Molly Watt discusses technology and design for those with sensory impairment

Molly is a Keynote speaker, usability and accessibility consultant, specialising in assistive technology and design for those with sensory impairment. An Ambassador and advocate of Molly Watt Trust and Sense (charity).

We wanted to find out more about how Molly and the current challenges sensory impaired people are facing with accessibility to technology.

SD – Hi, could you please introduce yourself?

Hello, my name is Molly Watt. I am an accessibility and usability consultant and director of my own company Molly Watt Ltd. I am 22 years old, an avid blogger, an illustrator and published author of two children’s anti bullying books. I also spearhead a charity my family and I set up in 2010, The Molly Watt Trust.

SD – Where are you based?

I am based in Maidenhead, Berkshire.

SD – What is your background?

I have Usher syndrome type 2, the most common congenital form of deafblindness. Since my diagnosis.  Meaning I was born severely deaf with perfect vision, however at age 12 I got my diagnosis and went from just severely deaf to deafblind within 2 years.

The lack of awareness of my condition led me to do several things.  Firstly to rise awareness of the condition and secondly to make a difference.

I use my experiences and my knowledge of technology to find solutions to bring  enablement and inclusivity to others.

Molly watt

Molly Watt

SD – Tell us about your involvement in HealthTech?

I advocate for people like myself to benefit from technology in their daily lives. I have trialled and blogged about some experiences I have had with various pieces of assistive technology. Some mainstream and some specialist – most of which were provided to me by my family or throughout my education.

I have been a worn hearing aids since 18 months old. I am now 22, so I have been fortunate enough to live through an ‘evolution’ in hearing aid technology from analogue through to digital through to smart hearing aids.

Last year I blogged about my Apple Watch ( http://www.mollywatt.com/blog/entry/my-apple-watch-after-5-days ) little did I realise that my blog would go viral or that via Twitter I would become aware of the first pair of smart hearing aids compatible with both iPhone AND Apple Watch.

I was offered to try these smart hearing aids LiNX² made by GN ReSound. I was immediately interested as after research had revealed they come with an app enabling manual adjustment of your own hearing without the need to make appointments to see your audiologist.

Of course I had to consider the hearing aid quality this also came as a surprise!

For the first time in my life, at 20 years old I was able to localise sounds enabling me spatial awareness.  My previous  digital hearing aids enabled me to hear sounds however it was very difficult to find where the sounds came from which on becoming registered deafblind became virtually impossible. As someone with such limited vision (5 degrees in one eye) searching for sound was exhausting and isolating. However with GN ReSound LiNX² hearing aids along with an amazing hearing experience I was enabled incredible connectivity to top quality mainstream technology that was more enabling than anything I had experienced before.  Along with this came a new confidence and for the first time since my Usher Syndrome diagnosis I felt safe when out and bout with my guided dog.

From a technological and user perspective LiNX² win hands down.

My research confirmed there are 44 pairs of hearing aids with direct connectivity to smartphones and yet none are provided by the NHS, not even to the deafblind community who have the hugest of daily challenges.

It seems very strange to me that deafblind people who opt for cochlear implants would get funding for two because of their additional needs, the need for locational sounds and for safety compared to deaf alone and yet hearing aid users are not considered in the same way.  Safety is safety and enablement is enablement.  If technology exists to enhance and enable it is not acceptable to deny people.

People with Usher syndrome type 2 and 3 are born deaf usually with perfect sight and do not know they have the condition, let alone that they will go blind. In my case I was born severely deaf, perfect vision and no other issues until the age of 11, where I struggled at nighttime, I began to get clumsy and struggled to read the board at school- thereafter came Usher syndrome diagnosis. This is typical of someone with type 2. I was given a pair of analogue hearings via NHS followed by Phonak digital hearing aids from the age of 9.

If a child is born profoundly deaf, professionals are more likely to diagnose a type 1 sooner, type 1s have visual clues on the retina and can show signs of balance issues early on. That child (after parent consent) would receive dual cochlea implants in order for the child to have as much access to localisation of sounds. (Profoundly deaf children Normally receive one in the ‘better’ ear for expense reasons) This is because the nature of Usher syndrome means the onset of Retinus Pigmentosa (Deafness + RP= Usher syndrome) is a progressive blindness, as sight deteriorates the residual hearing becomes crucial in act of compensation.

The hearing aids the NHS offer for type 2s or 3s do not offer localisation. The importance of localisation is huge – I have blogged extensively about this. The principle the NHS apply for Usher syndrome sufferers should be consistent for all. I have worked with GN ReSound extensively on raising awareness to NHS audiologist and dispensers around UK, Scotland, Copenhagen and Berlin speaking of the importance of best hearing aid technology for dual sensory impaired patients.

SD – What do you see as your biggest challenges?

When working in accessibility I find many people do not think about the ‘grey areas’ enough. 4 categories many think of when developing/ designing their products are Hearing, Vision, Cognitive and Motor, these are great starting points as guidelines however realistically many users are crosses between the categories or- the user like myself who is deafblind, I still have  smallest amount of sight and I can hear with hearing aids, as a result I do not use screen readers or BSL interpreters or Speech to text. It’s clear that many work with checklists and believe they are creating accessible products not to say all are inaccessible, but many are.

This can come down to ignorance – something I face daily. Lack of patience, also something I and many people like myself can face a lot.

I strongly believe accessible tech and online services can help many more people than many realise. For example, who doesn’t use zoom? I’m sure most people do- yet this is not a feature that’s enabled on many websites and apps. If this was more people could access services online, apple for jobs, university or even just take part in research. It honestly is more life changing than people realise. The challenge is getting that awareness out there, that’s why I do what I do.

SD – What do you see the Healthcare Technology landscape being in 2020?

I think we live in quite exciting times as it’s fair to say many more are interested in creating more inclusive environments. A lot of the work I do I find is advising on accessibility and technology for all including our ageing population, living in an ageing society now meaning yes we live longer however naturally as we age our ‘health’ deteriorates – mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive! More people use iPads / user friendly tablets than ever before and more and more is available for every independent to access. The more this evolves, the more access people can have. Having compatible assistive technology also can benefit the majority with conditions to enable inclusion into society.

My vision is that assistive enabling technology becomes very much a part of healthcare, because it is my belief that that is where real “Return of Investment” is, I prove that everyday.  It is a fact that I would not be the person I am today without the assistive technologies I need and enjoy on a daily basis, I would not have the confidence or ability to carry out the work I do and most importantly more people will be benefiting from the ability to do more.

SD – How do people find our more information? As I mentioned before, I am an avid blogger, I post on my website www.mollywatt.com – a lot are experiences, the work I do and of course all with technology / accessibility in mind. I am also active on social media: Twitter @mollywatttalks and Facebook : Molly Watt Ltd

SD – thanks for your time

Thank you!

THE AUTHOR

Paul Budd

Co-Founder and Business Development Director

Paul is an experienced sales & marketing leader within the healthcare sector and is a Co-Founder of Salus Digital. He is a Digital Health enthusiast with a passion for extending the reach of technology to improve patient’s lives and reduce the strain on healthcare services.

LinkedIn | More articles by Paul Budd

COMMENTS