Improving Privacy in Communication Aids



Research Stream

    • Jack Browne (Sheffield Hallam University)


To identify current technology which can be used to improve privacy in voice output communication aids (VOCAs). There was a focus on two key areas of interaction with the device: inputting and outputting data. It was also essential that improving privacy in these areas didn’t restrict which users could utilise the communication aid.


We conducted a review of technology from two key domains: other VOCAs and mobile computing. The mobile computing domain was to find a solution to improve the privacy of data input. Current technology in other communication aids was used to identify potential solutions to outputting data.


A key solution found in the mobile computing domain was the use of privacy filters. Privacy filters obscure the screen of mobile devices when they are viewed from non-perpendicular angles. As most voice output communication aids input data via on-screen confirmation, this technology could be used to improve privacy of data input.

To improve the privacy of data which is output from the device, supporting discrete communication, solutions were identified by combining technology from Madhouse Software and Toby Churchill. JustTalk V1.0 by Madhouse Software supported layered output options: this could be adapted to allow for variable volume control on output, e.g. whisper, speak and shout. When the whisper option is used, it could be output at a lower volume through headphones or conveyed as text on an output screen similar to that seen in Toby Churchill’s Lightwriter SL-40.


There are huge usability challenges to overcome in VOCAs to achieve communication rates closer to conversational speech. As a result, any privacy enhancements must be implemented with minimum impact possible on the usability of the device. As there is currently very little research into improving privacy in communication aids, huge improvements can be made through basic adaptations with minimal impact on usability.

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