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The demands of hearing impairment

It can be tiring trying to catch every word, each phrase, and the nuances and intentions of a conversation when you can’t hear them properly. You can’t make out complete sentences and, as the dialogue flows, you realise you’re missing whole chunks. 

Billie Rasmussen, who has a hearing impairment and uses aids in both ears, says the “daily fatigue” of living with hearing issues is demanding and challenging. 

“You’re always exhausted by the end of the day. You’re struggling to hear everything so you’re on 110% concentration.”

Live Transcribe turns Billie’s life around 

However, a few months ago, during a meeting with her Feros Care LAC Phil Tann, Billie was told about a new free application developed by Google – Live Transcribe – which she has found is already reducing the amount of daily fatigue she suffers. 

“It takes me so much energy to do a task that other people do, and that’s why I think devices like this are really crucial.” 

Live Transcribe uses AI to recognise the words being spoken and presents them in plain text on the screen and, as long as the phone can ‘hear’ the people or voices, the user can receive a full transcript of the conversation. 

Billie, who is currently completing a Bachelor of Creative Arts majoring in print making, says her hearing impairment can mean she often feels socially isolated. 

When out with friends, conversations move swiftly and she feels like she’s at a tennis match swinging her head around trying to keep up. 

The new app can be used during both her TAFE classes as well as in some social settings, depending on the amount of background noise – although she says she’s impressed with how much the app picks up. 

“It’s a great tool. The main thing is you need the quality of the audio to be good so you don’t accidentally miss a line. In class, I position myself in the best spot.” 

She’s noticed the quality of the app can also depend on the supports used with it. 

“I use a device called a StreamLine mic which you can pair with Bluetooth and it directs all the audio straight to your hearing aids. 

“Definitely for study, it’s really good to have that extra tool. And it can be used to check if something you heard was right – you can also record the transcribing and save the recording.” 

The recording ability is useful, she says, as when she was in classes before she started using the app, there was a certain amount of each lesson that she would miss. 

Billie says the quality of technology available for people with hearing impairments has come a long way. 

“They gave me an alarm clock in year 12 that would vibrate in the bed and actually wake me up. 

“But that was the only device other than an FM system I had until the NDIS funding one-and-a-half years ago.” 

Since her plan started, NDIS supports have included Auslan classes, the StreamLine mic, a set of headphones which can be worn with or without hearing aids, an alarm clock system, a doorbell function, and smoke alarms which light up. 

Billie has also been able to talk to an employment agency that is aware of her needs. 

“I got some funding to see a psychologist because I did have a lot of anxiety around my hearing loss and how I navigate existing in social groups. And the mental barriers I’ve created around employment. 

“Seeing the psychologist is one of the most major beneficially things I’ve been given.” 

Billie says that all the supports she has received as part of her NDIS plan – including access to a psychologist, new technologies, and employment guidance – have been significant contributors to improving her ability to get the most out of every day as well as allowing her to feel mentally prepared and positive. 

Using the Live Transcribe app has also helped reduce her symptoms of exhaustion and tiredness. 

“You are missing so much in the social environment and in your education so you start to think you’re not as able to do as much or that your intelligence is not as high. It makes you feel limited in your options and can have quite an impact on your self worth.” 

The benefits of the meeting Billie had with Local Area Coordinator Phil Tann a few months ago have been far reaching, as without that conversation, she might not have yet discovered how an app such as Live Transcribe could affect her life. 

Phil says the Live Transcribe app was designed because over the past year Google has increased their focus on the disability space. 

Benefits for users, Phil says, include that they are able to engage in faster-paced conversations without “feeling like they’re an observer in a tennis match”.  

“And they’re able to clarify things they’re not sure they heard correctly by simply referring to the screen in front of them.” 

People living with hearing impairments deal daily with the major obstacle of loss of or struggling to improve their engagement with others, which is why it’s so crucial NDIS participants understand how to access supports that enhance their world. 

Billie says the process of working with Phil Tann and Feros Care to maximise the use of her NDIS plan has been especially positive, and discovering how she can access supports has impacted her day-to-day life for the better. 

She says that in working with Feros Care she has been guided to talk to an employment agency which is aware of her disability and will ensure that her needs are recognised – a process which has been very empowering. 

“Just going through this experience and feeling like people were listening to what supports I need and telling me it was okay to ask for these things and not minimise it has been good.” 

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