” Not sure where that would actually come out in conversation, or it says instead of saying “Alexa,” try “A letter” or “Election” or “Unacceptable,” or then if you changed Alexa’s name to maybe Amazon, you can use “In the zone,” or if you changed it to Echo, you could use the word “Tobacco,” or it actually recognizes the word “Peter” instead of “Computer.” And as for “Hey Siri,” you can try “A city” or “Hey Jerry.”

Josh Anderson:
So anyway, it’s kind of making fun of this phenomenon where your words may accidentally trigger these devices, and it goes into a little bit more detailed as talking about how there are some privacy concerns if you’re not trying to talk to your smart speaker but suddenly it’s listening, suddenly it’s recording and suddenly somewhere there may be a transcript of what was supposed to be a private conversation but is now no longer so. We’ll put a link to this over in our show notes, and again, it’s kind of a fun story that just talks about all these different keywords and phrases that can accidentally trigger the Google assistant, Amazon Alexa, or Apple’s Siri. I’m sure there’ll be more and more of these kinds of stories coming out especially as folks are maybe spending a little bit more time at home, but with all these technologies, I’m sure that they are working to make them understand better in order to only work with those trigger words.

Josh Anderson:
Hearing loss is a problem for a lot of people around the globe. The WHO estimates that 466 million people or about 6% of the world population live with some form of hearing loss. On today’s show, we’re very excited to have Ruth Bridger from Wear and Hear on to talk about some of the accommodations that they have available that can help folks here better in all different environments. Ruth, welcome to the show.

Ruth Bridger:
Thank you very much, Joshua. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Josh Anderson:
I’m really excited to talk about the technology, but before we get into that, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your background?

Ruth Bridger:
I would be pleased too. I was born and bred in California but in my early 20s, I had moved to Israel and lived here ever since. It’s been about 40 years now, hard to believe. So I’ve been working in Israeli high tech basically since my feet hit the ground, and I’m very, very excited to be part of the Alango Wear and Hear team because this is really technology that we see can help people improve their lives and have better quality in their communication with others, and it’s just very, very rewarding to work with this company.

Josh Anderson:
I really like some of the accommodations that you guys have available. I thought we’d kind of just start and maybe talk at them kind of one at a time. Could you start by telling us a little bit about the BeHear Now headset?

Ruth Bridger:
Sure, of course. I do want to go back a little bit before that to give you a little bit of our history. The Alango company has been around for almost 20 years now and the focus of the company for these 20 years has been sound enhancement technology, and only about four years ago did we start developing the Wear and Hear brand, and this was because we realized that, as you mentioned, untreated hearing loss is a huge problem worldwide, and even though we have great solutions in the form of hearing aids, those hearing aids are not being picked up, as you know, useful solutions by the vast majority of people who could be helped by hearing amplification. So we set about looking for the obstacles, why is the hearing aid solution not applicable or not acceptable to people that are experiencing hearing loss, and we basically narrowed it down to four main areas.

Ruth Bridger:
One is stigma where it seems that there, unlike say glasses which are frantically a fashion statement these days, wearing a hearing aid still has an associated stigma, it makes you look old and/or handicapped. The second obstacle is people’s dissatisfaction with limitations in the device. Not all hearing aids handle the full spectrum of sound. They’re not good for live music for example. They were developed to handle the spectrum of human speech, okay? That is kind of limiting. Not all of them have Bluetooth and can be connected to a smartphone. So in this day and age, people have very high expectations of what an electronics device will do for them.

Ruth Bridger:
Another obstacle is dependence, and this is especially true for the current pandemic situation where people are limited in mobility and cannot get out as easily to get their hearing tested by a professional. Not only tested but then fitted, calibrated, cleaned, anything that you need to rely on a hearing professional for, it gives you a certain dependence, and like I said, it’s especially difficult in these days of limited mobility.

