Accessibility ASR (Automatic Speech Recognition) Captioning CART (live captioning) Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss Hearing Technology Stenographers

InnoCaption Services

It is our extreme pleasure to welcome Cristina Duarte, Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs & In-House Counsel of InnoCaption, as our guest this week! Cristina has a pretty impressive title, but it doesn’t describe all that she does at InnoCaption. When speaking with Cristina, it is her passion and commitment to a company that holds a deep personal connection for her that comes through. She loves connecting with customers and helping the Hard of Hearing (HoH) and deaf improve their lives by broadening their ability to communicate.

CRISTINA: As soon as I could speak, I took charge of answering the phone in our house. I was so proud every time I would answer and say in my most adult voice “Duarte residence, Cristina speaking, how can I help you?” Both of my parents were born with profound hearing loss and the phone was always challenging for them. Fast forward about 12 years, I was the only kid in my high school with a two way pager – which was incredibly cool – because it was the only way I could get a hold of my parents and fully communicate with them when they were out of the house. My father, an audio visual engineer who specialized in accessible solutions, frequently traveled and called me to test out new technologies he encountered while on the road. It was a normal occurrence for me as a young adult to get a call from a random number and hear – “Hi Cristina, it’s Dad! Just trying out something new and want to see how it does.” Every single time there would be some part of the solution which fell short of expectations, whether it was the speed, accuracy, sound quality or compatibility. I remember the first time my father called me using the InnoCaption app – I can honestly say it was the first phone conversation I had EVER had with them that it was like I was talking to a hearing person. At the time, the technology was still pending approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – but we both knew it was going to be life changing.

Fast forward to today, I have had the opportunity to be a part of InnoCaption for seven years and am incredibly proud of how far we have come. We are still the only company to offer our users captioning provided by stenographers and have added the ability to use automatic speech recognition (ASR) as well. Instead of imposing our own views on which captioning technology best meets our users’ needs, we empower our users by giving them full control with the ability to switch between a stenographer or ASR captions at the press of a button, before or even during a call. We listen to the community and our users – which has resulted in some really awesome features. A few of my favorites, and how they came about, are:

Caller ID Selection: This feature allows our user to choose between whether outgoing calls from their InnoCaption show as their InnoCaption number; their regular cell phone number; or blocked. We implemented this feature after receiving requests from deaf and hard of hearing doctors who wanted to use their cellphones to call patients, but did not want to provide the patients with their personal numbers. They explained that their hearing peers were able to do this, and they wanted to be able to as well. Shortly thereafter we launched the Caller ID Selection solution!

DeskView: At the beginning of the pandemic so many were forced into remote work environments without accessibility. I remember hearing from users who explained that they did not need accommodations in person, but as soon as their work shifted to the phone or video conferences, they were really struggling. In the beginning, we had many users dialing in to video conferencing platforms from their mobile devices and relying on the captioning. The feedback from that time that I remember best, is someone describing the feeling of looking between their computer screen and mobile device trying to keep up as “whip-lash” inducing. To address this, our team rolled out Deskview, which is a browser based InnoCaption feature which allows users to either mirror the captions from their mobile device to their computer OR now users can call directly from the browser eliminating the need for the mobile device. This empowers the user to have control of the captions on the same screen as their video conferencing – our users were thrilled!

Dyslexic Font: At some point last year, I received a message from a long time InnoCaption user sharing that they were dyslexic and there were dyslexic friendly fonts which would enhance the ease of reading and comprehension for them. Our engineering team was able to implement a dyslectic font customization within the app – and now we are even more accessible.

I could share so many stories behind the features we have released and why – but that would take quite some time. Instead I share the ones above as examples of the changes that have been made as a direct result of feedback from community members. I love what we have been able to do together working alongside the community. Honestly, my favorite part of my job is having the opportunity to connect with users and hear their experiences. I am beyond proud of what has been accomplished to date and I cannot wait to see what the future holds.

CHELLE: The phone was such a big source of anxiety for me that in 2009 I quit using it. There’s no lipreading on phones, all I get is a voice which for me is missing many consonants in speech. Trying to piece together the missing sounds of speech without any visuals was pure hell. I lost a few friends who would not convert to text or email, that hurt.

