Work is underway on our exciting new project to help Chinese citizens who are losing their hearing. We’ve created a collaboration between THERAPYAUDIT, Anglia Ruskin University and Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen to create a novel digital rehabilitation service. We’re funded by Innovate UK Newton Fund and Guangdong Ministry of Science and Technology and in two years time we’ll have a very good working prototype of our service, ready for trialling, regulation and commercialisation.
But hearing aids? Surely there are hearing aids available in China? Absolutely right, ranging in cost from $20 to many thousands of $s. And ranging in quality and efficiency from ‘pocket loudspeaker’ to very discrete. But they all have one thing in common, or rather, one drawback in common. They’re designed for single tone languages, like English. Mandarin, Cantonese and some other South East Asia languages are multi-tone, 4 for Mandarin, 9 for Cantonese. That means the same word, pronounced subtly differently can have a completely different meaning. If you’re hard of hearing to start with, that subtle difference can be had to detect, especially in a noisy environment.
But efficiency in handling multi tone languages is not the only problem with hearing rehabilitation in South and East Asia, particularly China. The sheer numbers of people with hearing loss in countries with rapidly ageing populations means that traditional high street audiology services are hard to find, especially in rural areas. And add to that poor standards of aftercare and calibration devices, and the stigma associated with wearing aids, and take up of hearing rehabilitation is very low in China. That in turn means that an increasingly large proportion of the population are socially excluded from their families, friends and workplace.
In designing our new service, called beetroot clearhear in English (because the digital element is based on our beetroot platform), we’ve taken all these drawbacks into account. We can overcome the poor quality of hearing aids by incorporating our partners patented speech processing algorithms into the online service. These algorithms are specifically designed for multi-tone languages. We’ll provide a digital service that will be accessible anywhere a mobile phone can reach. Initially (next September) our online service will offer a screening service, and make recommendations for suitable existing hearing aids. When our novel hearing aid device is available we’ll add online calibration of the device, providing a complete service. The hearing aid will be calibrated on-demand, removing the need to visit an audiology clinic. To improve social inclusion our digital service will be more than just screening and calibration – it’ll include the latest motivation techniques to encourage the use of the hearing aid and inclusion of friends and family in the whole process, should that be required. And finally, because we’ll manufacture the devices in China we’ll be highly affordable.