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(BBSRC DTP) Enhancing the accessibility of speech used in broadcast media for an ageing population

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

Manchester United Kingdom Biomedical Engineering Medical Physics Neuroscience Other Other Software Engineering

About the Project

The problem of unintelligible speech in television, radio and online media (“reproduced speech”) has attracted much media coverage and has been debated in the House of Lords. Forty percent of older people say that television is their main source of company but many older people, and especially those with a hearing loss, experience some difficulty with understanding reproduced speech. An ageing demographic means that people with some degree of hearing loss make up an increasing percentage of broadcast media audiences. As COVID-19 has dramatically highlighted, the accessibility of online and broadcast media is crucial for older peoples’ engagement with society.

A number of factors contribute to the intelligibility of reproduced speech including; clarity of speech delivery, balance between individual audio elements and the effects of reproduction equipment. Past research has focused on clinical measures of hearing disability and the benefit of interventions on task accuracy (i.e. whether people can accurately recognise speech). But this overlooks a vital issue: cognitive (listening) effort. If the listening effort required for successful listening is too great, then listeners will disengage and switch off. Assessing listening effort is important because two hearing-impaired people may achieve the same level of speech-recognition performance but with vastly differing amounts of listening effort. The focus of previous work on task accuracy and the overlooking of listening effort has resulted in an incomplete assessment of disability. To resolve the problems of reproduced speech for older, hearing-impaired people, we need to address not only the intelligibility of the speech but also the experience and investment of listening effort required to engage with audiovisual media content.

We will use a multi-modal approach, including subjective, behavioural and physiological (pupillometry and electroencephalography) metrics, to quantify the intelligibility of reproduced speech and the listening effort required to engage with reproduced speech. We will conduct studies both in the laboratory and in participants’ homes. Gathering data in the home is vital to understanding accessibility because the listening environment affects the listening experience e.g. people without carpeted floors are more likely to report problems. The outcomes of this project will inform the development of alternate mixes for individualised content to improve accessibility for older people.

This project is a collaboration between the University of Manchester, the University of Salford and the British Broadcasting Corporation. The successful candidate will have the opportunity to develop a range of multidisciplinary skills to enhance the project and their own future career.

Entry Requirements:
Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

UK applicants interested in this project should make direct contact with the Principal Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. International applicants (including EU nationals) must ensure they meet the academic eligibility criteria (including English Language) as outlined before contacting potential supervisors to express an interest in their project. Eligibility can be checked via the University Country Specific information page (

If your country is not listed you must contact the Doctoral Academy Admissions Team providing a detailed CV (to include academic qualifications – stating degree classification(s) and dates awarded) and relevant transcripts.

Following the review of your qualifications and with support from potential supervisor(s), you will be informed whether you can submit a formal online application.

To be considered for this project you MUST submit a formal online application form - full details on how to apply can be found on the BBSRC DTP website

Funding Notes

Funding will cover UK tuition fees/stipend only. The University of Manchester aims to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK. We are able to offer a limited number of scholarships that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website View Website


Armstrong, M. (2016). From clean audio to object based broadcasting. Research & Development White Paper WHP324, British Broadcasting Corporation.

Alhanbali, S., Dawes, P., Millman, R.E., Munro, K.J. (2019). Measures of listening effort are multidimensional. Ear & Hearing 40: 1084-1097.

Strelcyk, O. & Singh, G. (2018). TV listening and hearing aids. PLoS ONE 13(6): e 0200083.

Ward, L., & Shirley, B. G. (2019). Personalization in object-based audio for accessibility: a review of advancements for hearing impaired listeners. Journal of the Audio Engineering Society 67: 584-597.

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