Caption phones came along around 2012 and I had so much anxiety with phones it was a last resort for me. I’d walk by the phone for 2 or 3 hours before working up the courage to make the call. The captions helped and little by little I got over the fear.

InnoCaption was my first captioning smartphone app. I like that they use stenographers, I’m more confident than ever with phone calls. During the pandemic shutdown, I had to use my cell phone at home to make business calls. I found the captions to be more consistent and they came up faster too, so I transitioned to using only my smartphone with InnoCaption for phone calls.. No more anxiety.

JULIA: In 2017, HLAA National held their convention in Salt Lake City, where I first learned about InnoCaption and that they contracted steno writers. I thought to myself, sounds too good to be true (find out more in our podcast Monday).

I put off looking into it for a little minute, but eventually took their assessment test. It. Did. Not. Go. Well. Maybe down the road I will blog about my severe test anxiety. Just writing the word “test” has me in a sweat. Luckily they offered a second chance and I was ready. Sweat and all.

For the past four years InnoCaption has done just what they said they would do. Supply steady contracted work during times in the past I would have had none. I tell them every two weeks what I have available to work. Some months I have more, some I have less. I have as many hours as I want or need most weeks. A side bonus is InnoCaption pay is every two weeks without any problems.

CART providers, interpreters, Voice Relay Operators, Caption operators, operators in general, are all held to high confidentiality standards. We type/sign the spoken word and when done, we flush it. We are essential workers, and sometimes part of the first responder team. But we also allow someone with a hearing loss to share in the best parts of life with friends, family, and coworkers. At the end of the day, my job is about supporting someone who otherwise would be left out of whatever event they are facing, good or bad.

MICHELE: I have not had audio capability on my cell phone since 2012. When I moved to Germany, I had no use for audio (I don’t speak or read German) and so I dropped back to text and data only. After returning to the U.S., in mid-December of 2015, I kept putting off adding audio to my cell phone plan, as I had become accustomed to not having it. I kept telling myself I wanted to add it in order to try InnoCaption, and some of the other accessibility apps that caption cell phone calls, but I procrastinated.

The day before filming our podcast with Cristina, I stopped at my cell provider and changed my service to include audio capability. I was so excited to finally try InnoCaption and connect with people on mobile calls like a hearing person. I am blown away by how well it works and am kicking myself for not taking action sooner. Everyone I have used InnoCaption with so far says they love hearing my voice and chatting on the phone with me again.

Matt Goncalves of InnoCaption at the 2019 SayWhatClub Convention in Sacramento, CA.

I first learned about InnoCaption in 2017, while serving as a volunteer for the SayWhatClub Convention Steering Committee. InnoCaption has sponsored our convention for several years, and what is always evident is their caring, commitment, and willingness to listen to, and work with, their users.

Accessibility Hearing Loops & Telecoils Hearing Technology

Hearing Loops & Telecoils

Assistive Listening Symbol
Assistive Listening Symbol specific to Hearing Loops

A hearing loop, a.k.a. an induction loop, wirelessly transmits magnetic energy from sound systems to telecoil (T-coil) sensors in hearing devices. Installation of a wire loop (various arrays) in the floor or ceiling of a facility or area is required. Activating the T-coil in their hearing device allows the user to hear sound directly from any looped room or facility, stage, hall, playhouse, theater, conference area.

Hearing loops are old technology (invented in 1937), but that doesn’t mean they are outdated. The U.S. lags far behind European, and other, countries in providing loops. And, they aren’t just for the Hard of Hearing (HoH), anyone can experience the clear and direct sound piped into their ears via hearing loops and telecoil receivers.

Feel free to contact us through our website if you want to learn more about loops.

Julia: In various group gatherings, peer groups, and classes, I have heard the question, “Do you have a T-coil?” The usual answers:

  • What is that?
  • My audiologist says only to use bluetooth, telecoils are outdated.
  • Is that my number three program for telephones?

