By Yishane Lee
Assistive listening devices, or ALDs, are an especially handy type of device for people with hearing loss. While you don’t need hearing test results or a doctor’s visit to use them, the category is so broad and diverse—alarms, amplifiers, FM systems, loops, and phones, among others—that it helps to have someone who knows them well to help you figure out which ones can help you the most.
To this end we are introducing a new column in Hearing Health magazine. In the Winter 2014 issue, writer George Khal presents the first “Assistive Advice” column. Khal is the founder and former president of Sound Clarity, an international retail company specializing in ALDs. He has had a severe bilateral hearing loss since early adulthood. We spoke with him about the inspiration for the column and company, as well as his go-to ALDs.
What is your inspiration for “Assistive Advice”?
There is a need to provide unbiased information to consumers by helping them understand how ALDs can help them in their personal and professional lives, and I hope to help other consumers through sharing my knowledge from personal and professional experiences.
I had noticed consumers were aware of hearing aids but often unaware of ALDs, and that hearing healthcare professionals often did not promote ALDs. I feel that many consumers want to learn more about these devices but that it is not readily available in a format they could understand. I hope to be able to remedy that situation.
In addition, I feel that many consumers are unaware of the implications of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and of State Telecommunications Access programs.
How did Sound Clarity come to be created?
In 1999 I was contemplating a career change from information technology. I was also advising the University of Iowa on how to make its facilities hearing accessible, in order to comply with the ADA. My ALD experience at that time was leading the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) support groups throughout Iowa and working with audiologists from the Speech and Hearing Center in Iowa City to connect people with hearing loss to our local group.
Over years of leading our local HLAA chapter, I came into contact with people who were hungry for information that can help their daily lives, since hearing aids were not enough for many of them. Using parts from local electronics stores I also had built some of my own ALDs—an FM system, personal amplifiers, and neck loops—and was aware of how many of the devices worked.
After attending HLAA conventions as a consumer, it made me realize that my knowledge of the technology combined with my IT background gave me skills to start Sound Clarity. After founding the company, I was the president for a decade, till 2010.
What are the ALDs you are never without or that you use daily?
The T-coil (telecoil) is the ALD I use the most. I use it when I talk on the telephone or watch television. I also use an audio loop mostly when I watch television. When driving I use a wireless Bluetooth neck loop with my cell phone. I rely on a vibrating alarm clock to wake up in the morning—it’s especially necessary when I am home alone. Just as important is the visual smoke alarm, with a strobe light, that gives me peace of mind. And although not an ALD, a hearing aid dryer is a device I use daily to keep my hearing aids clean and free of moisture.
We hope you enjoy the debut “Assistive Advice” column!