Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Hearing Loss and Technology

Fresh when it gets here from Julie Barrett
Monday, May 20, 2024

I haven't talked about this a lot on the journal, but I wear hearing aids, which is both a blessing and a frustration. Here's a video I watched this afternoon:

This video hit several buttons for me, particularly since I was in a tough, noisy situation yesterday evening. There are two components discussed in this video. One is assistive technologies. Honestly, we need more of these. We need more hearing loops. Those of us with hearing loss need to learn how to make the assistive devices we have (like external microphones) work better for us.

The other component? A little common courtesy. Hearing aids contain microphones. Microphones have a limited range. Not hearing impaired? Try an experiment. Plug a microphone into your computer, or open the voice recorder app on your phone. Walk around the room while you speak, taking care not to vary your volume. Now go back and listen to the recording. Can you hear every word you said? What about when you leave the room and have a wall between you and the microphone? This might give you an idea of what it's like with a hearing aid. You might be able to hear someone just outside of the room, but chances are someone with hearing loss is struggling in that situation. Now go try it in a noisy restaurant.

So, here's what I mean about small microphones and range. I used to work in Christian radio. We would get in tapes from a church of a service. Often, there was someone sitting in the front row - or somewhere in the sanctuary - with a cassette (remember those?) recorder. The church often had a decent PA system, but that small microphone picks up the pastor's muffled voice, and clearly gets the person closest to the device. So what we get was "muffle, muffle, muffle," followed by "halleluiah. Praise the Lord!" from the person with the recorder. I'm not making fun of anyone here. That pastor probably had the congregation on (metaphorical) fire. Too bad we couldn't hear the sermon. It was doubly bad because these churches paid to have those recordings on the air. I felt sorry for them. Churches that had someone with technical clue in their congregation could figure out how to get a line out from the PA system and get a clean recording, and did just that. The difference was night and day, and someone with the skillset could often make that happen with minimal budget.

THIS is the goal of assistive devices.

Unfortunately, assistive devices aren't that cheap. An external mic for hearing aids is a couple hundred or more new, and if you switch hearing aid brands, chances are you'll have to buy a new mic. Hearing loops aren't cheap, either. Small churches and other organizations probably have better ways to spend $10,000.

This is why I'm so excited about the new Auracast technology. A transmitter that would cover a small church sanctuary starts at around $100, which is far more affordable for churches and small non-profits. And when you consider that a number of small churches operate out of rented spaces (strip malls, hotel function spaces), a portable device makes a lot of sense. And it's not just churches. How about your average corporate meeting? An SF convention? A wedding venue?

The problem is, this is very new tech, even though hearing aid manufacturers are leading the way. The cool thing about Auracast is that it's simply the latest Bluetooth LE tech, so anyone with a pair of headphones or earbuds that support it can take advantage. $100 (or less) for a pair of decent headphones can beat thousands for hearing aids in a pinch.

This is going to take a massive education effort on the part of both hearing aid manufacturers and users to get organizations and venues to adopt this technology.

What can we do to help?

I'm going to try to open comments on this one. If you see them closed, it's because I'm still having a technical issue and will try to work on it this week.

Filed under: Life   Hearing         


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