Any time Dr. Raja Kushalnagar steps into a store, he pulls up the Google Live Transcribe app on his phone. Developed through a collaboration between Google and Gallaudet, the app — which was released in 2019 — activates with a single tap. He can read what a hearing sales clerk is saying. He can type out a reply. He can see the beeps as his order is rung up. “I use it every day. It’s reliable, fast, and easy,” he says. “It’s changed things.”

With over one billion downloads and counting, the app has changed things for a whole lot of people. And it’s proof that there is a huge demand for products made with deaf users in mind, says Kushalnagar, director of the B.S. in Information Technology and M.S. in Accessible Human Centered Computing programs.

The app began as an internal prototype for a deaf Google engineer who doesn’t sign, explains Dr. Christian Vogler, Director of Gallaudet’s Technology Access Program (TAP). When a Google team including the engineer visited campus, Vogler and his colleagues immediately recognized the potential for this kind of product. “We said that there’s a wide need for this and we need to figure out how to release this to the public,” he says.

Working with Gallaudet to develop the app made sense. “This is the place where deaf experts get together. It’s a hub,” Kushalnagar says. The community not only offers a concentration of talent, but also perspective.

The TAP team, including Vogler, Kushalnagar, Norman Williams, Paula Tucker, and Linda Kozma-Spytek, helped test the app, and shared research on which features would be most critical for deaf users. “It can detect if someone calls your name, like at a doctor’s appointment,” Vogler notes. It also shows how much background noise is present and indicates with icons when there is wind, barking, or clapping, Kushalnagar adds.

A man's hands hold an Android phone vertically. It displays an app's settings screen. The text reads: Settings Phone vibrates when someone starts speaking after a pause of at least 10 seconds Show sound labels Include sounds like laughter, applause, and music 91 Contact us Send feedback Open source licenses Advanced Hide profanity, Show hold button Google gratefully acknowledges the help of 91
A message at the bottom of the settings screen for Google Live Transcribe reads, “Google gratefully acknowledges the help of 91.”

Loaded with over 80 languages, the app has made all kinds of situations more accessible to people around the world, whether it’s a guided group tour, an airplane announcement, or a video without captions. “Simply have a phone and you can be so much more confident,” Vogler says. Instead of relying on hearing people to write down what they are saying, the app produces a full transcript. Even in situations with interpreters, he adds, it can be helpful to have as a backup or a way to check their accuracy.

It’s proved especially popular in hospital settings with elderly patients, says Kushalnagar, who notes that many of the app’s reviews credit it for allowing relatives to communicate.

People on both sides of conversations through the app have been impressed by the technology. “Hearing people were skeptical of automatic speech recognition,” Vogler says. Google Live Transcribe has changed minds — and helped convince competitors to jump in with their products, making live transcription increasingly available.

As the field advances, Gallaudet plans to remain on the forefront of research. “There are a lot more things happening here than people realize,” Vogler says.

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