Pocketalker Hack and Apps for Hearing and Communication

Last month, AT3 Center News and Tips had the good fortune to attend a break-out session at the Assistive Technology (AT) Makers’ Fair presented by Joan Marcoux, a communication access specialist at the New Hampshire Dept. of Health and Human Services. The session provided some creative hacks and adaptations with consumer technologies and AT. Along the way, Marcoux also discussed some exciting apps to know about used by the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (D/HoH) community that make a useful complement to our post from six months ago. Here’s some of what we learned:

Pocketalker hack: turn your assistive listening device into a public address system

The Pocketalker is an off-the-shelf assistive listening device that is popular and usable by anyone who would like to hear better one on one or within small groups. The device can also help a user hear a TV or radio when adjusting the unit’s own volume will not be welcome by the entire household or when connecting a headset or earbuds is not desirable because others want to listen too.

Small handheld pocketalker device with earphones and single ear bud.
A Pocketalker Ultra from Williams AV

The Pocketalker is positioned in close proximity to the audio source (or worn on the body). The user adjusts tone and volume on the unit and wears a headset or earbuds to listen clearly with less ambient noise. No hearing aids are required.

Many people are familiar with these Pocketalker features and uses. Few, however, know this hack: your Pockettalker may be easily turned into a public address (PA) system!

Since Pocketalker has both a mic jack and audio jack, it can be used with common compatible equipment. Add a simple speaker with an audio line to the earbud jack. Next, add a mic on an extended cord. Amplified bingo anyone?

The mic may also be adapted with an industrial twist tie to position near a speaker’s mouth. Great for people with low voice volume for use as an amplifier.

A woman's neck with an industrial twist tie supporting a mic in close proximity to the face.
An industrial twist tie supporting a microphone. Photo credit: ATinNH, Institute on Disability/UCED at UNH

So many uses for a device that sells for under $140!

Apps for individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing:

EarMachine: turn your iPhone into a finely-tuned assistive listening device. Funded by the National Institutes on Health, the EarMachine app adjusts volume and tone to adapt for different listeners and environments. (Available for iOS only.)

InnoCaption+: a free mobile phone captioning app for persons who speak but are hard of hearing. The service uses live stenographers not voice recognition. Captioning is available for persons who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing at no cost (from several providers). With InnoCaption, logging in is not necessary and a call forwarding option means users do not need a separate phone number for captioning. Your phone is just your phone. (Available for iOS and Android.)

Flip Writer AAC: a communication app for the iPad (iOS only) that allows for easy reading of typed messages off the display, oriented to your communication partner. Includes high-quality text-to-speech.