NEWS AND EVENTS 7/14/05

Greetings! This is a bonus edition of the WROCC at WOU newsletter. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend both the NTID Instructional Technology Symposium (June 26 - 30) in Rochester and the SHHH National Convention (June 30 - July 3) in Washington, DC.
Attending sessions at both conferences and wandering through the exhibit hall at SHHH, I made note of a few interesting products and emerging technologies. Please enjoy my "Best and the Brightest" picks from the two conferences:
1) ELI
Displayed at the Starkey booth, this new device (about the size of a Visa logo on a credit card and weighing only 5.2 grams) called ELI, is one of the most interesting and potentially useful devices I encountered. For hearing aid users ELI plugs into the DAI (direct audio input) boot of a behind-the-ear hearing aid or an adapted neck loop and receives Bluetooth audio transmissions from other Bluetooth enabled devices. Perhaps most significantly, with a Bluetooth-enabled digital cell phone, ELI can be used as a wireless, hands-free head set (there is a small microphone on the end of it) and have a conversations while wearing your hearing aid without having to use the telecoil. ELI boasts that the device "will solve virtually all of the problems that hearing aid wearers typically encounter with telephones, including acoustic feedback, insufficient volume, noise from other electrical sources and digital cell phone interference." While facilitating cell phone for hard of hearing people is important, one can also use ELI to listen to music or audio books from a PDA, computer or other Bluetooth device.
Bluetooth allows for close-range, wireless audio transmission. Because the signal is digital, Bluetooth devices are not subject to signal degradation that can occur with FM or inductive transmission. The ELI unit comes with a charger for its rechargeable lithium-ion-polymer battery. For more information and to see pictures of the device, visit their website http://www.elihearing.com. At the SHHH Convention, the unit was being sold for $299. If you are interested in purchasing an ELI unit, contact your local hearing instrument professional.

2) NOAA Weather Radio (NWR)
NOAA National Weather Service (NWS) warnings and watches have saved countless lives by notifying the public of imminent dangers such as hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes. However, individuals with hearing loss are not able to access the voice broadcast emergency warnings on the NWR, or Emergency Alert System (EAS). To address the needs of hard of hearing and deaf people, special radio receivers have been developed to provide visual and tactile alerting systems for receiving up-to-the-minute emergency warning broadcasts for national and local, weather and non-weather (All-Hazards) life threatening events.
The industry standard for these devices is certified by the Consumer Electronics Association under the name Public AlertTM. These devices range in size, features and price. The least expensive of these devices start at around $50. For more information, specifications and answers to frequently asked questions visit: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/special_need.htm.

3) SafeAwake
This safety device is being created to address the fact that beeping and flashing smoke detectors often do not awaken deaf and hard of hearing individuals if a fire alarm is tripped in the night. The SafeAwake, activated by the sound of a standard audible home smoke detector sends a signal to an intermittent bed shaker to alert a sleeping person to the emergency. The safe awake has a battery backup. There is a flashing light to supplement the bed shaker, and it can be integrated with an alarm clock for both scheduled and emergency waking.
Based on the results of a NIH sponsored study, strobe light smoke detectors are only 55% effective in awakening deaf and 35% effective in awakening the hard of hearing individuals. The intermittent bed shaker used in the SafeAwake awakened 100% of the subjects tested. Still in the research and development phase, SafeAwake is expected to be on the market in early 2006. The retail price will be about $50. For more information, send an email to info@safeawake.com.

4) Speak 'n Read
While I did not see this product or a demonstration of its capabilities, it was mentioned in sessions I attended at both the NTID Symposium and the SHHH Convention. The Speak 'n Read offers deaf and hard of hearing users the promise of real-time, automatic speech recognition in a portable format. The idea is that microphones, specifically selected for the setting (ie: lapel, shotgun, tripod, etc.) are worn or held by the user; as someone speaks her/his words are picked up by the microphone, processed with voice recognition software, run through a proprietary artificial intelligence program and then the speaker's words appear on the screen of a small hand held computer. WOW!
One of the product developers told me that they "have reduced voice training down from 40 hours to about half an hour to a couple of hours depending on the voice. At this level we get about 80% accuracy. Then our artificial intelligence takes over and with use it, learns and the accuracy goes up near 100%." He went on to remind me that "Even non deaf people occasionally miss words." The software and processing require a lot of power in a very small computer. At this point, the hand held computers used with the product are either the Sony Vaio U71, U50 or the the OQO 01. The product retails for $4500 to $5500. For more information about the Speak 'n Read or to find local distributors, visit their website http://www.medbio.com/.

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