July 1, 2005 Twenty-eight million Americans have at least partial hearing loss, which makes it hard to follow anything from baseball games to movies.A researcher has designed software that beams movie captions wirelessly to hearing-impaired movie- and theater-goers holding portable electronic devices. Engineer Leanne West has a solution. A venue can install a computer with captioning software, which broadcasts the captions wirelessly. Users can read them from their seat using a wireless PDA such as a Palm Pilot.
ATLANTA--More than 28 million Americans have some type of hearing loss, ranging from a partial loss to deafness. Sign-language interpreters and assistive-listening devices can help but they aren't available everywhere. Now a new discovery puts the solution in the person's own hands.
The cheering of the fans, the crack of the bat, not everybody can hear the excitement of a summer baseball game. That silence will soon be replaced with a portable machine that allows people to read what's going on, as it's going on.
Electrical and optical engineer Leanne West has spent five years at the Georgia Tech Research Institute bringing that idea to life. West says, "What I hope with the system is that we're giving people an easy way to give captions to their patrons, and so maybe it will encourage more people to do it."
Most places already have wireless networks installed, whether you're at a baseball park, concert or movie theater. These places would send out captions through their wireless network. Then, all you need is a personal digital assistant loaded with captioning software to pick up the captions. The tiny unit displays the captions from the PDA so you can read what others are hearing while you watch what is happening.
West explains, "It allows you to watch what is going on, while you have the captions right in front of you." She hopes the technology will one day be in all theaters, churches, sporting events and even schools.
In fact, any PDA with a recent windows platform can handle it. West says, "We purposefully used all off-the-shelf technology, things you can buy at the store." A simple solution that will allow thousands of people to enjoy what the rest of us take for granted. This hi-tech captioning system is simple and easy to carry around, weighing less than a pound. There's no word yet on the cost or how soon it will be on the market.
THE PROBLEM: Roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population are deaf or hard of hearing. This means they can't hear the voices of actors, teachers, museum docents, sports announcers, public transport announcements, even the pastor preaching a sermon in their church. Captioning is typically only available in select movie theaters and only for certain TV shows. The result is a lack of informational access for those with hearing problems.
THE SOLUTION: The new wearable captioning system makes use of the standard wireless protocols already in place in many venues, including baseball stadiums, coffee shops and restaurants. Captions are sent by the venue's transmitter via a wireless radio signal to a receiver device, such as a personal data assistant (PDA) or wireless-enabled laptop computer. Patrons can also use a micro display that plugs into a PDA and attached to their glasses or is worn on a headband. The screen will appear to float several feet away, with the text seemingly overlaid on the user's field of vision. A similar technology is used in the military: Heads-Up Displays for fighter jet pilots.
BENEFITS: The new captioning system can transmit multiple text streams and can also be used for language translation since its software is internationally compatible. Even those whose hearing is not impaired could find it useful: the system can transmit optional information, such as statistics at a sporting event.
WHERE TO FIND IT: The prototype technology has just been licensed by a company located in the Atlanta metropolitan area, Peacock Communications Inc.
CAUSES OF HEARING LOSS: Causes vary, but hearing loss in children can result from infections in the middle ear. Fluid builds up, obstructing sound, and the pressure can perforate or tear the eardrum -- which can usually be repaired through surgery. In adults, the most common cause of hearing loss occurs when the third bone in the middle ear (called the stapes) blocks the transmission of sound waves to the inner ear. There is also noise-induced hearing loss, resulting from exposure to high sound levels, including industrial noise, gunshots, and rock concerts. One of the earliest signs of hearing loss is tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.