Our university’s foundations are built on a vision to be freer,
more daring, more experimental. Our academics form a global community
of expertise; they’re constantly challenging the status quo,
and striving to improve the world.
Professor David Sanders
Department of Government
Helping online polling click
Essex has played a key role in the work of the British Election Study. Research at Essex includes delivering vital insights into online polling which has had an
impact across Europe.
Essex is renowned for its research into political behaviour, public opinion and voting patterns. From 2001 to the 2010 General Election,
home to the British Election Study which is a national resource for exploring and explaining public opinion on major electoral issues. Under the leadership
of Professor David Sanders and Professor Paul Whiteley,
the British Election Study investigated different approaches to uncovering the views of the electorate and finding out which issues influence their decisions.
Online polling has become increasingly important and research at Essex is central to the development of best practice to ensure accuracy and reliability.
Essex has focused on a number of key areas which influence voting decisions including policy performance, the decline of a
sense of attachment to a political party and the weakening of a sense of duty. Careful analysis of British Election Study data
found internet-based surveys could be as reliable as in-person interviews. This was based on extensive statistical tests comparing
the properties of Internet panel data and in-person interviews. The results of these tests found the Internet and in-person data have
very similar distributions on key variables.
The increasing use of online surveys for sampling public opinion from 2001 onwards was supported by pioneering research at Essex through the
British Election Study. The research led to a breakthrough in survey methodology and changed how we sample public opinion. Polling specialist
YouGov worked in partnership with Essex to use online methods to analyse General Election results. This research gave YouGov the confidence to
expand its online operations dramatically and use online surveys more and more extensively in the build-up to elections. The rest of the survey
sector has followed in their wake. Meanwhile, methods pioneered at Essex through the British Election Study have been adopted by other national
election studies in Europe, including those in Italy, Austria, and Switzerland.
“Not only was YouGov convinced by the validity of online polling but the British Election Study’s research has played
an important role in convincing the survey sector as a whole of the accuracy of internet-based polls.”
Peter Kellner, President, YouGov
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Professor Holly Sutherland
Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER)
EUROMOD – modelling the tax impact
The European Commission along with various national administrations have used the University of
Essex-based EUROMOD tax-benefit microsimulation model to improve the evidence base for policymaking.
Tax-benefit simulations are a valuable tool to model the potential effects of various policy measures.
The effects of changes to taxation or benefits can be modelled in order to identify the likely consequences for household incomes.
The ability to model these consequences effectively is vital in assessing the merits, or otherwise, of potential austerity measures.
EUROMOD can be used to address a wide range of research and policy-related questions. It was developed at the University of Essex by
Professor Holly Sutherland, who now leads a team of researchers.
By using household microdata from Eurostat’s European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions, EUROMOD is able to
simulate the effects of changes to tax and benefits in all EU28 member states.
Results may be evaluated for individual countries on their own or in comparison with each other, for the EU as a whole,
or for any sub-group of countries. However, the model can also be used in any country with relevant microdata.
EUROMOD is used by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG-EMPL)
in policy formulation and analysis, demonstrated in a number of policy reports, including Employment and social developments
in Europe and The EU Employment and Social Situation Quarterly Review.
DG-EMPL has used EUROMOD to model the effect of austerity measures and has been used in the policy recommendations to member states.
The Austrian government has used a version of EUROMOD to both help the country meet poverty-reduction targets and to create a portal
through which all Austrians can assess the potential impact of policy changes.
The Greek government has used EUROMOD to model the effects various austerity policies that have been either adopted or abandoned as a
result. EUROMOD has also been adapted and used by the governments of South Africa and Serbia.
“The on-going EUROMOD work on nowcasting provides valuable and timely information on the most probable
recent trends in the distribution of incomes and particularly in the share of population at risk of poverty.”
Olivier Bontout, Unit A2 – Social Analysis, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG-EMPL), European Commission
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Professor Prem Sikka
Essex Business School
Exposing the fraudsters and tax dodgers
There is a ‘dark side’ to the financial sector and nothing in it escapes the scrutiny
of Professor Prem Sikka, one of the most influential people in the field of UK finance.
