Using Speech to Text Apps in the Days of Face Masks

I’ve been from Northern Utah to Arizona a few times now. Arizona has been a hot spot for COVID19. I thought about canceling my planned trip because of that but decided to be extra careful. In June, hardly anyone was wearing masks in Arizona. In July a lot more people were wearing masks…which of course is a challenge to those of us with hearing loss. This trip I even forgot my hearing aids on my desk!

Shame on me! Luckily I am comfortable in asking for communication needs with and without my hearing aids. It was not a catastrophe and even though I have to work a little harder to hear I know my way around.

My mom is learning things about hearing loss even though she doesn’t have any. Before I came up she met with someone for an appointment and masks were required in the building by the business so they talked mask to mask. My mom probably mentioned me which opened up a conversation about hearing loss and the lady told her masks made it really hard on the older folk who came in and how much felt for them as they struggled to understand her. I told my mom about speech to text apps (AVA, Live Transcribe, Otter) and she thought that was so clever.

I know lots about speech to text apps and I still forgot to use it back in June when I was traveling home from there, picking up food. The guy in the restaurant had an accent, a mask and behind a plastic shield! We struggled back and forth, taking twice the time needed as he continued to repeat over and over, gesturing wasn’t even a possibility. My prediction and anticipation skills out the window because I don’t know the routine of the place because I was traveling…and I was hungry. Hunger can make knock us out of the usual thinking too. Eventually we got it, transaction completed and he told me to wait at the car and someone would bring it out. That was so hard, I thought walking to the car. Then I got the big DUH, why didn’t I whip out my phone with speech to text app? Dang, missed opportunity.

A few days later I went to pick up a prescription. I had my phone out and my app on, I was ready this time. I let the pharmacist know I using a speech to text app because I read lips. She took two big steps back, pulled down her mask and started to use sign language while talking. Ha! I couldn’t even use my speech to text app now because she was too far away. Lucky me in that I know some sign language and could follow along, most people who are hard of hearing do not know sign language and will become frustrated at this point. And isn’t it funny how often I tell people I read lips and they start using sign language? (There’s a huge wrong assumption there we need to correct.)

I shared those stories with my mom and then showed how the apps worked. She was impressed. The next day we went for an appointment. We were seated at a desk with man behind a plastic shield. While he was behind the shield he didn’t wear the mask but as he was walking around. My mom brought up the speech to text apps and he actually said he uses the microphone option in the keyboard in a notes app to help people who struggle to hear with masks on.

Through my forays into the world of masks, I have come to appreciate the technology available and learning sign language to the point that I can communicate no matter what….except the guy in the grocery store who didn’t know sign but he could fingerspell which is not easy for me. He was proud of himself though and those who I’ve run across who do sign, are happy to use what they have learned and most are not above my level of sign.

  • Some knowledge of sign language is handy.
  • Speech to text apps can help a great deal.
  • Remaining calm through out all of it is probably what matters most. If I can remain calm and allow myself to get used to a voice and how they talk, I can carry on a conversation even with a mask. When I start to get frustrated or panicky is when I blow it.

I don’t know how I’ve learned to stay calm except I’ve learned to give a little time. Some years ago when I met new people, I told them it’s going to take me a few minutes to get used to the way they talk and the repeats will be less after that. (I must have been worried about having people repeat back then.) That was before all the cool apps came out on our smartphones.

Now I give myself that time privately, telling myself to wait for it. I don’t start off asking for repeats. I allow myself to relax with them; their voice, their tone, the words they use and most of the time I can connect the dots now. If I still don’t get it and repeat doesn’t work, the speech to text apps come out to play.

Here are a few of the speech to text apps out. They all have free versions and paid versions. I understand the paid version have better quality of captions. They are NOT perfect and will foul up speech depending on much background noise there is, how well the person articulates and just because it’s like autocorrect which is bound to get a few things wrong. I can usually figure out the mistakes as they are often phonic. We spend a lot of time laughing over the wrong captions, sometimes laughing to the point of tears.

AVA made for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people
Live Transcribe by Google (no specific website)
Otter is a transcription app, but also works great for us.

Those are a few of the most popular speech to text apps. You can also use the microphone on the keyboard in texts, note apps and more. Click on the keyboard and look for a tiny microphone icon. Tap on that and start speaking. This tends to have more errors than the other apps. I was using this option to text my mom yesterday telling her I left Vegas…which came out “fake ass”. She needed me to interpret that one.

At any rate, I suggest we all get comfortable using speech to text, make it second nature. I think masks are going to be around for a while.

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