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AirPods could revolutionize what it means to be hard of hearing

Reuters/Beck Diefenbach
More than just a headphone.
By Lauren Alix Brown
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

AirPods “just work.”

They’re one of Apple’s newer products that have an innovative design, are functional, and have the potential to change the way we communicate. In the near term, they could revolutionize how people with hearing loss interact with the world.

Last month, it was reported that Apple would add Live Listen, a feature that allows people to hear conversations in noisy settings, to AirPods later this year. The feature has been around since 2014. It uses the iPhone as a mic and connects to Apple-certified hearing aids to amplify hearing. When the next version of Apple’s key mobile software, iOS 12, is released, AirPod users will have access to the feature, though it’s recommended that those who require hearing aids still use them and not simply rely on AirPods for clarity and amplification.

Nick Dawson—the founder of the Sibley Innovation Hub at Johns Hopkins university, so no stranger to patient-driven care—is documenting experiments with his mother, who is using the beta version of LiveListen with her AirPods, on Twitter:

Accessibility features on Apple products are not only standard but recognized as “trailblazing” by the accessibility community. Last May, the company released a campaign to highlight the way its features, like VoiceOver, were being used by the differently abled.

An estimated 15% of the American adult population has hearing loss but less than one-third of those who could benefit from hearing aids, actually use them, in part because of cost. Smartphones, more specifically listening to audio at too high levels, are estimated to put over 1 billion young people at risk for hearing loss, according to the World Health Organization. As the US population ages, it’s likely that the Live Listen will become a more affordable and accessible solution to a growing problem.

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