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High-tech gadgets help deaf hear well

High-tech gadgets help deaf hear well

By Linda Knapp

Editor: Here’s a great discussion in layman’s terms of the “high tech gadgets” that help people with hearing loss. This article first appeared in the Seattle Times. Thanks to Linda Knapp for her kind permission for us to share it with you.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have written a column about technical devices that help hearing-disabled people. A year ago, I wasn’t hearing-disabled, but now I am, and I understand how important some special devices are to those of us who need them. Plus, I’m also a better judge regarding how well they work.

The most essential device is a basic hearing system. Mine is a cochlear implant, which includes one part that’s buried in my skull, and another that hangs over my right ear.

It helps me, a totally deaf person, hear as well (or better) than standard hearing aids help people with diminished hearing. (See May 20’s column for more details about the cochlear system.)

In addition to the basic hearing device, lots of little extras can help people hear better in specific situations. These include cables that connect the hearing system to a music player, TV or lapel mic, for example, and special settings that enable a cable-free connection to a telephone, cellphone or other device.

These little helpers are sometimes essential, but not always. I’ve discovered I can watch TV and use a telephone or cellphone without connecting to the hearing device or changing settings. Let’s look at a few possibilities.

Telephone: Being able to use a telephone is essential, so accomplishing that feat tops my list of to-dos.

First, I try connecting my hearing device to our home phone by plugging in a special cable and changing the device setting. I can barely hear the voice on the other end.

Then, I discover that pressing the speakerphone button enables me to hear the caller’s voice quite well, without changing any settings or plugging in a cable.
I can also hear reasonably well by simply holding the phone’s receiver up to my processor. Both alternatives work if there isn’t a lot of noise around me or the caller.

I’ve also discovered special phones that amplify sound, and some also have built-in speakerphones.

For example, two Clarity phones I’ve tried (the amplified telephone and amplified cordless telephone) have a handy button to push for extra voice amplification. They work OK for me, but not better than my standard home phone.
For people who have trouble hearing but don’t wear a device, these phones may be the right solution.

Cellphone: Finding a cellphone I can use successfully is the next step. Some have speakerphones that work pretty well. Some offer Bluetooth support, and some have telecoil settings, though both those options require me to change the setting on my device.

FCC regulations require cellphone manufacturers to offer handsets that work well with hearing aids using the telecoil setting. (A telecoil is supposed to block out extraneous noise and, for some, it helps.)

Alternatively, many cellphones have text-messaging capability that bypasses any need to hear the caller at all.

However, I’m looking for a cellphone with voice signal that’s clear enough for me to hear without having to change any settings on my processor. After considerable exploration, I’ve discovered if I carefully pick one with clear voice sound, I can hold the handset over my processor and hear the caller without changing any settings. That’s what I really want.

Finding that perfect cellphone is a challenge, because it means going to a cellphone store and trying multiple handsets to find the one that works best. Some providers offer a liberal return policy, so that if you discover the particular phone you bought doesn’t work so well after all, you can return it.
I’ve tried close to a dozen different cellphones to find the one or two that work best for me. It turns out that voices are clearest when using Sprint’s Samsung A920, and the Sanyo MM 7500 is a close second.

Both enable me to hear callers reasonably well, if there isn’t a lot of noise around them.

The best choice for you may not be either of these, so I encourage you to try several at your local cellphone store.

Even if you don’t wear a hearing device, but find it hard to hear callers on your cellphone, consider trying alternative models to find one that works best with your hearing capacity.

Other devices: OK, here’s another challenge. Most of us (deaf people) remove our hearing systems before going to bed. It’s great for sleeping. But we can’t hear an alarm clock, so, how do we wake up on time?

Lucky for us, there happens to be a little disk with a cable that plugs into a bedside alarm clock. Set the alarm, slide the disk under your pillow, and when the time comes, the pillow starts to vibrate like crazy. No one could sleep through it.

I haven’t bought one yet, but I think that’s the wake-up system for me. (It’s the Sonic Alert Shaker, or Shaker with Clock.)

Besides alarm clocks, there are baby-monitoring systems that flash lights or vibrate when the baby cries; a variety of telephones; special systems for hearing in large rooms; headsets for more challenging environments; and other adaptive devices.

If you’re interested in seeing and trying a variety of devices designed for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, contact the Hearing, Speech & Deafness Center in Seattle at 206-323-5770 or www.hsdc.org and be sure to talk with Steve Hillson. Though he hears quite well, he’s an expert on adaptive devices for those of us who need them.