Ruth Bridger:
The last obstacle of course is cost. I don’t have to tell you that costs are high and not typically covered by health insurance, and it’s not true only in the US but especially in the US, okay? So with our Wear and Hear brand and specifically the BeHear headsets, we set about to eliminate these obstacles one by one.

Ruth Bridger:
The first thing that we did, we eliminated the stigma of wearing a medical device. What we did was we took our expertise in sound enhancement technology and we integrated it into modern, cool looking consumer electronic devices which are Blutooth headsets and earbuds. So on the outside, it looks like a Bluetooth stereo headset, and who these days doesn’t use something like that to talk on their cell phone hands free or listen to music? But on top of that, we added microphones so that we could pick up at the ambient sounds such as somebody talking to you or the birds in your garden or things like that. So even though it looks like a Bluetooth stereo headset and certainly functions like one, it also has the capabilities of enhancing your hearing by amplifying the specific sounds and clarifying them, and that’s based on our technology.

Ruth Bridger:
Second of all, our products are multifunctional. Like I said, because they’re Bluetooth stereo headsets, then they already have built in that functionality of allowing you to speak hands free on your mobile phone and stream audio, you could watch YouTube videos and the sound is personalized to your hearing profile, and for television as well, so it’s definitely multifunctional. As far as the dependence issue where I mentioned that it’s difficult to go out to a hearing professional to get tested and all, we developed an application where you test your own hearing, and you test it not only to get an idea of where you need amplification, but specifically to program the device so that if you have trouble say in the high frequencies but you’re just fine in the low frequencies, then that is the only place that you will receive amplification from our device. So the result of the built in hearing assessment actually inform your new hearing baseline, and that is all done by the wearer.

Ruth Bridger:
Now of course, if they need some assistance, someone else can help them with that. It’s a very visual program and it takes about five, six minutes and you’re done. It’s very simple, very straightforward, and then regarding the cost, as I mentioned, we basically took our existing technologies and integrated them into a Bluetooth stereo headset, so it costs like a low end device. I mean it’s consumer electronics, it’s not the $10,000 pair of hearing aids. Our BeHear Now model actually sells for $249, so it’s about a tenth of the cost of a single hearing aid.

Ruth Bridger:
The BeHear Now was the first in our Wear and Hear line and we released it commercially about two years ago and we sell it through various hearing supply vendors as well as on Amazon and from our own website, and we’re very, very pleased with the feedback that we have for the BeHear Now. People definitely feel like that it answers their needs. It’s specifically addressing mild to moderate hearing loss. These are people that even if they did go to an audiologist or some other hearing professional, might be turned away saying that hearing aids would be overkill, but I think a lot of people, even if they have mild to moderate hearing loss, it kind of manifests itself in different ways. If you notice that you have to have the TV on louder and then other people of the house won’t like it or if you find yourself asking “What” a lot in specific conversations, these could be indications of just the beginnings of hearing loss, which is typically age related and dynamic, meaning that it does progress over time. That’s the BeHear Now.

Ruth Bridger:
Based on feedback that we got from the BeHear Now, from older users, and from older users, I would say people that had already retired, not active more anymore in the business world but still very active in their lifestyles, they wanted something that had larger buttons for the control on the headset and an easier method of charging. I didn’t mention before but all of our headsets are rechargeable. You don’t replace the batteries, you just recharge it. The charges last in hearing mode for between 12 and 13 hours, so you can basically wear it comfortably for your daylight hours.

Ruth Bridger:
So with the feedback that we got from the BeHear Now, we developed the second product in the line that’s called the BeHear Access, and again, it is developed more for an older population. Maybe for people that have dexterity issues, like the more tactile and the larger buttons and the charging cradle that comes along with it, and maybe not so relevant for this day and age, we have integrated telecoil receivers into the headset, and that way, it can be used in facilities that have been looped. I’m not sure if your audience is familiar with hearing loops, but typically you’ll find them in places of worship or post offices, banks, at ticket kiosk. It’s a way to get clear sound directly to the ears of someone who is slightly hearing impaired. All of the top end hearing aids have telecoil receivers built in, but I do believe that we’re the first company that has integrated these telecoil receivers into a Bluetooth headset specifically for hearing better in those situations.

