It is rare that autistic people are consulted or even considered when it comes to creating policies, laws, spaces, and products, which is not just a shame but also bad business. Autistic people are a significant percentage of the population, and some spaces, types of employment, and products are going to be especially utilized by neurodivergent people. In fact, some estimates put people with sensory processing disorder at 16% of the population.
For autistic people, sensory input can be so painful and unbearable that it is traumatic, and accommodations to manage sensory regulation are necessary to perform in the world.
Technology Developed with Representation
An audio engineer developing products for a leading brand in sound technology is working with the autistic community to develop technology to improve the accessibility and quality of life for autistics and others with extremely sensitive reception of sound. They are prototyping noise-cancelling headphones to accommodate those with sensitive hearing and vestibular (related to balance and the inner ear) processing, and they need our input.
Many autistic and otherwise disabled people find life-changing benefits from noise cancelling headphones but can only tolerate them for a few minutes because of being extremely sensitive to the pressure caused by noise cancelling technology.
The engineer would love feedback from those people sensitive to this phenomenon (called the occlusion effect).
Disclaimer: NeuroClastic has no professional or financial relationship with this brand nor any corporate brand or product. Our involvement is solely to assist in collecting information from the autistic community to inform accessible product design.
Note: The feedback the engineer is seeking is not related to the physical properties of the headphones (size, weight, fit, tightness, material, etc.); however, your comments regarding your sensory needs are appreciated and will be considered in product development.
If you have experienced pain, pressure, dizziness, or discomfort that translates as sound or another unpleasant sensation due to noise cancellation technology, we would love to know what specific brand and model was difficult for you and how you were affected.
Please use the form below, or leave a comment in the comments field if you’d like to help this engineer best troubleshoot the technology. If you’ve commented already on social media, those comments will be collected and included with the responses to the form (below).
There are several slots in case you have experience with more than one brand. If your product is an unbranded set or is an obscure or imitation brand, please include a URL instead of the name. All fields are optional and can be left blank if they do not apply.
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I don’t experience the occlusion effect so I am not qualified to fill out the questionnaire above. But I am struggling to find a pair of noise cancelling headphones that don’t trigger another sensitivity. In-ear ANC hurts my ear from the silicone pressing against my ear and the clamping pressure from over-ear headphones (and ear protection) puts too much pressure on my jaw. I have tested Apple Airpods Pro, Bose 700, Sony WH-1000XM4, Bowers & Wilkins PX7, Shure AONIC 50, and Beats Solo Pro (I have tried others in the past, but these are the most recent attempts).
The Beats Solo Pro are the only ones that didn’t trigger pain in my jaw (because it is an on-ear headphone instead of over-ear), but the clamping pressure is still too strong. I have attempted to heat and bend the plastic in order to lessen the pressure but it is still stronger than I would like and I can only wear the headphones for about an hour before the fatigue and headache set in.
I hope IoT of ANC technology eventually takes off: /var/folders/kg/zwlj6r414jz5g3jw__lnz2w40000gn/T/com.apple.useractivityd/shared-pasteboard/items/3A9CD038-7521-4477-906D-36519743A415/mute-sigcomm18.pdf
One of the images in that paper visualize the potential of this technology where a small device sits floating next to the ear instead of over or inside the ear. This would also address the biggest issue with current ANC technology: it would work for sounds other than airplane type noise. Being able to block out voices and higher frequency sounds would be amazing and all homes and public spaces should install devices to measure sound like this!
I kind of gave up on noise cancelling headphones for listening to music. I had a pair I got as a gift back in 2011. I didn’t think they really cancelled the noise much. They had barely any effect on the airplane, where I struggle to hear my music over the din of airplane engines. If someone could develop noise cancelling headphones that blocked ambient noise on the airplane, maybe I’d be interested.