Open Ears is the outcome of my work in the Global Health Challenge 2016 which was a month long design sprint held within the University of Dundee. The product is a toolkit that is designed to rapidly educate and raise awareness of the issues faced by hard of hearing people in their day to day lives. The toolkit itself contains equipment to simulate deafness (ear defenders + ear plugs), surgical masks (to obscure lip reading) and scenario cards. The scenarios are designed to be used by two people, one ‘deaf‘ and one not. The goal is to emulate real life situations such as GP consultations, travelling by air or ordering dinner at a busy restaurant. This allows the users to educate themselves about the basics of communicating with those with impaired hearing, usually related to lip reading.
It’s one thing to say “I know I need to look at the person I’m talking to so they can read my lips” and quite another to feel the sheer frustration when the person you’re talking to turns away to their laptop screen for the seventh time in the conversation after being reminded repeatedly. Through our user testing it is obvious how much stronger these experiences are when compared to just lecturing people on the do’s and don’ts of communication.
The most valuable experiences offered by this challenge were provided by our sponsor, the Tayside Deaf Hub. Working with staff and members there was extremely rewarding. I experienced a deaf choir for the first time which just blew me away, it was so physical and expressive that you couldn’t help but join in. I spoke to a woman who is profoundly deaf and learned of her traumatic experience where she suddenly collapsed and awoke in the local hospital. She was kept on the ward for 12 days with no communication, doctors went about their duties, lifting her shirt without acknowledging her or asking her consent. She then had surgery preformed on her and to this day does not know what the procedure was or why it was carried out. She is still in legal discussions to this day, two years later. I attended lip reading classes and was surprised at the range of ages that made use of these workshops. This drove my passion to be able to take the valuable things I learned during this month and deliver it in 5-10 minutes through my scenario cards and toolkit.
This is why the Open Ears prototype exists. I want to teach people these basic tips that I learned firsthand. This will improve the quality of life for hard of hearing people and their families. I’ve had such amazing feedback, for example, a Mother/Daughter pairing, the Mother being deaf. The daughter put on the deafness equipment and within a few seconds of attempting her first scenario exclaimed “so that’s why you do that!“. It was an amazing feeling to watch the toolkit work in a real life setting and I loved seeing the deaf Mother obviously enjoy being on the other side of things for once. Other experiences have been a man shouting “Ugh! I’m just so frustrated.” and many others telling me that they finally understand what their partner has been going through. Simple things such as rolling over in bed, shouting between rooms and paying attention to the television can cause problems. Even after seventeen years of marriage these issues are still a big deal for couples and cause frustration everyday.
At the conclusion of the challenge Open Ears won best Presentation and best Teamwork which was very satisfying and I was glad that our passion came across. What I didn’t expect was the amount of organisations that would email me offering opportunities to take the project further as a result of ‘winning‘ the challenge. This has allowed me to continue working on the product beyond the scope of the original design sprint. We have received funding and have been fortunate enough to continue development working with the NHS and Tayside Deaf Hub. I have started work designing a mark two prototype and working on creating more opportunities for user research to improve and refine the scenarios to make them more effective. I will be making the next prototype out of wood as the mark one prototype has been used to destruction at various events through the Tayside Deaf Hub. You can follow Open Ears’s progress in the following series of posts: