A smartphone app is getting upgrades to improve communication with deaf people

The pandemic posed problems for deaf people who suddenly found themselves trying to lip-read through masks. Google is working on updates to its Live Transcribe app, which aims to help the deaf community with speech-to-text technology.

Google's Live Transcribe app now available offline

Google works on improvements to Live Transcribe app

1 year ago
Duration 2:19
The pandemic has shown how much people rely on technology. It has also pushed some developers to speed up improvements to their products. Google is currently working on updates to its Live Transcribe app. CBC's Talia Ricci reports on how this technology helps the deaf community.

It's not unusual to see people ordering a coffee while peering at their smartphones these days, but for Anya Karir, it serves a very important purpose.

Karir is deaf and she uses Google's Live Transcribe app, which captions conversations instantly. She says technology like this has been especially crucial during the pandemic with people wearing masks. The latest upgrade will make it available offline, which will be useful when people are travelling, in an elevator, or don't have an internet connection.

"I lip-read 70 per cent of the time and it's been very difficult," the Toronto daycare worker said.

"I'm so tired of asking people to repeat themselves that sometimes I would just nod and pretend like I understood them. So, this helps."

Karir says the app, and speech-to-text technology in general, isn't perfect yet. For example, she says if a child at her daycare is speaking softly or she's using it in a busy space, it won't always pick up the words.

"It works best in a quiet, one-on-one setting," she explained.

Google says it's always working on improvements. Dimitri Kanevsky, a research scientist at Google who lost his hearing as a child, is part of the team that works on the technology. He says it also affects him personally.

"I, myself, because of this technology, could finally start to speak with my granddaughter, play games with her and share stories," he said.

"It will be a real change for a lot of people, especially in countries where there is not a good network," he said.

Karir says it's a good feeling knowing big tech companies are keeping people with disabilities in mind as they continue to upgrade and develop their products.

"It definitely makes me feel included, appreciated and that we are worth working for."