An Issue of Accessibility to Auditory Care

Hearing impairment impacts 63 million people in India, often in childhood. Of these childhood instances of impairment, nearly 60% of these cases could be prevented with earlier detection and action. According to the team, this particularly impacts those who live in rural and lower-income areas, where access to proper technology and treatment is limited. There is also a lack of education and parental awareness, which according to the project proposal, keeps children from getting the care they need, such as a cochlear implant, until they are three to six years old, which is after a vital threshold of lingual acquisition in their development, creating struggles for them as they get older. 

A Solution in a Kiosk

A group of students at the SRM Institute of Science and Technology Student Branch in Chennai, India have teamed up with Dr. M. G. R. Home and Higher Secondary School for the Speech and Hearing Impaired to create an assistance device embedded in a kiosk that will help children that use hearing aids and cochlear implants learn Tamil. With a $1,605.30 grant as part of EPICS in IEEE’s Access and Abilities Competition, this project was underway. “The project will impact the community by giving access to aural rehabilitation for children who are far from the hospitals and rehabilitation centers,” said Shanthini Thanigesh, a Master in Audiology student. 

According to the team, their kiosk and application-based learning program focuses on three key points of development: auditory awareness, auditory discrimination, and language acquisition. After a questionnaire, the application’s algorithm will assign children tasks and monitor their progress before assigning them the next task. The team explained that these tasks are divided into five hierarchical categories that range in difficulty based on sound with visual cues, sound at low intensity, sound in the presence of noise, and identifying sound direction.  

The actual kiosk is set up to allow children and teachers to sit together, with chairs. Ahuja speakers surround the children to emulate real-life situations. The device uses a CloudWalker 40 cm Full HD Touch Monitor and microphones for them to use and the kiosk is made of aluminum. Speakers are also used to relay instructions to teachers. 

There were roadblocks at the beginning, as described by Thanigesh, “The project had a setback when the first version of the software had a lot of bugs and the progress got slow. We were not able to properly understand the needs of the children.” Even so, the team overcame and progressed. “Repetitive feedback collection and requirement analysis were done by the faculty and the students. This led us to properly get an idea of what impact we were aiming to make, and the idea of the project was clarified.” 

The end product of the software was a huge success, according to Agniprabha Chakraborty, a third-year Mechanical Design Engineer, “The software, the heart of the project, was a big success because of how detailed and intricately it was created. All parts have been created masterfully. After rigorous testing, they have returned great results.”

This project offered a new perspective for students on the project team. Project lead Rupan Nag, a third-year Computer Science Engineering student, says, “In classes, we do not get the idea of how things are done in the actual field. Collaborating with people and successfully delivering a product can only be understood from a root level in these types of projects.”

An Important Impact for Children

The immediate impact of this project lies in the 150 students at Dr. M. G. R. Home and School within the 5 to 8 year old age group that have started using the device. The team hopes their device will spread to help more children nearby and continue its impact worldwide. 

“As a project lead, I feel like the biggest success of the project was all of us being able to be a team and collaborate to build something beautiful and help make the world a little better,” said Nag.

The team plans to update the project’s media frequently to keep it current and effective. The teachers will report the children’s progress to ensure the proper updates are being made. “The funding from EPICS in IEEE has enabled us to broaden our horizons and push our limits,” Chakraborty said. “It has allowed us to invest in higher quality materials and optimize our design to new heights.”

Dr. R. Rajkumar and Dr. J. Praveena, the project principle mentors, express their gratitude to EPICS in IEEE for its support in enabling students to address a social cause. This project was made possible by the Jon C. Taenzer Memorial Fund established by the IEEE Foundation in 2019 with a generous bequest from the Estate of Mr. Taenzer, an IEEE Life Senior Member. This project was one of 23 in the EPICS in IEEE Access and Abilities Competition.

To learn more about this project and its incredible impact, watch this video to hear from the project team.