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#TechThursdays - Smartphone-based therapy & hearing aid could prove a game changer for the deaf community

April 18, 2019

In our weekly series #TechThursdays, we bring you some exciting news from Bengaluru. A team of researchers at the Indian Institute of Science are working on a hearing aid that could empower the deaf community in significant ways. Find out more.

Hearing aids are often understood as complete instruments in themselves, as devices that bring back a person’s hearing capacities to that of anyone else with normal hearing.

The reality is that a hearing aid has to be backed by extensive speech and hearing therapies, all of which involves huge costs, travel and access to specialists. The shortage of therapists, coupled with little awareness, means many children miss out on critical interventions.

A hearing aid developed by a team of researchers from UTSAAH Lab at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru aims to bridge this gap. The team has designed a smartphone app that offers therapy integrated with an cost effective hearing aid.

Established in 2016 by Dr Manish Arora, the UTSAAH Lab aims to develop affordable and accessible medical technology solutions for promoting universal healthcare through a user-centric design approach. These solutions are made available under open-access license terms with freedom to commercially utilize the innovations.

The system we have designed is a hearing aid with integrated therapy, which makes it possible to move to deliver rehabilitation therapy through a digital platform. The therapy runs on a smartphone application and is delivered to the child via wireless communication between the devices. The hearing aid has a means of recording the patient/child’s response to stimuli provided by the smartphone. - Deval Karia, UTSAAH Lab, IISc, Bemgaluru

The device cannot replace existing therapy sessions, adds the team. What it does is extend the reach to the user’s home. “The innovation shall help parents continue therapy at home while keeping the therapist informed about the child’s progress remotely”, says Karia. This will reduce the costs incurred on using the services of a specialist, which can be for four to five years, on transport, as well as wages lost by parents in taking the child for therapy.

Affordable Solution

By developing the hearing aid indigenously, the team hopes to make the cost more affordable than imported solutions. This will address one of the key gaps currently faced, believes Dr Ramesh A from St. John’s Medical College , Bengaluru who has collaborated with the UTSAAH team. St John’s has shared the resources it developed to empower parents to provide therapy so the team can incorporate these into the hearing aid.

“The real issue is poverty, which is at the core of people not able to access care”, says Dr Ramesh. “This innovation intends to empower the parent to provide speech therapy, so that they don’t have to miss their days work to visit the hospital. This aid gives the parent, the power to rehabilitate their child in the house without draining their already stretched resources”.

The application is currently being developed in English and Kannada and the UTSAAH team is looking for volunteers to help crowdsource translation to multiple other languages. It hopes for support from the Department of Biotechnology to develop the technology further and plans to start extended clinical investigations by the end of 2019.

“The eventual goal is to make all device designs modular and available under an open-source license to allow multiple people the freedom to operate and build upon the technology”, says Karia.

The device could be a game changer for the deaf community in India in terms of access to education, jobs and social interaction.

“Opportunities are very few for them though many are cognitively capable of handling better things and succeeding further”, says Littina George Manalel, Speech Language Pathologist, St John’s Medical College, who has contributed to the device’s development. “Professionals are trying to create more awareness regarding hearing disorders and its management options, there are good schools and colleges for children/adults with hearing impairments, and policies have been made. Now we want cost friendly equipment from within India which will be of great help.”

What the hearing aid does is make available quality medical and rehabilitative services at affordable rates, which will ensure that no one with a hearing impairment is left behind.



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