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Cultural Artefact Tickle Talker (c. 1985 - )

c. 1985
Alternative Names
  • Electrotactile hearing aid


"The Tickle Talker (or the electrotactile hearing aid) was developed in about 1985. There was concern about using a cochlear implant for deaf children. The concerns were a need to accurately diagnose the severity of the hearing loss (later the brain wave audiometer helped to solve that problem). Also, it wasn't clear how to present speech as patterns of skin stimulation so that children could understand what was said. There were two methods being explored at the time, one a vibrator, and the other was electrical stimulae. The two were unsatisfactory for different reasons, the vibrator was too big, and the electrical signals caused pain. Graeme Clark had a grant from industrialist Ian Sheddon, to try and find the right way, and on the last day of the study when the funding ceased, Graeme Clark offered himself as a subject for the study. Having been trained in the anatomy of the body, Graeme Clark noted that stimulating the nerves of the fingers was far more acceptable than stimulating the skin, and so this led to a device where the different frequencies of speech were presented to either side of the fingers of one hand. And behold they started to experience real speech like signals and it was not unpleasant; hence the name tickle talker. And that led to numerous patents. It was better than anything else being trialled at the time. It was a development that was a competitor for using a bionic ear for children, but because the brain is wired for speech, ultimately, we got better results with children with the bionic ear." (Graeme Clark, 2016)

Published resources


Rachel Tropea & Graeme Clark