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Replicate the life of a child with hearing loss through virtual reality

Articulating the isolation that hearing loss can cause is almost impossible for someone who is actually experiencing it. For a child, it is even harder.

But, according to a recent report, a new virtual reality (VR) experience that is designed to immerse users in a playground and classroom as a child with hearing loss.

The VR experience is helping to foster empathy in parents, teachers and other students.

A child with hearing loss explained to his peers how people around him did not think he could hear so little.

The child has bilateral mild to moderate hearing loss, which meant he has hearing loss in both ears.

His mother felt very emotional when she put herself in what her child can see and hear, or in this case, do not hear.

The VR project was launched by a Sydney charity called The Shepherd Centre and filmed at a Newtown primary school.

They decided to do it from the perspective of a child, in the classroom and in the playground. Then compare what it would be like with hearing aids and without.

The experience initially puts the user in the shoes of somebody with moderate hearing loss before changing it to somebody who uses amplification and can hear normally.

The VR team worked with audiology specialists to accurately recreate how hearing loss sounds. The video starts in the playground and the audio is quite muffled.

They were quite surprised to discover, upon talking with the specialists, that it is much more degraded than what they initially thought to be a moderate hearing loss.

After experiencing the muffled audio in the playground, the VR user is moved to the classroom where the teacher asks a question that the user is unable to understand.

Watching it entirely gave them an emotional feeling of isolation and vulnerability.

The principal listening and spoken word specialist at the Shepherd Centre said that the technology was so powerful that it could lead to better clinical outcomes.

It is wonderful to help new parents to see the impact of hearing loss and why it is so important to help them with amplification and early intervention as soon as possible.

And the benefit came from empathy, which would encourage parents and carers to intervene earlier.

A lot of the families would say that they do not want their children to wear devices because it makes them look different and the kids will bully them.

The specialists would reply that if they do not have hearing aids, then that is setting them up for being bullied because they will sound different, they will act different, and that they will not be a part of the groups because it will be too difficult.

Moreover, their speech and language will be delayed so it is setting them up for all types of social and long-term poor outcomes.

While the technology is already being offered at the Centre, the team is working towards sharing it with school and government bodies.


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