Tech lends a helping hand to China’s hearing impaired

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During this year’s college entrance examination, a hearing-impaired candidate in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, was unable to pass the security checks to enter the exam room because of an in-ear implanted crystal. Fortunately, in less than 10 minutes, the candidate’s “silent certificate” was brought to the exam room by a teacher with the help of the city’s traffic police.

That’s just one example of the day-to-day inconveniences faced by people with hearing impairments. According to the second nationwide sampling survey of disabled people, the number of people with hearing problems in China is close to 30 million, making them the largest group of disabled people in China.

A mismatch between supply and demand

In recent years, the construction of a barrier-free environment in China has been accelerating as more and more organizations and companies launched barrier-free optimized products, promoted the integration of disabled employment, and carried out barrier-free activities and advocacy, China Philanthropy Times reported.

However, there are only about 10,000 hearing-impaired professional service personnel in China at present, and the hearing-impaired-related infrastructure and professional services lag far behind demand, and the impact of hearing impairments is reflected in all aspects of work and life.

Liu Yi, who works as an assistant engineer, lost his hearing in both ears due to a medical mistake when he was less than two months old. Over the years, Liu has been working hard to learn to speak and is capable of lip reading. As Liu ‘s work requires frequent communication with others, the current pandemic has made life difficult, due to people wearing masks.

Even with those who found jobs they enjoyed, the tolerance of their colleagues and the general environment can still be found wanting. Xiaolan works for an organization helping the disabled: her job is to complete paintings step by step with other colleagues, and then the organization helps them sell the paintings. She struggles to understand the feedback of her customers, and her colleagues are not willing to spend too much time communicating with her, she told China Philanthropy Times. As a result, she never participates in meetings at work or group activities.

The impact of disabilities on individuals is lifelong, said Gong Zezhong, executive vice chairman and secretary general of the Audiology Development Foundation of China. “We should build a social support system for the disabled, which requires leadership of the government, advocacy of social organizations, and the in-depth participation of enterprises to more accurately understand the needs of the recipient groups and to design more scientific and efficient charity projects.”

Look for digital solutions

Many hearing-impaired people want electronic products with more accessible features. In response to such demands, technology companies have made attempts to fulfill their corporate social responsibilities while filling market gaps.

Since 2019, the R&D team of tech firm Vivo has been researching the needs of the hearing-impaired community to obtain first-hand information on how impairments impact on daily life. Based on their research, the company has started upgrading its accessibility functions specifically for hearing-impaired consumers.

The implemented upgrades on its products include baby monitors using voice recognition, auto audio to text, barrier-free calling, and AI generated subtitles.

As the mother of a two-year-old, Wang Fan, said she has been unable to communicate with her family since she was a child. “Vivo’s products have helped me talk to my family, and I can now answer and even make some emergency calls.”

Cooperation between sectors

A number of steps to improve the environment for those with hearing impairments have been made over the past year, with Beijing and other provinces and cities like Shenzhen, Hangzhou and Sichuan implementing barrier-free legislation locally, and society paying more attention to the value and development of disabled groups.

In Gong’s view, the updating of barrier-free features on products brought by the advancement of science and technology has provided the disabled with better living conditions, allowing them to better connect with the outside world.

To enable more of its customers to understand the living conditions of hearing-impaired groups and encourage more people to participate in related charity projects, Vivo will partner with the Audiology Development Foundation to launch the “Sound and Breath” user interactive game on June 27.

Users can learn about what charity projects are available, donate daily exercise steps to the projects and learn sign language in the game. And based on the number of “hearts” the users collect, Vivo will donate accessible communication equipment to people with hearing impairments.