Over the last decade we have all become familiar with stories of corporate tax avoidance. Starbucks, Amazon and
Google are some of the names to have had to answer difficult questions in response to a greater focus, around the
world, on increasing tax revenue following recession. Banking fraud too is firmly on the political and news agenda
in the UK and beyond. Professor Prem Sikka, of Essex Business School, has been at the forefront of exposing these
scandals, and in 2010 was listed as one of the UK’s most influential people in the world of finance by Accountancy Age.
Professor Sikka is renowned for never shying away from challenging the very powerful and very rich. He has led the fight against predatory practices at multinational corporations, including price-fixing cartels and corporate corruption. His research on tax avoidance in particular has established him as an expert on the ways companies use legal loopholes to avoid tax.
He has made a significant contribution too to how we understand the complicity of accountancy firms in money laundering and banking fraud. It was his work that exposed the role Price Waterhouse played in the auditing and regulatory failures surrounding the collapse and criminal practices of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.
Through expert testimony, consultation and citations, Professor Sikka’s work on tax avoidance has informed policy discussion, and in 2013 he was invited to advise Vince Cable. His findings have influenced reports by the House of Commons Treasury Committee and by the House of Commons Parliamentary Commission for Banking Standards.
The Sandstorm report, which exposed Price Waterhouse and ultimately brought about the downfall of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, was only published and scrutinised by finance lawyers and the UK media thanks to a campaign by Professor Sikka to have it released in the UK. The campaign influenced Freedom of Information law by setting new precedents and the Department of Justice guidance for appellants now refers to the ruling in Sikka v the Information Commissioner.
“I have noted Prem Sikka’s detailed suggestions for how to ensure that regulation is seen as being effective and independent of the profession, all of which are very helpful and a constructive contribution to work in this area.”
Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills
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Professor Peter Patrick
Department of Language and Linguistics
When speech is your only passport
Determining whether an asylum seeker’s claim of origin is genuine has been made easier thanks to Essex research which formed the
backbone of best-practice guidelines for Language Analysis for Determination of Origin (LADO).
Asylum seekers who arrive in the UK with no documents have only their bodies, their stories and their speech to back up their claims of persecution.
Language Analysis for the Determination of Origin (LADO) is used to help decide doubtful cases based on how people use their native languages.
Professor Peter Patrick was involved in producing the 2004 Guidelines for the Use of Language Analysis in relation to Questions of National Origin in
Refugee Cases, aimed at lawyers, judges, asylum activists and government agencies making asylum decisions. The Guidelines address complex issues of language
variation, arguing expertise should come from qualified experts.
Linguist Professor Patrick has acknowledged expertise in how languages are learned, used, lost and how they vary across social
circumstances and he has considerable experience evaluating LADO reports.
Assessing asylum seekers’ speech an extremely complex task and Professor Patrick’s work has been vital in establishing the core concepts
of speech community and language socialisation, which are part of the sociolinguistic analysis in every LADO case.
In modelling speaker membership patterns in multi-variety speech communities he has provided grounds for reports arguing that courts
must recognise complex language socialisation patterns and recognise that language and national boundaries do not necessarily cohere.
Due to his linguistic expertise, in 2012, Professor Patrick was recruited to work on a case that had been referred to the Scottish Inner House of the Court of Sessions.
The case involved a specific challenge to the use of SPRAKAB language reports in asylum cases – which was commissioned by the Home Office, but do not comply with the Guidelines for the Use of Language Analysis in relation to Questions of National Origin in Refugee Cases.
The judgment found that the Guidelines were the yardstick by which LADO evidence should be assessed and that the use of SPRAKAB reports can be challenged.
The Home Office appealed, but the case was rejected by the UK Supreme Court, which found fault with the way in which SPRAKAB reports have been used.
“The Guidelines were adopted by our firm as a general standard for LADO and they have been referred to as a good standard for LADO and
the recruiting of experts in crucial rulings by the highest administrative court in the Netherlands.”
Dr Maaike Verrips, Managing Director of LADO specialists De Taalstudio BV
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Professor Geoff Gilbert
Human Rights Centre,
School of Law
Securing solutions for refugees
The welfare of millions of refugees
worldwide depends upon international
agencies and robust international law,
which are consistently informed by
Essex’s Professor Geoff Gilbert.