Ruth Bridger:
We also have, by the way, what we call the HearLink Plus which is a Bluetooth audio transmitter. It’s best used for television communication. As I mentioned before, one of the pain points for people that have some hearing loss is listening to the television. You may feel that you’re not catching all of the dialogue so you increase the volume on the television to the chagrin of other people in the household, and what they’re actually missing are just the frequencies in which you have hearing loss. So with the BeHear headset, it’s compensating for that and then also having this HearLink Plus transmitter which will transmit the sound, the audio from the television directly via Bluetooth to your headset, you can get sharp, clear, kind of rubber reverberation free sound from the television so that you can keep the volume at a normal level or just even keeping it mute for everybody else and transmitting only to yourself, and so that’s a very handy add-on to our line of assistive hearing products.

Ruth Bridger:
In addition to the different form factors, and by the way, we’ll be coming out soon with another headset that we call the BeHear Business. Now this is a monaural device. Unlike the BeHear Now and the BeHear Access which have earbuds that fit into both of your ears, this is much more like just the standard Bluetooth headset that you see that people are using when they’re driving for example, when they want to using use their smartphones hands free. But we have packed all of our assistive hearing technology into the monaural version, and we develop this one as result of requests from people in client facing professions such as taxi drivers or shopkeepers or teachers, and in this way, they can have assistive hearing but they don’t look like they’re listening to music or I think it’s even against the law to drive with both of your ears plugged with headsets.

Ruth Bridger:
The BeHear Business is very suitable for people that are a little bit self conscious about having something in both ears and/or if they are client facing, but in addition to these different models of assistive hearing products, we’re also developing various technologies that we are integrating into each and every one of the headsets. Two of these technologies already exist. One is called EasyListen, and it’s great on mobile phone calls if you’re talking with someone, we call them “Fast honkers,” people that just are, maybe they’re very enthusiastic or maybe they’re from New York or I don’t know what, but they speak at a pace which makes it very difficult to follow them, we have this EasyListen technology where without their realizing it, you can slow down their speech to make it more comprehensible to you, and the slowdown is for very specific frequencies which are translated into certain consonants like SH and F and P, and then of course vowel sounds, which have no kind of obstruction from the teeth or tongue or lips, don’t need to be slowed down.

Ruth Bridger:
We use the natural pauses in everyday speech in order to unload that buffer so the pace of the conversation doesn’t change and the pitch of the voice of the person speaking doesn’t change, but at the end of the day, you will be able to hear better based on that EasyListen technology. Another technology that we have built into every device, we call ListenThrough, and this is for when you’re listening to streamed audio and you want to appreciate the music to the fullest but say you’re walking in the park, well it would be very important for you to be able to hear a bike bell or a dog barking right behind you. So that’s something else that is built into every one of our headset.

Ruth Bridger:
Another technology that we have in the pipeline is to address stuttering. I don’t know if you know this, but it turns out that if stutterers hear their own voice at a slight delay and a slightly different pitch, then they don’t stutter anymore, and that’s why stutterers, they don’t stutter when they’re singing. So since we can manipulate the sounds that a person hears through the headset, we can address that or in that way, we can play them back their voice at a very small delay, at a slightly different pitch to address the stuttering issue. We’re also developing solution for CROS. That’s when you have a single sided deafness. Because we have microphones on both sides of the headset on the BeHear Now and the BeHear Access, we can actually transmit the sound that’s coming from the dead ear side to the hearing side at a slight delayed to give the localization effect, and that way address the single-sided deafness.

