iHEARu: Guide to ear-friendly dining
iHEARu is a free app for iPhones and Androids that helps you find a quiet restaurant where you can hear and communicate better. It’s a terrific resource for people with hearing loss who struggle to communicate in a noisy environment.
iHEARu uses crowdsourcing technology to generate data by empowering consumers to act as citizen scientists. The app turns your smartphone into a sound meter to get a decibel reading that is combined with those of other users to form the basis of each restaurant’s rating at different times of the day.
iHEARu is available in app stores and was initially rolled out in San Francisco and other cities in the West This means that New Yorkers and others in the East will find fewer local restaurants listed right now, but soon you can expect a national rollout.
Q&A with iHEARu founder, Kelly Tremblay
iHEARu founder, Dr. Kelly Tremblay, is an audiologist and professor whose vision of enhancing social and communication opportunities was inspired by personal experiences. She shares her expertise by serving on the Board of Trustees of the Hearing Loss Association of America. Dr. Tremblay participated recently in a Q&A with the Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC).
CHC: How did iHEARu come about?
Kelly Tremblay: It started long ago, with me finding wheelchair accessible places for my father who suffered from multiple sclerosis. The need for ramps and accessible restrooms was not guaranteed in Canada when I grew up, so I became an advocate for people with disabilities early in life. It’s part of my DNA. Then, as an audiologist and professor in the U.S. I saw many different communities (hard of hearing advocacy groups, noise coalitions) collecting their own information on noise levels in public places. I wondered, why not combine our efforts and centralize this information into one place?
So, approximately five years ago I started working on the iHEARu app with the hopes that it would serve a greater purpose than just locating quiet restaurants. My hope was that it would become an advocacy tool so people worldwide could share their Ear-Friendly tips and reviews about many types of places (theaters, places of worship etc.) Also, because the database behind iHEARu contains credible, valid decibel readings based on standards published by scientists at the The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), it also serves a second purpose. It enables users to become citizen scientists. As a scientist I saw how every sound level recording that is entered could become part of a central database that can be used for scientific research. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recognized this importance too by granting us the funding to make this database bigger. After all, the best way to make changes in society is to have credible data to support your position. With iHEARu data, we will be able to better estimate sound level exposures in various leisure settings, which will allow scientists to report on these findings.
CHC: What do you hope to accomplish with iHEARu?
KT: The app is just the start … we are on the path to building a much bigger social consciousness of the concerns of hearing loss and empowering communities to focus on more Ear-Friendly places. The app allows us to connect with people in many ways. We know there are citizen scientists out there who enjoy and revel in supporting good causes and want to see the world a better place. One by one, visit by visit, they use the app to download decibel readings as they visit public places. They enjoy this participation and want to see the data collected be put to good use. For others, they need the app to help find Ear-Friendly places. They have a business meeting, or want to spend time with the grand-kids, but they don’t want to be in public if they are embarrassed to ask for quiet or to suffer needlessly in a noisy place. iHEARu empowers them to be able to find the locations that meet their needs without having to be embarrassed or self-conscience. As I said, the app is a stepping stone in a long and impactful path to creating entire Ear-Friendly communities.
As a professor, I worked very closely with the scientific community to ensure the product was credible and bona fide in the data collection. With our scientifically based data, we will be able to apply our findings to many other applications that benefit the Ear-Friendly communities worldwide. We are also extending an invitation to others who have websites or apps to team up with us so we can all enjoy a single, simple, one-stop, solution. Thankfully, funding from the NIH will help us to make this a reality.
CHC: How has iHEARu been received?
KT: We are so thrilled with the reception of the app. Starting in communities like Seattle, San Diego and San Francisco, we are working with community leaders who are joining our mission to make more Ear-Friendly places. As part of our support, we help certify your business enabling you to promote with your clients and your employees the empowering benefit of being Ear-Friendly. Consumers can find places that are Ear-Friendly by looking for a sticker in the window of a restaurant. (See image of Ear-Friendly certified restaurant Mozzeria in San Francisco.) Today, with modest promotion and outreach we have surpassed over 7,000 global downloads of the app and have the benefit of tens of thousands of data readings. We encourage everyone to join our mission! The app is free, the data collection is easy and the benefits are life-changing!
CHC: What makes the app unique?
KT: Depending on your point of view, there are many factors that make iHEARu unique. Starting with the fact that the app is available for use on iPhones and Android phones. Also the app allows you to report sound levels across multiple times in the same day. Sound levels taken at 11:00 a.m. could be very different from the levels reported at 1:30 p.m. if taken at a popular lunching location. These time-based displays are important because it gives app users the information they need in order to choose when and where to go.
- For the hard of hearing community, our latest version of the app includes a hearing loop finder. During their reviews, app users can click on the hearing loop symbol to show that a loop system has been installed. In the comments section, app users can describe if and how the loop is functioning. We have also added a daily reminder prompt so that app users can be reminded to make iHEARu recordings part of their daily routine.
- For the science community and researchers around the world, the veracity and credibility of our data collection is paramount. Because we focused so early on in making sure the decibel readings are valid for scientific use, we know that every data point we have is crucial to so many other beneficial projects.
- For the business community, we have our iHEARu Certification Program that includes social media, point of sale, and employee training for our Ear-Friendly places. For citizen scientists around the globe, we celebrate and promote their good deeds on social media and provide recognition – we truly couldn’t manage this Ear-Friendly movement without them. And obviously, for anyone who needs to find an Ear-Friendly place to stay connected and to stay happy in our communities, iHEARu is of tremendous benefit to finding and supporting those great places.
CHC: Anything else you’d like to share?
KT: Individuals over the age of 60 are far more likely to be affected by hearing loss, but the reality is hearing loss affects all of us. Our world is getting more complex and noisy – if one member of our tribe, our family, our community is struggling to hear, then we all will be equally challenged. Business meetings, coffee dates, and dinners out are far less enjoyable or productive if we are not on top of our game. In addition, hearing loss can contribute to social isolation, depression, and a poor quality of life. When people can’t hear, they often withdraw from social situations, become unemployed, and can even become depressed. Collectively all of these setbacks can lead to related health issues and even early mortality. But, there is a lot of progress being made and at iHEARu, we’re excited to help.
I think everyone should hear life and help others enjoy it, too. I want people to hear and be heard. By combining smartphone users with collection of data from real-life environments, we have the power to change the world … one Ear-Friendly place at a time.