‘Chat gadget’ to help deaf people with speak-to-text conversation device

MARK BLUNDEN

The struggle for people with hearing loss to participate in everyday conversations could be solved by an inventor’s “chat gadget” inspired by his deaf parents.

Jari Hazelebach created his SpeakSee system of colour-coded microphones to look like sleek iPhone accessories, which clip onto clothing and transcribe words via wifi into text on a tablet or smartphone screen via an app.

The Action on Hearing Loss charity called Mr Hazelebach’s system an “innovative tech solution” which could help the one in six Londoners estimated to have some degree of hearing problem. Up to nine people at a time can wear the microphones, which are said to be effective at filtering out background noise.

The first hard-of-hearing Londoner to try the £300 device said it could help make business meetings and conversations “more equal and less stressful and isolating” instead of relying on lip-reading and hearing aids.

Arts company project manager Christine Hathway, 56, started experiencing hearing loss at 35 and wore hearing aids from her early forties. It affects the higher frequencies of her hearing, so while she can hear people are speaking she often cannot make out what is being said. Background noise in conversations is also a problem for her, particularly when several people are speaking.

Ms Hathway, from Hackney, said: “I really like SpeakSee so far, particularly the colour-coded microphones, which have the potential to help me know who’s speaking.”

Dutch tech entrepreneur Mr Hazelebach, 23, said: “Both my parents are deaf. At work, my father couldn’t follow business meetings... SpeakSee is a solution for him to be autonomous in a meeting just by handing out microphones.”