Most people take phone calls for granted but for people who are deaf or have hearing loss the ability to simply pick up the phone and chat is often out of reach. The good news is that a new real-time speech translation app called RogerVoice may soon make that a thing of the past.
Making phone calls when you can’t hear
The everyday ability to call a friend, the bank or doctor’s surgery is something we’re all used to. However, people with a hearing impairment are often unable to make phone calls as they can’t hear the person on the other end of the line. Being deaf from birth can sometimes also lead to difficulties in developing clear speech – making it hard for the other person to understand what’s being said.
Existing services such as NGT Relay have been incredibly useful in helping deaf people make and receive calls. They work by providing an intermediary – a person listens to the caller and relays the information by text to the deaf user. The user then speaks or types back and the intermediary speaks the message back to the caller. The deaf user is either using a special textphone (called a Minicom) or an app on his smartphone, tablet or computer.
This approach is very effective. The one drawback, however, is the inevitable delay as the intermediary relays the messages back and forth throughout the conversation. Conversations take much longer and feel a bit cumbersome and stilted.
The person being called is also always aware that a text relay intermediary is involved and that this isn’t a ‘standard’ phone conversation. This isn’t a problem in itself but wouldn’t it be great if it felt a little more like a normal chat?
RogerVoice to the rescue
RogerVoice is a new app that’s set to make calls feel more natural and avoid those awkward delays. With a powerful speech recognition system the app transforms phone calls into a series of live instant messages for the deaf user. It's automatic and it works in real time. The text translation appears in the app at the same time as the person is speaking.
Here’s a short video of someone making a phone call for the very first time using the app.
Originally a Kickstarter project, RogerVoice is now available for both iOS and Android and is helping people with a hearing impairment make phone calls to anyone, anywhere – the person being called doesn’t need to have the app installed and they don’t even need to be using a smartphone themselves.
Type or talk – whichever works for you
Many people with a hearing impairment can speak very clearly and understandably. However, if the deaf user doesn’t have clear speech they can choose to type instead. As there is no intermediary involved in the process with RogerVoice, the text is spoken to the person on the other end of the line using realistic synthetic speech.
This can often sound clearer to the listener than messages relayed by someone in a busy call centre environment. The app also has some stock phrases provided for quick responses.
How much does RogerVoice cost?
The app itself costs nothing but there is a monthly subscription to use it. The first hour of calls is free and thereafter you’ll need to pick one of their price plans. They currently start at €1.99 a month for up to an hour of calls – equivalent to around 3p per minute. The highest is €19.99 a month for unlimited calls.