Ruth Bridger:
Also, for those who suffer from tinnitus which is ringing in the ears, one method of addressing that very debilitating pathology is to do what is called masking the tinnitus, which is basically trying to match the sound that your brain is playing inside your head with a sound that comes external to the head, and in some instances, what the brain will do is will cancel out the tinnitus because it’s coming from both directions. So our TinnMasker application, which will soon be integrated into our BeHear headsets, helps each person find their own specific tinnitus sound because it is unique to each person, and the way that we do that is we give them tools to determine the frequency, the volume, and kind of like the clarity, how fuzzy or sharp the sound is for each ear, and as soon as they match that sound, then they can play it at a convenient time so that the brain gets used to it and the masking will go into effect.

Ruth Bridger:
That’s what we have currently in our pipeline as far as technology, but we’ve got so many ideas and it’s really rewarding to get feedback from our customers, what’s missing, what else they would like to see, what else can be done to improve the quality of their lives. We have many ideas and I think it would be helpful to get input from people that have hearing loss, what they would like to see in a product. We’re developing a remote microphone because we understand that people, if they go to a crowded place or even at the dinner table and they want to hear somebody at the other end, it’s difficult to hear, so a remote microphone is very helpful in that situation.

Ruth Bridger:
I guess I’ll sign off by saying that Alango Wear and Hear, it’s a small company but very dedicated to improving quality of life. We understand that the number of people with untreated hearing loss is huge and we really want to do our best to take our expertise in the sound enhancement technology and in integrating that technology into consumer electronics products to improve what we all hear. We’ve got so much to be thankful for and we want to be able to communicate that to the people that we love, and we want to be able to hear each other and just to be able to be connected. In this difficult time where there’s social distancing and we’re kind of cutting down on physical contact, hearing better and hearing well is more important than ever, and we want to do our part in order to make that happen for as many people as possible.

Josh Anderson:
That’s excellent. Ruth, if our listeners want to find out more or maybe even purchase a device of their own, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Ruth Bridger:
The best way is to come to our website, and I hope you’ll have this in the show notes because it’s kind of a mouthful.

Josh Anderson:
I sure will.

Ruth Bridger:
The address is www.wearandhear.com. We do have a US based sales and service center out on Long Island, so you can have quick and helpful support if you need it, but we invite you to come and visit the website and to leave your comments, and we promise to get back to you very quickly.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. We’ll definitely put that down in the show notes so that folks can access that. Ruth, thank you so much for coming on. I feel like you gave us so much information in such a short amount of time, but I really feel like I learned something and I love that you’re putting that technology in consumer devices so like you said, individuals can walk around in and use them and no one even knows.

Ruth Bridger:
That’s right. We hope we’ve addressed some of the concerns out there, and I just want to say one more thing. We do encourage people that have tried our devices, for better or for worse, we learn from everything, but one woman in particular was just corresponding with me and said that she realized that she did need help with her hearing loss and was just about to make an appointment and the pandemic hit, and so she just went online and started reading about our products, and for us, we have this new technology and people don’t know about it but she managed to find us somehow. So we count on organizations such as yours in order to help us get the word out because you think that for a very small investment, people can do a lot in order to improve their quality of life, and so sometimes all it takes is an article on the internet or a good word from someone in a positive review. This is what we’re looking for now is just help in getting the word out that these affordable, personalizable, self-fitted assistive hearing products exist.

Josh Anderson:
That’s always the biggest challenge it seems like in any kind of assistive technology is just finding out what there is out there for folks who have barriers and just don’t realize that there’s so many things out there to help them, so thank you for coming on the show and letting them know that your products are out there and available to help them with their needs.

Ruth Bridger:
Thank you very much for the opportunity, Joshua. I really enjoyed speaking with you.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If you do, call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter, @INDATAproject, or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at www.eastersealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more, head over to accessibilitychannel.com. The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that of this host or the INDATA Project. This has been your Assistive Technology Update. I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.

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