Last month, the team at Chatable reached out to me to review their new app. I had a look through their website [link] and it does look very promising, so I was excited to trial the app! I have tried my best to remain unbiased and to talk about both the positive and negative thoughts. However, I did have issues with the Chatable team who when I explained the initial issues I was having started being extremely defensive, and I had to stop my week of trying it out as I was also starting to experience severe tinnitus that lasted for days from using the app.
Who is it for?
- Deaf and hard of hearing people
- People who are struggling with their hearing and are currently undiagnosed
- Older people whose hearing is declining
- Autistic people, those with auditory processing disorders, or who struggle with background noise
Firstly I wanted to start by saying that I am profoundly Deaf and since my diagnosis, I haven’t been able to listen to music or make phone calls properly and rely on hearing aids and other aids. So while this app did not really work for me, it may be of use to those with a lower level of deafness, such as a mild to moderate hearing loss or those who might be just struggling to hear a bit.
Alternatively, it may be helpful to those who have further hearing aid accessories, such as earhooks [link] or a neckloop [link] which are connected to hearing aids and used to listen and play to music. Chatable does state that it is compatible with hearing aids through a neckloop, Bluetooth or wired directly - so maybe someone whose hearing aid is able to connect to the app might have better luck.
I downloaded the app and put in the code that I was given by Chatable to trial the app.
I initially tried to use the app with just my hearing aids but as my hearing aids only have T-setting and not Bluetooth, the app couldn’t recognise my hearing aids so I tried some of the other options.
The app also can be used through headphones or earphones, this meant that I had to take out my hearing aids as I obviously can’t wear both. I have behind the ear (BTE) hearing aids. BTE hearing aids sit behind the ear (hence the name) and is attached with a tube to either an ear mould that fits into the ear or a dome that goes into the opening of your ear. Either type of BTE hearing aid is not compatible to also have the earphones in the ear without adaptions made (such as using an earhook or neckloop).
I tried the app without my hearing aids and with earphones connected to my phone. I slid the button to turn the app “on” and tried by playing some background noise on my laptop. This did nothing, but I wasn’t sure whether this was because I am profoundly Deaf and had my hearing aids out. So my Hearing fiancé put in the earphones to test it out but he couldn’t hear anything from the app either. We tried playing some music on another app to test it wasn’t the earphones, but that worked fine. After a lot of faffing, we discovered that after every time that the app is “turned on”, even if you are using the same headphones, the same day, the same conversation - you first have to go onto demo and press play, then go off it and get onto the main part of the app to get the sound/microphone to connect. This is not instructed anywhere on the app and was a lot of pressing random buttons for us to discover this. I would be concerned, given that I am 25 and struggled to find this, someone with cognitive issues or is older such as my grandmother being able to work this out.
Once I’d managed to get the sound connected and had some background noise playing and talking to my partner, I did notice that there was a significant amount of eery/static information that I was getting back only when the app was turned “on” and when my earphones were connected – my fiancé tried my headphones on my phone to play music and using other apps and there was no feedback, so it was definitely this app. However, when there were options to have the phone completely flat and not to be moved, this wasn’t too much of a problem, but wasn’t filtered out by the app as it wasn’t recognised as “background noise”.
I then tried putting my hearing aids back in but using a pair of Bluetooth connecting headphones on top of them. Before using the app, when I have the headphones on top of my hearing aids, there’s a bit of pressure on my hearing aids, but no initial feedback noise. Once using the app, there was suddenly an overwhelming amount of static feedback that made it almost impossible to make out what the person was saying. This feedback was made EVEN greater if turning the phone or moving it in any way. Even after taking out my hearing aids and using my Bluetooth headphones, this echoing and static feedback remained and drowned out what anyone was saying even when background noise was at a total minimum. The app itself was causing more issues than when there was background noise!
My phone is the Google Pixel 4 [link], which in general I think is a great phone for Deaf people which I might go through at a later point, but one great feature is that it comes with a live caption app [link]. I don’t know if other phones have this, but basically it means when it detects speech on any media (twitter, facebook), it writes autogenerated captions. I noticed that when using the Chatable app this means that my phone recognises someone talking as “media” and effectively gives me live transcription for everyday conversation, which definitely is a massive thumbs up for me, and I think something that would be good to have on the app in general!
I did also try to use it with music, TV and phone call, but the same static feedback was present, which made it difficult to make out, and appeared as if listening through a faulty radio. I also experienced issues with the app heightening my tinnitus to a very uncomfortable degree.
As I mentioned at the start, I did also have problems with the Chatable team – and while this does not directly impact the experience of the app, I do feel it sets the pace and attitude given their lack of Deaf awareness. After I had mentioned the issues I had faced from the apps, I received a rather unfriendly reply. I mentioned that I expected other people with other ranges of hearing loss to have other experiences than I did, but I found it unprofessional that the team kept restating other people had success when I was trying to explain that it was not working for myself personally. They had linked me to a previous blog with “success” [link] – however, I would point out that this other blogger is a hearing aid manufacturer and does not have hearing loss (his colleague is the one with hearing loss), so of course we are going to have completely different experiences. I read through the blog – and it very much did not seem to be a review as such, as there was no mention of any personal experience of it, with only one quote from a co-worker with hearing loss with very little context, only the specifications of the product.
I felt from the email exchanges that the company does not have a proper level of Deaf awareness in order to understand the issues that I raised because it simply is not possible for Deaf and hard of hearing people to all have the “same experience” – which is something that they kept stating even when I explained why this was not a feasible goal. Even two people with the exact same level of hearing loss will have a different experience, because of the different hearing thresholds and pitch that the person may or may not hear, and Deaf people have a wide range of communication methods and as such it is impossible for this app to be suitable for everyone. The importance of Deaf culture needs to be taken into account because the app team does seem to want to “solve” the issue of not hearing someone. The fact is that there are many Deaf people who will simply not want to hear and where it is not needed because they are strong members of the Deaf community. They also did ask me to disclose personal information about my hearing aid and what I can hear which made me feel uncomfortable, as this is not relevant to the app and is quite confidential information.
Overall, I would say that the app is probably beneficial for those with a mild-to-moderate hearing loss or with hearing problems due to ageing. Potentially for those who don’t have hearing loss but are autistic or have APD, this might also work better. Despite the fact it is advertised as a “hearing aid”, it does appear to be more of a hearing amplifier given the amount of feedback [link]. If the feedback and sound implemented issues were sorted, this would definitely be a great app. However, I still would find wearing earphones in certain situations a bit awkward – such as in a restaurant or meeting. Similarly, the Roger pen has already been created for this purpose and for those who have at least one hearing aid, and are under the care of audiology or have Access to Work, this might be a more effective option. A Roger Pen [link] is a pen that has a powerful microphone, picking up both voices and audio from electronic devices and streams the sound wirelessly to your hearing aids. Also, personally I believe that many transcription apps do exist already and fill the purpose of trying to understand others when in social settings through captions. For example, the Live Transcribe app for Google Play [link] and Transcribe Live for the App Store [link].
This app, however, is great for in the home and more social settings, and especially for those who have not made the step or are still waiting for a hearing test, or to be seen by medical professionals.