Approximately 1% of the world’s population are either refugees, stateless, or internally-displaced
persons. They are often isolated from the vital services the rest of us take for granted, and for decades,
many were denied international protection due to the principle of exclusion within the 1951 Convention
Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Professor Geoff Gilbert, of our School of Law and Human Rights Centre, has contributed
significantly to advancing long-term, durable solutions that will help refugees lead self-determined lives.
Professor Gilbert first influenced the work of the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR,
in 2003, when he was commissioned by the UK Government’s Department for International
Development to write a global consultation paper clarifying the issue of exclusion.
That issue - which meant some refugees were denied protection, and prevented the
prosecution of alleged perpetrators of violations - was subsequently addressed, with
new UNHCR guidelines drawing heavily on Professor Gilbert’s expertise.
Professor Gilbert has continued to work closely with international agencies and
in 2014 was commissioned by UNHCR to investigate the concept of ‘rule of law’.
He travelled to Niger and Colombia to meet with refugee and internally-displaced
communities exploring how their plight could be better integrated into the work of other UN bodies.
Professor Gilbert’s work has had worldwide impact. His on-going research, including
his global consultation paper, have informed legal guidelines and in turn, hundreds of
court decisions. This work has left a lasting and continuing effect on international refugee law.
In 2013 Professor Gilbert hosted a closed-door roundtable with senior UNHCR staff,
judges, and lawyers informing the revision process underway at UNHCR.
Following his trips to Niger and Colombia, he presented a paper to UNHCR in
Geneva advising the organisation how improving its engagement with the ‘rule of law’
concept, and with other UN bodies, could enhance the long-term welfare of refugees
around the world. His proposals will be taken forward by UNHCR from 2015.
“Professor Gilbert’s work on exclusion has had an important influence on UNHCR’s
legal and policy work as well as on judicial decision making in the area of refugee status determination.
Through close collaboration over the last ten years or so, Professor Gilbert has developed training seminars
on human rights and refugee protection for UNHCR staff, judges, government officials, lawyers and the NGO community.
He continues to make a valuable contribution to international human rights and international refugee law.”
Dr Volker Türk, Director of the Division of International Protection, UNHCR
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Professor Maurice Sunkin
Human Rights Centre,
School of Law
Protecting your access to justice
Research by Professor Maurice Sunkin on the use and effect of judicial
review has established the most comprehensive independent evidence base
that is influencing UK policy decisions and informing debate.
Judicial review provides an avenue for seeking redress when there is an allegation that a
government authority, such as a minister, local council or statutory tribunal, has acted unlawfully.
It can lead to decisions being overturned and individuals being awarded damages.
Policy debate has centred around whether judicial review is administered in the right way,
whether provisions for review are made available in a fair and equitable manner, and whether
it achieves the benefits it is designed to provide. Most recently ministers have questioned
whether government gets value for the money invested in judicial review.
Professor Maurice Sunkin, of our School of Law, has spent decades asking critical
questions about judicial review: who uses it, how does it operate, and what is the impact?
Often working with the Public Law Project, he has built an expertise and evidence base that is second-to-none.
Professor Sunkin has questioned government proposals to reform judicial review. He has shown that
ministers have relied on misleading data and exaggerated claims that judicial review has increased
significantly and is open to abuse.
In recognition of his expertise, he has been awarded £325,000 by the Nuffield Foundation
to establish a national centre aimed at improving decision making by public bodies, and the
quality of administrative justice, including judicial review.
Professor Sunkin’s work on the geographical concentration of judicial review in London
and the south east informed work by the UK Law Commission and the Lord Chancellor’s Department.
This led to the establishment of regional judicial review centres in Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester and Leeds.
He has informed recommendations by Lord Gill’s Review of the Scottish Civil Courts, consequently incorporated
into a draft bill for the Scottish Parliament.
Professor Sunkin’s criticism of government plans to reform judicial review attracted widespread
attention on social media with more than 20,000 mentions on Twitter. It also informed a report by
Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights which criticised Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor
Chris Grayling in 2014.
He has given briefings to the Lord Chief Justice and the President of the Queen’s Bench
Division and has helped the Public Law Project influence decisions made by the Ministry of Justice.
