Mask wearing and physical distancing in a COVID-19 world can make communication challenging, particularly for people with hearing loss who have difficulty understanding speech. 

The National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL) has addressed this problem by developing the NALscribe iPad app that clinics can use to make communication easier for people struggling to hear. The app has been made free for hearing healthcare clinics around the world to download and use. 

The NALscribe app created by NAL, the research division of Hearing Australia, is designed to quickly and continuously transcribe speech into large, easy-to-read text on an iPad screen in real time. It was developed through NAL’s design thinking process, with both clinic and patient needs explored and the technology tested in functioning hearing healthcare clinics. 

NAL Director Brent Edwards, PhD, says the NALscribe app follows NAL’s earlier innovative solutions that help hearing aid users better understand the speech of people wearing masks.  “NAL has a history of producing practical solutions that can be used by clinicians and people with hearing loss,” he says. “Our research over the past two years has identified the unique problems facing people with hearing loss during the pandemic, and our innovation program continues to develop solutions to solve those problems.  

Related article: Managing the Impact of Face Masks and Covers on Speech Understanding in Noise Using Hearing Aids, By Jorge Mejia, PhD; James Galloway, MDesSc; Jessica Cooper, MClinAud; Jessica Monaghan, PhD, & Brent Edwards, PhD

“Our latest innovation, the NALscribe app, is designed to help improve communication for people with hearing loss, particularly when there are additional barriers such as when masks are worn. It’s free and available worldwide so that people across the globe who are living with hearing loss can benefit from this solution,” adds Edwards.  

Features of the new NALscribe app include:  

  • An inclusive design that supports customizable settings, such as the text size, screen clearing privacy options and dark/light appearance;  
  • 11 language options;
  • Offline speech recognition mode for increased data privacy and can be used anywhere 
  • Adherence to accessibility guidelines to improve usability for the elderly and people with disabilities 
  • Transcriptions can be saved, edited and easily shared via other platforms  
  • Translation of captions (*iOS 15 required)  

The NALscribe app is available and free to download now via the App Store. 

The app has been trialed in hearing clinics across Australia, at service counters and during appointments, and the feedback from clients has been positive, reports NAL.  

Hearing Australia client, Michelle Farina, aged 59 years, reportedly used the app at her recent appointment and says she found it valuable for confirming the information communicated by the clinical staff. “I found the live captioning on the tablet very beneficial; any words I missed hearing were captured on the tablet. This would also be useful during appointments where a professional person is unable to remove their mask (due to COVID-19) to enable a person with hearing disability to lipread. I went to hospital recently and the medical staff were not able to remove their masks and live captioning on a tablet was not available. As a result, they had to painstakingly write down all the questions they needed to ask me. 

“It’s a very useful tool in breaking through communication barriers for people with hearing disability,” she says. 

Related article: NAL Update: Impact of Face Masks and Face Shields on Communication, by Louise Martin, MSpPathSt

While the app is designed for and was tested in hearing care clinics, it may prove to be a useful communication tool in other businesses that service a significant number of people with hearing loss, such as in medical centers and aged care facilities.  

Hearing Australia Audiologist, Emma Church, has used the app with multiple clients and says it has made conversations during appointments much easier for clients, particularly those who are not yet wearing hearing aids.  “The NALscribe app has been beneficial for a lot of our clients, especially those with profound hearing loss. Masks make conversations even more challenging, but with the use of the app, we’ve been able to break down the communication barrier whilst still being safe.  

“Through the app, they found reassurance by being able to confirm what they think they heard, and it eliminated any miscommunication,” adds Church. “The captioning improved the flow of conversations and, as a result, the overall appointment experience was better for clients. For those who may not speak English as their first language, the app has been useful in helping them to better understand what we’re asking them.”

 For further information, download the app in the App Store or email: [email protected]