AVA Break Communication Gaps - Empowering Hard Of Hearing To Participate In Social Settings



AVA Empower Deaf To Participate In Social Settings By Translating Conversations In Real-Time
Over 360 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss, resulting from genetic causes, complications at birth, infectious diseases, chronic air infections, the use of particular drugs, exposure to excessive noise or aging. Many hearing-impaired suffer socially and psychologically as a result of their hearing loss, whether they are recently diagnosed or have been living with hearing loss their entire life.
 
Trying to keep up in conversations and overcoming the anxiety of being in social settings may be so stressful, that it causes isolation, problems communicating at work, as well as with spouse, friends and relatives. Group conversations are specially difficult situations for hearing impaired, with multiple people talking and different voice volumes. And with line of vision between talker and listener not always ideal, it can be very difficult to follow the conversation. Sadly, this has serious effects on quality of life for many with hearing loss.
 
The California-based startup AVA (Audio Visual Accessibility), formerly known as Transcense, is developing a technology that can empower deaf and hard of hearing people all over the world. Their smartphone app accurately translates conversations in real-time, enabling users to participate in conversations and meetings.

Visual presentation of how the technology works.
Only one person in the group conversation is responsible for purchasing the application, most likely the deaf/hard of hearing or maybe even an employer. The app connects to other smartphones in the room, who do not need to install the software. With the push of a button, speakers confirm that they are part of the conversation, giving access to the phone’s microphone. Each speaker is assigned a color bubble so the hard of hearing will know who is saying what. The deaf and hard of hearing can then read what is going on as it happens. For people without verbal communication, the user can also ask the program to speak using a digital voice, or even get everyone’s attention through the app when they want to say something.

The company was founded by Thibault Duchemin, Pieter Doevendans and Skinner Cheng, grad students at Berkley and USF. Duchemin grew up as the only hearing person in his family of four, and Cheng has been deaf since he was two, giving the team important understanding of hearing impaired and their needs.

The app not only has the potential of helping millions keep up with group conversations, improving quality of life, but it enables deaf and hard of hearing to cut down on costs on interpreters who are very expensive to hire. The relatively simple technology could significantly improve quality of life for millions of people. It could help deaf and hard of hearing people feel included, lowering rates of mental health disorders associated with social isolation. It's a technology that create autonomy, while encouraging participation, communication and understanding. One downside, however, is that they only focus on making an English version. Although they have goals of developing it in three other languages, including Spanish, that excludes many people who could have massively benefitted from the technology.
 
The app has not been released yet, but if you are interested in early access to Ava you can sign up on their website. Below is a short demonstration of the technology.
 


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