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New app aims to help deaf people talk to family and friends over video

A revolutionary new app is being developed in the Tees Valley to help deaf people communicate over video calls.

Hearclear has been described as Skype with text, and conversations as they are happening during a video call.

The idea is the brainchild of Martin Phillips, who founded his company Desifa in Sadberge after realising his wife was having trouble communicating with their son when he moved to the US.

Mr Phillips said: “I thought, there has to be something around but having looked around there was nothing. Most of the solutions for people who are deaf or hard of hearing is speech to text on a landline or streaming into hearing aids through Bluetooth – but you can’t have a family conversation as the other sounds are wiped out.

“None of them were terribly satisfactory, so phone calls to Josh, my son, and to other members of the family were quite stressful as unfortunately my wife has problems hearing deep voices, such as male voices.

“Having realised there was nothing around, I started looking at how we could make a product to fix that. I had a chance meeting with Steven Tinkler, who is now on my team, and we have been developing it since.”

The two co-founders both have family members who struggle to communicate using video phone call apps, which gave them the inspiration to create the product.

By combining text with the app’s video features the duo believe they can improve conversations by reducing misunderstandings that can take place when only text is used.

Explaining how the product works, Mr Phillips added: “What happens is you make a video call, then you get an automatic transcription of what is being said.

“You only hear a very small amount of what is said. Over half of what you understand is through gestures and tense, so through the app you will also get the ability to see what is being said.”

Desifa recently gained the support of Teesside University, after being accepted onto its Fellowship Accelerator programme.

The scheme offered the company support worth up to £5,000, which included access to business workshops, consultancy and advice. The company has also received support from DigitalCity to develop its app.

Scott Watson, DigitalCity cluster innovation manager, said: “Our Fellowship Accelerator Programme supports new digital or technology businesses who are developing innovative new products or services. We have been delighted to help Martin and Steve with the business aspects of Desifa.”

Hearclear is expected to launch early next year.

This article was originally written by Jonathon Manning and featured in the Evening Gazette on 27th November 2018.