How gaming is bringing new sounds to new ears
Posted on January 23, 2018
5 min read
There’s a reason why the Remarkable Accelerator has such a bold name. In part it’s the Remarkable ideas behind each of the program’s tech4good startups. But mostly, it’s the Remarkable people making these ideas a reality. With applications closing soon for the 2018 program, we want to share these Remarkable Stories. This is Elliot’s.
“I’ve never seen being deaf as a bad thing.”
Elliot Miller explains: “It really taught me to view, articulate and interact with the world in a different, open-minded and often unique way.” He’s right. The 30-year-old Brisbanite has unique view of the world. Growing up deaf in a hearing world, also meant he’s had a unique experience of it. It was one particular unique experience in 2013 that inspired an idea which would set his life in a new direction.
“I’ll always remember the day I first went running after I received a cochlear implant,” Elliot said. “I could hear a jingling noise. When I stopped running to focus on this unfamiliar sound, the jingling also stopped. I wasn’t sure what it was and kept wondering what it could be. It wasn’t until I got home that I realised the noise was coming from the coins in my pocket.”
At two, Elliot was diagnosed with severe hearing loss in his right ear and profound loss in his left. Twenty-four years later he received a life-changing cochlear implant. However this ‘fix’ wasn’t as simple as ‘switching on the sound’. In fact, learning to understand new sounds has been one of the biggest challenges Elliot has ever faced. But this experience led him to combine his skills in graphic design and game design to create Games 4 Hearoes, which uses gamification to help people with hearing impairments transform the way they hear.
“Games 4 Hearoes is a digital auditory training platform to help track, adapt and empower those with hearing loss, specifically those with a cochlear implant, learn new sounds,” Elliot said.
“When someone receives a cochlear implant it’s a common misconception that they will automatically gain normal hearing. However it’s quite a different experience for everyone who goes through the journey.”
After someone receives a cochlear implant, what they mostly hear is almost like vibration feedback while the brain tries to identify the pitch and tone of the sound. Over time it steadies to ‘white noise’ until their brain is able to identify what the auditory feedback is and understand it. Recipients often need to relearn or learn how to hear – from environmental sounds through to understanding vocabulary.
“I hadn’t been prepared for how much work was needed in the rehabilitation process,” Elliot explained. “In theory, the cochlear speech processor is a more powerful, sharper device compared to the hearing aid that I was used to. Although I am able to hear more of the world around me, especially the soft or high pitched sounds which I had never heard before, it took a lot of practice and stamina to make sense of it all.”
So he set himself on a new path to use technology to make this process quicker, easier – and even fun. And it’s through serious games – computer games with a purpose to train, rather than simply entertain us. But as Elliot explains, serious games can do both.
“Games 4 Hearoes has a range of modules, starting with environmental sounds progressing to understanding sentences and dialogue,” Elliot said. “In each module, there is a library of gamified activities, which have been designed for everyone, from children to adults, to create an entertaining and immersive experience, rewarding participants as they progress.”
In developing Games 4 Hearoes, Elliot has drawn on his own experiences, as well as others.
“Even the small things in life, from the fridge alarm beeping to taps dripping – which had never been noticeable before a cochlear implant – can be easy to misunderstand in our noisy world,” Elliot said. “Using real life experiences and scenarios has helped the development of Games 4 Hearoes. Everyone we speak to brings new insights and ideas.”
Games 4 Hearoes was one of eight social change businesses using technology to change the lives people with disabilities, that took part in the 2017 Remarkable Accelerator. A partnership between the Telstra Foundation and Cerebral Palsy Alliance, the 16-week program has been tailored for early stage startups looking to build sustainable enterprises that have a big social impact. It does so by connecting them with the tools, skills and networks they need to succeed.
Elliot credits the program with helping him take the next step in making his niggling, ‘jiggling’ idea, a reality.
“We’re continuing to develop Games 4 Hearoes and to date we’ve had incredible feedback, not only from those with hearing impairments, but also audiologists who have validated what we’re trying to do,” Elliot said.
“We’re currently looking for people who have had cochlear implants, as well as audiologists to join us on our journey. Through the Remarkable program, I’ve gained the skills to now take the next step in launching this as a business.”
Elliot is passionate about the potential of technology to break down barriers for people with a whole range of disabilities – but especially for the hearing impaired.
“As hearing aid hardware has moved from analogue to digital – the possibilities of new technology are almost endless,” he said. “Addressing an issue that is so close to my heart with something I experience every day, is essentially how this all started.”
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