I was in denial for a few years. Sure, my husband and teenage sons had developed a terrible habit of mumbling. And though I’m a proud extrovert, I did find social gatherings much more exhausting these days. And yes, I had started watching TV shows and movies with closed captioning, but that was just so I could capture all of the quick, witty banter. It wasn’t because I was losing my hearing or anything.
Except it was.
Gradual Hearing Loss
I have been gradually losing my hearing for several years. It was a slow creep, like the speed of a glacier. I didn’t want to acknowledge it. I didn’t want to become like my dad, who I teased about needing a Miracle-Ear when I was teenager. When he was in his forties.
I’m in my forties.
To be transparent, I personally have a background in American Sign Language. I started learning ASL in my twenties, becoming proficient in conversations with Deaf friends. In my thirties, I went back to school and earned a bachelor’s in ASL/English interpreting. I had been a licensed interpreter for Deaf clients in educational, medical, and community settings for years when I discovered my hearing loss. I thought I understood what it meant to be medically deaf and culturally Deaf. I was still unprepared for the sense of loss and grief that I wrestled with as I have processed my own hearing loss.
I had to recognize my own internal biases about disability, confront my fears, and start making adjustments in my life. I went to an audiologist and had my hearing evaluated. The slope of my hearing loss on my audiogram looked like the hill that Wesley rolls down in The Princess Bride, calling out, “As…you…wish…”
This wasn’t what I wished for though.
I have been fortunate to have positive experiences requesting and using ASL interpreters in some settings, but that is not the norm for my everyday life. It isn’t the norm for most people who are Hard-of-Hearing. We experience gaps in sound clarity that affects our comprehension of the intended message. This occurs with in-person and online communication, in many situations where ASL interpretation or closed captioning aren’t available.
To bridge these gaps, I turn to technology. A lot.
I learned about the Google Live Transcribe app in a work-related meeting a few years ago. I watched a demonstration as it was put through its paces, and I was impressed. The app can transcribe telephone calls, videos on social media, face-to-face conversations, and has an audio recorder with transcription that can be used for lectures. Going back to the recording to find a certain section is easy, using the search feature that is similar to using ‘Find and Replace’ in a Word document.
Using Google Live Transcribe
I started using the Google Live Transcribe app on my phone about eighteen months ago. I have had mostly good experiences with it. I have brought it with me to several conferences and have had great experiences. I always try to grab a seat close to the front – this helps with lip reading, better volume from the speaker, and better input for the Google Live Transcribe. I open up the app and set my phone on the table or on my knee. I can watch my phone as the text scrolls down the screen and glance back up to the speaker and the power point. Or if there’s a good sound system, I can pay more attention to the presentation and then glance down at the scrolling text and catch up on what I missed.
More than Business
I’ve also used Google Live Transcribe in restaurants and social gatherings. These can be difficult settings for me because of the background noise. But when I’ve got my phone perched in front of me, I can glance down to double-check a phrase I think I’ve misheard. The transcription isn’t performed by a person, so there isn’t a delay like some other services or older technologies. I’ve heard that Google Live Transcribe’s earlier editions were slow, choppy, and mistake riddled. However, with several generations of improvements before I started using it, I’ve found GLT technology to be swift and mostly reliable. There is still the odd mistake here and there, but overall, I’ve found it incredibly useful.
Nothing Is Perfect
The one circumstance I did find the transcription faulty was last year when I attended my son’s graduation from Army basic training. We were seated in bleachers, and because we were assigned to sit according to our soldier’s company, I was several sections away from the podium and its weak sound system. My family still chuckles about how the oft-repeated phrase of “victory” was translated as: hickory, Pickering, pickling, and tinkering.
Bridging Communication Gaps
The Google Live Transcribe app isn’t perfect, and it does rely on clear audio to give the best transcription, but I have found it to be swift, mostly reliable, and incredibly helpful as I navigate the world of home and business with hearing loss.
Amelia Loken is a Hard-of-Hearing public administrator and author of Young Adult Fantasy novels featuring disabled main characters. She works in the Arkansas state government in the LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) program. Previously, Amelia worked in the field of Disability Access and Assistive Technology under the Arkansas Department of Commerce, Division of Workforce Services. Her most recent book, Unravel, events, and newsletter can be found at her author website.