“Sunkin’s work played a significant role in the identification of the problems that
flowed from lack of easy regional access to judicial review…and therefore played a seminal role in
contributing to the reform agenda that eventually led to the regionalisation of the Administrative Court.”
The Right Honourable Sir Henry Brooke CMG, Former High Court Judge and Chairman of the Law Commission
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Dr Clara Sandoval
Human Rights Centre,
School of Law
Justice for victims
Leopoldo García Lucero is a Chilean torture survivor. His fight for justice, supported by
Dr Clara Sandoval, was a
landmark case that could help 200,000 more victims of human rights abuses secure redress.
Many tens of thousands of men, women and children around the world are victims of human rights violations. Charities
and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) campaign on their behalf but international laws that are supposed to secure
reparations are highly contested and not always properly implemented.
Our research on those laws and how they are applied, and practising lawyers from our Human Rights Centre, who have
fought those cases in international courts, are helping make redress and reality.
Dr Clara Sandoval, Director of our Transitional Justice Network, has been instrumental in helping the international legal community understand how we can better support those who have suffered serious human rights violations.
Her research has helped clarify the scope of the obligation to provide reparations under international law, and she has argued that the legal definition of ‘victim’ ought to be flexible, culturally sensitive, and broad.
She has fought too for the concept of rehabilitation to be reconsidered in a more holistic light, to include provision of assistance on social services, legal services, and financial services.
Lorna McGregor and Clara Sandoval talk about how they and their students supported Redress in the Leopoldo García Lucero case:
In 2013, Dr Sandoval and Lorna McGregor, Director of our Human Rights Centre, fought, with UK-based charity Redress, to secure justice for Leopoldo García Lucero who was forced into exile in London after being tortured and arbitrarily detained under the Pinochet regime.
In a landmark decision at the Inter-American Court, Mr García Lucero was awarded £20,000, setting an international precedent for victims of the military dictatorship still living abroad.
As well as continuing the Human Rights Centre’s established tradition of litigating human rights cases, Dr Sandoval has been consulted by the Vice-President of the International Criminal Court, and by the United Nations.
She has contributed work to the International Criminal Court report on the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo v Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, and has influenced other Redress campaigns.
“I want to thank Clara for all her support over many years and the generous contribution that she always gave me to fine tune many ideas.”
Elizabeth Odio-Benito, Vice-President of the International Criminal Court
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Professor Eddie Higgs
Department of History
Unlocking our past
Our understanding of the 19th and 20th centuries is being transformed thanks to the
Department of History’s Integrated Census Microdata (I-CeM) project which offers new ways of analysing census material.
Professor Eddie Higgs is internationally renowned for his research into the
history of census-taking and the way governments gather and store personal information about their citizens. His book,
Making Sense of the Census Revisited, is an authoritative guide to the field.
Professor Higgs and Professor Kevin Schurer, now at the University of Leicester, worked in partnership with
Findmypast to deliver a standardised, integrated dataset of censuses in Great Britain from 1851 to 1911 which will help researchers and Findmypast customers.
Between 1851 and 1911 the individual schedules returned from each household taking part in the census were
transcribed and collated by the census enumerators into Census Enumerators’ Books. These books hold a huge amount
of valuable historical information and the I-CeM project has taken a digitised version of these manuscripts and
created one of the world’s largest and most important historical datasets. The research team cleaned, coded and
classified the raw data provided by Findmypast in a standard system to offer new ways of analysing and searching
the millions of records within the censuses.
The research team were awarded £800,000 by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to develop the Integrated Census Microdata (I-CeM) project.
Findmypast customers and the research community are benefiting from the work of the I-CeM team. The project has reinforced Findmypast’s
position as a sector leader and the company is using I-CeM to enhance services to customers by offering them more ways to search through census material.
The research landscape has been transformed by the I-CeM project for those working on the economic, social, and demographic history of Great Britain.
I-CeM is seen as one of the most important historical datasets in the world and puts the University of Essex at the forefront of international efforts in
this field. Researchers can access the full version of I-CeM through the UK Data Archive at the University of Essex.
