Michael Forzano, Amazon Software Engineer
Amazon and implantable hearing solutions provider Cochlear have collaborated to pioneer a solution that helps to make watching television more accessible for people with hearing implants.
For the first time, people with hearing loss can stream sound from their Amazon smart TVs directly to their Cochlear hearing implants via the open-source Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids (ASHA) protocol.
Ryan Lopez, Director of Nucleus Product Management and Marketing at Cochlear, said: “Cochlear started working on streaming audio from smartphones to hearing aids and implants in 2019 and that television was the next frontier.
“TV is a big part of our lives; we get our news and information through television, our entertainment, sports, music.”
“When we started to work with Amazon, what really came to light was their dedication to accessibility, effective communication, and collaborating on how we can combine these technologies. At Cochlear, we were really proud to be a part of this.”
Cochlear has configured direct streaming from Fire TV to the Cochlear Nucleus 8, Nucleus 7, Nucleus Kanso 2, and Baha 6 Max sound processors. With ASHA, sound processors connect directly with the Fire TV device, so users can enjoy audio from their favourite streaming apps, use Alexa, listen to music, hear navigational sounds, and more.
ASHA-enabled Fire TV devices include: Fire TV Omni QLED Series, Fire TV Omni Series, Fire TV 4-Series, Fire TV Cube (3rd Gen), and Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen).
Ryan stated that thousands of users can start using this feature immediately.
The work builds on Amazon’s collaboration with the hearing aid company Starkey, which allows users to directly connect compatible Bluetooth hearing aids. It also represents another step to help make entertainment more accessible to people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment.
Collaborating with Cochlear is the latest way Peter Korn, Director of Accessibility for Amazon Devices, and Amazon’s accessibility teams have helped bring more accessible technologies to market.
They have also helped bring the ‘Tap to Alexa’ function to users with speech disabilities and ‘Call RNIB helpline’ calling feature to its Alexa functions to assist people with visual impairments.
Peter said: “When we talked to users who use hearing aids, audiologists, and other experts in the field, the majority told us that the first thing you really want if you’ve got hearing loss is to be able to hear clearly the people around you. The second thing you want is the ability to hear the television, to enjoy entertainment.”
Seeing an opportunity to solve a problem for hearing implant users, the team looked to Cochlear to collaborate. They found a way to bypass the implant’s microphones, stream audio from Fire TV directly into the implants, and prevent the audio from being degraded by noise and echoes.
“We send the audio in little packets over to the hearing device,” continued Peter. “The hearing device acknowledges receipt of those packets of audio, and then more are sent, and so on. We also did the work to ensure that this protocol works over living room distances.”
This means users can sit within 10 feet or three meters of their TV and continue to enjoy entertainment.
Amazon Software Engineer Michael Forzano, along with members of AmazonPWD, Amazon’s affinity group for people with disabilities and their allies, tested the technology’s sound quality, connectivity, and other features and shared feedback with Katie Hansen, a Technical Program Manager at Amazon.
Michael said that the feature helps to “takes the strain” out of watching TV.
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