As I am writing this, I am wondering if I have ever heard anyone give the answer, “Yes. I use it for…”? Utah has state legislation that makes it mandatory for audiologists to talk about assistive listening systems when selling hearing aids, including loops and telecoils, to help patients understand what T-coils are, along with other options. The fact that people have more questions than answers about telecoils says something about the lack in the hearing health medical profession and patient care that currently exists.

What I have learned, from HoHs who know and understand what telecoil function can be used for, is that they love it. It brings the sound of a room straight to your hearing aids.

Chelle: I was one of the lucky ones with an audiologist encouraging me to use the T-switch (telecoil) back in the mid 90’s. I worked in a salon and the background noise could be horrendous, competing with the phone calls. The T-switch shutdown my environmental noise and concentrated on what came across on the phone instead. Some background noise bled into the phone calls, but usually I could hear better…unless the other end of the line had a lot of background noise. 

Not too long after moving to Salt Lake City, our state Deaf/HoH center had hearing loops installed in two meeting rooms and I was able to experience my telecoil program (hearing aid technology improved, no longer a switch but a dedicated program) in a whole new way. The tables all had microphones and as long as everyone talked into the microphone it was great! Hearing loops became my favorite assistive listening system, I hear much better/clearer through the loop than FM systems. For the first time in years, I did not have to concentrate so hard on lipreading or focus as much on CART. (I still need the backups for missed words.)

Here in the Salt Lake valley, we have our D/HoH center, Hale Centre Theatre and the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City. Other cities have their own looped options. Check the ALD Locator (also lists other assistive listening systems) to find out what’s available in your city.

Loop wires, they go around the edge of the floors typically but that doesn’t work in our house so we put them along the ceiling.

Audiologists will say hearing loops aren’t used anymore and talk more about Bluetooth. Bluetooth works great for personal devices but they have not come out with a public option yet. Bluetooth also drains battery power, T-coils have no extra battery drain. I encourage everyone to attend hearing loss conventions for many reasons: the people, the workshops, they provide CART and install temporary loops. If you don’t have the telecoil in your hearing aid, or the program turned on, you will miss one of the best hearing experiences of your life. It doesn’t cost more to have a telecoil so when you go to get new hearing aids, make sure it has one.

Loop driver, it pushes the sound through the wires.

To be honest, my favorite time to wear hearing aids is in hearing loops. That’s when my hearing aids really come through. I don’t have to pick up devices and worry about them being clean. I don’t have to return them after the meeting/show. I just walk in, turn on my telecoil program and I have my very own personal listening system. I have one in my living room too.

Michele: Because I have never worn HAs other than in trials (hyperacusis complicates things), I don’t have much experience with loops or telecoils. I always wondered if I could benefit from hearing loops in another way? Then, several years ago, while visiting Chelle in Salt Lake City, I was able to try out the looped room at the Sanderson Center with headphones. The little bit of sound from the loop enhanced my lipreading skills. 

Thomas Kaufman, founder of OTOjOY, poses for a portrait at FilmBar in Phonenix, AZ in April of 2018. Nick Serpa, The Republic
LoopBuds app turns my iPhone into a Hearing Loop Receiver

In June of 2018, I was able to try LoopBuds at the HLAA convention during a presentation by Thomas Kaufmann, the founder of OTOjOY and LoopBud inventor. I wound up buying them. The downloadable LoopBud app turns an iPhone into a loop receiver that lets you control the volume, balance, and equalizer settings. Again, the little bit of sound I get with the LoopBuds enhances my lipreading skills. I bought a second set to donate for the SayWhatClub convention silent auction. It was a hearing spouse who made the winning bid, impressed by Thomas Kaufmann’s (our keynote speaker) description of how hearing loops allow you to hear things that would normally be drowned out by background noise.

Living in Europe for almost four years (beginning in 2012) I noted the proliferation of hearing loops outside of the U.S. I’ve heard many hearing loop advocates speak about the benefits of bringing sound directly into your ears via telecoils in HAs and CIs. I’m not sure why we lag behind other nations in this area, or why audiologists often fail to inform consumers about the benefits of telecoils?

So much of what is available to the HoH community seems to be well-kept secrets and Hearing Loss LIVE! wants to help change that. If you have questions, contact us.

Watch our companion video podcast.