“Association with I-CeM has provided validation of our own data collection to the broader genealogical and archive community.”
Elaine Collins, Director of Global Partnerships, Findmypast
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Science and health
Professor Arnold Wilkins
Department of Psychology
Colourful solution to visual stress
Thousands of people around the globe can now read in comfort using bespoke coloured lenses thanks to pioneering research
by Professor Arnold Wilkins.
The simplest things can seriously affect the lives of people who suffer from visual stress. From reading a book to seeing a striped pattern on a shirt, sufferers can experience a range of debilitating symptoms - from headaches and blurred vision, to discomfort and word movement.
About 5-20% of the population are affected to some degree by this condition and visual stress expert Professor Arnold Wilkins has carried out extensive research into the types of images which many people find uncomfortable, leading to the development of effective interventions to alleviate these symptoms.
Professor Wilkins’ comprehensive research into the causes of visual stress is unprecedented. Using coloured sheets of plastic,
placed over text, he investigated ways to help improve the reading speed for sufferers of visual stress. He also explored the use of tinted lenses as an
alternative approach to reduce abnormal brain activity caused by visual stress.
On the back of successful research into using colour filters to help with a range of neurological conditions he developed the Intuitive Colorimeter
device which can quickly, easily and accurately prescribe the colour of lens which best suits each patient.
Thanks to Essex-based research on visual stress, thousands of people from around the world have had their lives transformed by using coloured lenses to help with stress-related reading problems. It has also helped people cope with a range of neurological conditions such as autism and migraines which are all linked to a different range of issues but all have visual stress in common.
Research into this life-changing technology has influenced the activities of equipment suppliers, informed the work of practitioners, and three UK-based companies now supply coloured text overlays, whose products are now used in over 60% of UK schools.
Intuitive Colorimeters, which can offer up to 6,000 colour variations, are used by more than 500 optometrists worldwide to accurately prescribe precision tinted lenses to help patients suffering from visual stress..
“Wearing tints has totally changed my son’s life. He no longer has headaches or feels sick after a lot of reading.”
Mother of Sam, aged 10
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Science and Health
Dr Jo Barton
Essex Sustainability Institute, School of Biological Sciences
Pioneers of green exercise revolution
Essex research was key to a successful Big Lottery bid by mental health charity Mind. This led to Ecominds, a £7.5 million, five-year programme supporting 130 environmental projects which have improved the mental health of participants.
Green exercise was born at the University of Essex 12 years ago.
Until then the benefits of exercise for both physical and mental health were well-know, as was contact with the natural environment having positive effects on mental well-being.
But in 2003, researchers Essex formally proposed linking the benefits of adopting physical activity whilst at the same time being directly exposed to nature.
This concept was coined ‘green exercise’ and initiated a rigorous scientific research programme. It is a concept which has also captured the interest of people around the globe as a solution to improve mental wellbeing.
Essex researchers are world leaders in the study of green exercise and have demonstrated the benefits to health and well-being from exercise in ‘green’ surroundings.
The Green Exercise Research Team found that participation in green exercise activities across all ranges of intensity, duration and setting can serve to improve self-esteem, whilst reducing feelings of anger, tension and depression.
Recognising the potential significance of this research, the mental health charity Mind commissioned Essex to undertake two green exercise studies.
These studies found that people experiencing mental health distress were frequently using physical activities to help lift their self-esteem, lower stress and reduce vulnerability to depression.
Mental health charity Mind published the results of the Essex green exercise studies in the 2007 report Ecotherapy: The Green Agenda for Mental Health (.pdf).
This underpinned a successful Big Lottery bid, which provided funding to develop the Ecominds programme. This £7.5 million, five-year initiative supported 130 environmental projects nationwide, aiming to promote mental health via green activity engagement.
These projects have introduced people with, and at risk of developing, mental health problems to green exercise initiatives such as gardening, food growing or environmental conservation work.
Ecominds has helped more than 12,000 people living with mental health problems to get involved in green activities to improve confidence, self-esteem and their physical and mental health so they can them return to work and reduce social isolation.
“An economic analysis of a range of case studies from the project, conducted by the New Economics Foundation, found that helping 254 people find full-time employment resulted in potential annual savings and contributions to the State of £1.46 million.”
