How we're connecting Australia's hard-of-hearing community
After living with hearing loss for five decades, Penny Phillips has tested all sorts of accessible tech – from a Captel phone that endured “endless delays”, to an “extremely slow” teletypewriter. But it was ultimately a captioning phone designed in Melbourne that reconnected her with the “joy” of speaking face to face.
“Before I got my Konnekt phone, I hadn’t used my voice on the phone for over 40 years,” says Penny, 72, who as the secretary of Cicada Queensland is an active advocate for people with hearing loss. “It used to be email, texts, or Facebook Messenger. But now I’ve got my voice back!”
Originally developed in 2013, it wasn’t until 2020 that its diverse uses were recognised by Telstra and the Department of Communications.
The pilot program led to a series of broadband-enabled enhancements, and ultimately to a program providing free devices to 170 hard-of-hearing seniors around Australia.
Solving multiple needs
Konnekt’s simplicity makes it a practical solution for anyone with hearing or vision loss, dementia, arthritis, or other mobility challenges that confront old age. “You just press your contact’s name and if they’re available they’ll pop up straight away with captions that always work well if people speak clearly,” says Penny. “It’s been wonderfully uplifting having normal conversations with my sons – instead of relying on slow text messages.”
Konnekt calls it “the world’s simplest phone” – and it’s hard not to agree. Making a call involves one touch of the large photo IDs on the 15-inch screen. The powerful speaker bar provides clear sound, and captions pop up while you’re talking – available up to 7cm tall in 40 different languages. The phone also supports free Skype calls, Bluetooth for headphones and hearing aids.
This world-class innovation is a great example of how the power of broadband communications can improve outcomes for the isolated and elderly.