For most of us, cell phones are indispensable. But for the 70 million people with profound or severe hearing loss, it represents a crucial missed point of contact. The RogerVoice app aims to change that. The soon to be released app—which blew past its $20,000 goal on Kickstarter in just one week to ultimately collect $35,000—uses VoIP and automatic speech recognition to provide subtitles for conversations in real time, making it easy for users to communicate with anyone who calls, all with no app download required on the other end of the phone and no intermediary required.
It is the brainchild of CEO Olivier Jeannel, a Los Angeles-born expat living in Paris, who was diagnosed with severe hearing loss in both ears at the age of two. "It's not something that I now regard as a ‘loss,’ but there are nonetheless a few aspects of daily life in which I find myself wishing I could do ‘like everyone else.’ Being able to understand a phone conversation is one of them. Since I cannot lip-read on the phone, I have to ask others to handle calls for me. SMS, email, video chat, all of these are great, but there are just moments when a simple phone call is needed," says Jeannel, 34.
So he took on the challenge, drawing on his eight-year tenure in finance and market studies at multinational telecom Orange and knowledge accumulated over a lifetime of working with associations for handicap awareness. "I don't recall a specific day when I thought to use voice-recognition for making phone calls accessible—the project matured slowly in my head," he says. "I do recall the first trials in 2011, pairing together a phone with a voice-recognition system. I had asked my friend Sidney Burks to help me piece something together. I walked outside and he called me from his computer and sent the resulting text messages to my phone. I was ecstatic!" Burks now serves as RogerVoice’s CTO.