Gavin Atkins, Community Portfolio Manager, Mind
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Science and Health
Professor David Smith
Coral Reef Research Unit, School of Biological Sciences
Wakatobi Marine National Park
Our coral reefs are under real threat, putting in jeopardy the lives of more than half a billion people who depend on them for food and income.
This threat comes with a stark promise – if no action is taken to protect this precious natural resource, half of the world’s coral reefs will be gone in the next 50 years.
Our Coral Reef Research Unit (CRRU) is tackling this environmental crisis head-on. Centred on the Wakatobi Marine National Park in Indonesia, Professor David Smith
and his team have developed a research strategy with Operation Wallacea to demonstrate the exceptional biodiversity of the region.
Wakatobi may be an oasis of biodiversity but it faces real challenges for its future survival.
Essex’s multi-disciplinary research programme identified how the Park’s natural resources were being over exploited
by a highly-dependent community and through policy-based research highlighted the need for international-level protective regulation.
To fund this long-term research and promote the environmental significance of the Park, Essex co-developed a research-expedition model
which now sends 2,000 people, including 500 students, to this site annually. This has ensured a long-term funding for the research to
establish a strategy aimed at protecting the biodiversity of Wakatobi and the livelihoods of its people.
Professor Smith talks about his research and the field research opportunities available to Essex students as part of their course.
Without the excellent research led by Professor Smith, the Wakatobi Marine National Park would not have been designated as a
Man and the Biosphere reserve in 2012.
Through pure expertise and dedication to get the Park the international recognition it deserved, Professor Smith’s internationally-recognised research
showed the exceptional biodiversity of the region, coupled with the success of getting the whole community involved to help conservation. This simultaneous
top-down, bottom-up approach means the CRRU is helping governments prioritise action in finding manageable, realistic solutions to making their coral reefs
more sustainable to secure their future and support the growing communities who depend on them.
As well as acquiring internationally-protected status, the Wakatobi region has benefitted economically via investment from local and
central government, and employment for more than 100 local staff each year.
“It is about identifying how our reefs will physically alter and what that means to people’s livelihoods as a result of the reduction in the reef.”
Professor David Smith, Director of the University of Essex Coral Reef Research Unit
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Science and Health
Professor Ray Meddis
Department of Psychology
BioAid, the pioneering hearing aid app
BioAid is an app that turns mobile devices into a new type of hearing aid. Feedback shows it has transformed lives and out-performed conventional aids.
BioAid is the culmination of Professor Ray Meddis' ‘hearing dummy’ project which built computational simulations of types of hearing loss, and developed algorithms to compensate.
The team from the Department of Psychology developed a new biologically-inspired hearing aid but without industry support to build a prototype, they turned to mobiles to quickly
transfer the technology into a portable, experimental hearing aid and get user feedback.
Unlike conventional aids that are inspired by amplification engineering principles, BioAid replicates the complexities of the ear.
Hearing loss is usually a loss of sensitivity to some but not all frequencies. BioAid amplifies some frequencies but also compresses loud
sounds that can make some social situations uncomfortable for the estimated 360 million people worldwide who have hearing loss.
BioAid turns iPhones, iPods and iPads into hearing aids. It is free and accessible to all without the need for a hearing test which,
in the developing world are often unobtainable.
It puts the user in control, with 24 different settings, allowing people to test it at their own pace, in their everyday environments.
Professor Ray Meddis talks about his research into hearing and the development of the BioAid app.
Between its launch in December 2012 and July 2013, BioAid was downloaded 20,000 times across 90 countries and was, at times, iTunes’ most-downloaded
medical app in 11 countries.
Its primary objective however was to demonstrate a new method of developing and testing hearing aid technology that was not reliant on
industrial manufacturers, and speed up production of new aids.
Testimonials from around the world show BioAid improves communications,
enhancing personal and professional relationships, and impacting academic achievement.
BioAid has proven that mobiles are an excellent platform for rapidly transferring technology to the public, and by making the algorithm open source,
other researchers are able to use it and develop it further.
“My son is 18 and has Down’s Syndrome…Since downloading the BioAid app on his iPad and iPod, my son is actively taking part in class discussions.”
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