Masks make it hard for deaf people to lip-read. This smartphone app is getting an upgrade to help | CBC News

It’s not unusual to see people ordering a coffee while peering at their smartphones these days, but for Anya Karir, it serves a very important purpose.

Karir is deaf and she uses Google’s Live Transcribe app, which captions conversations instantly. She says technology like this has been especially crucial during the pandemic with people wearing masks.

“I lip-read 70 per cent of the time and it’s been very difficult,” the Toronto daycare worker said.

“I’m so tired of asking people to repeat themselves that sometimes I would just nod and pretend like I understood them. So, this helps.”

Karir says the app, and speech-to-text technology in general, isn’t perfect yet. For example, she says if a child at her daycare is speaking softly or she’s using it in a busy space, it won’t always pick up the words.

“It works best in a quiet, one-on-one setting,” she explained.

Google says it’s always working on improvements. Dimitri Kanevsky, a research scientist at Google who lost his hearing as a child, is part of the team that works on the technology. He says it also affects him personally.

“I, myself, because of this technology, could finally start to speak with my granddaughter, play games with her and share stories,” he said.

Kanevsky adds that one of the latest updates is the ability to get access to the app offline, which will be useful when people are travelling, in an elevator, or don’t have an internet connection.

“It will be a real change for a lot of people, especially in countries where there is not a good network,” he said.

Karir says it’s a good feeling knowing big tech companies are keeping people with disabilities in mind as they continue to upgrade and develop their products.

“It definitely makes me feel included, appreciated and that we are worth working for.”

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