Assistive Hearing Devices and Technology

Having a hearing loss does not mean you have to live in isolation with no possibility to communicate. In addition to hearing aids, there are other types of assistive hearing devices and technology to help those suffering from a hearing loss:

RFS  - assistive listening devices Audio or Induction Loop. An audio or induction loop is a cable that circles the listening area. An amplifier gets its signal from a microphone or a direct connection from a sound system. The resulting electric current in the loop produces a magnetic field, which corresponds to the sound. The listener can then pick up this magnetic field, if they are within the area of the loop, through a hearing aid or headphone system.

FM and Infrared Systems. FM and infrared systems are found in public places such as theaters, museums and educational institutions. They allow an individual to hear better in situations where acoustics are poor, background noise is loud and there is a long distance from the sound source.

FM systems use radio broadcast technology. They are often used in educational settings, and offer mobility and flexibility when used with portable body-worn transmitters. Some newer FM systems use miniaturized receivers that fit onto a hearing aid via a “boot.” This type of receiver must be dispensed by a hearing aid professional and is more expensive than traditional FM systems. It also uses a high frequency making it incompatible with other FM systems.

Infrared systems utilize light-based technology. Because light does not pass through walls the signal can’t be picked up beyond the room. They are the appropriate choice for situations, such as court proceedings that require confidentiality.

In public places, such as theaters, listening systems are required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to make programs and services accessible. But, you must ask for the accommodation.

RFS - closed captioningClosed Captioning.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires all televisions larger than 13 inches to have built in de-coder circuitry to display closed captions. Closed captioning provides a transcription of the audio portion of the programming. This service provides critical link to news, entertainment and information for individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. You can turn on closed captions through your remote control or on-screen menu. The FCC does not regulate captioning of home videos, DVDs or video games, though most DVDs include a subtitle or captioning option in the menu. As much as 75% of television programming is closed captioned with infomercials being a major exception.

RFS - ttyDevices for Telephones.  There are several types of telephone amplifiers to assist people with hearing loss. Some replace the telephone handset. Others, called in-line amplifiers, attach between the handset and the phone base or attach to the handset and are powered by a battery (portable amplifiers). Each of these amplifiers can be used with or without a hearing aid. Telephone amplifiers can be coupled to a hearing aid, either acoustically or inductively. With acoustic coupling the amplifier is held up to the hearing aid’s microphone. This works well for completely in the canal (CIC) hearing aids or those equipped with a telecoil, which has a setting to avoid feedback.

For those who cannot understand voice over the telephone, even with amplification, there are other options, such as the Voice Carry Over (VCO) or read and talk telephone. Used with the telephone relay service, VCO allows you to communicate with the other party while an operator translates the voice into print that is displayed on a small LCD screen.

Alerting Devices.  These devices allow people with a hearing loss to be aware of many environmental sounds and situations in the home, school or in the workplace. These systems use microphones or electrical connections to pick up the desired signal and, then send it to you in a form to which you can respond. For example, when someone presses the doorbell button, when the phone rings or the fire alarm is activated, these events can trigger a flashing incandescent or fluorescent light, a loud horn, a vibrational device (pager, bed shaker), or a fan.

Cochlear implants.  These are small, complex electronic devices that can help to provide a sense of sound to people who are profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. A cochlear implant is different from a hearing aid. Hearing aids amplify sounds so they may be detected by damaged ears. Cochlear implants bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. Signals generated by the implant are sent to the brain via the auditory nerve, which recognizes the signals as sound. They consist of an external portion that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin.

An implant does not restore normal hearing, but can give a deaf person a useful representation of sounds in the environment and help them understand speech. Hearing through a cochlear implant is different from normal hearing and takes time to learn. Implants allow many people to recognize warning signals, understand sounds in the environment, and participate in a conversation in person or by telephone.

Hearing Aids.  A hearing aid is a small electronic device that you wear in or behind your ear. It makes some sounds louder so that a person with hearing loss can listen, communicate, and participate more fully in daily activities. A hearing aid can help people hear better in both quiet and noisy situations. However, only about one out of five people who would benefit from a hearing aid actually uses one.

A hearing aid has three basic parts: a microphone, amplifier and speaker. The hearing aid receives sound through a microphone, which converts the sound waves to electrical signals and sends them to an amplifier. The amplifier increases the power of the signals and then sends them to the ear through a speaker.

It’s important to discuss with a hearing professional what assistive devices are appropriate for your level of hearing loss. Use of assistive technology can enable an individual to continue to participate in daily activities, including work and recreation.

Sources

NIH

National Association of the Deaf

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

Federal Communications Commission