airplanes

Have Loop, Will Travel

By Stephen O. Frazier

I'm 80 years old with a hearing loss. What I've learned through my travels is that I need more than just my hearing aids.

In New York City not long ago, I expected to have a problem when I approached the fare booth to buy a subway pass. I knew the roar of trains constantly passing through makes it difficult for someone with typical hearing to communicate, let alone someone like me with a severe hearing loss.

National Association of the Deaf via hearingloop.org

National Association of the Deaf via hearingloop.org

But when I noticed a sign for hearing loops, a blue symbol with an ear and a “T,” I turned off my hearing aids’ mics and turned on their telecoils. To my surprise and delight, I heard quite clearly the attendant’s voice, just as a train was passing through underneath.   

Telecoils, or T-coils, are tiny coils of wire in my hearing aids that receive sound from the electromagnetic signal from a hearing loop. A hearing loop, in turn, is a wire that surrounds a defined area and is connected to a sound source such as a public address system. It emits a signal that carries the sound from its electronic source to the T-coils in my hearing aids, which are already optimized for my hearing ability. It’s as simple as flipping a switch to gain access to sound in any looped setting.

Beyond New York City, hearing loops are available around the country in auditoriums, train stations, airports, places of worship, theaters, and more. For a full and growing list, see time2loopamerica.com and aldlocator.com.

The technology also works with devices called neck loops—personal loops that replace the headsets used in assistive listening situations (such as a museum audio guide, in-flight entertainment, or a live theater production) and send sound to the telecoils of hearing aids.

Travelers with hearing loss should look for the international hearing loop symbol, which is usually blue in the U.S. but may be maroon or green or some other color abroad. If you aren’t sure whether your hearing aid has T-coils, talk to your hearing healthcare provider. Keep in mind the smallest-size hearing aids sometimes do not come with telecoils.

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Here are some of my other travel tips, as a lifelong travel enthusiast:

  • If you have a Pocket Talker or some other personal sound amplifier, take it along with a neck loop to hear over cabin noise in flight.  

  • Download a speech-to-text app like Live Caption or InnoCaption to your cell phone to let you read what's said to you by others.

  • Download a captioned phone app such as the one from Hamilton CapTel so you will have captioned phone access during your trip, for both placing and receiving calls.

  • Pack extra hearing aid batteries and, if you have one, an extra hearing aid for the trip.  

  • If your hearing aids are rechargeable, be sure to take the charger and put it in your carry-on in case your checked luggage doesn't arrive with you.

  • Take a pen and notepad with you to communicate with ticket/gate agents in case you can't hear them over the noise in the airport.

  • Download the SoundPrint app for its Quiet List that identifies restaurants and bars in several U.S. cities, including popular destination New York City, that are less noisy than others and more conducive to conversation.

  • Print your ticket and boarding pass at home, or send it to your phone.

  • If available, take a seat near the information counter at the gate and alert the attendant to your hearing loss. Request that you be notified of any emergency or other announcements. Often the agent will add you to the group allowed to preboard.

  • As you board the aircraft, alert the flight attendant(s) to your hearing loss so they will know to pay attention to your communication needs, and read the safety instructions in the pocket in front of you—you will probably have difficulty understanding the oral version offered by the flight crew.

  • Once you reach your destination, if staying in a hotel, alert the desk clerk to your hearing difficulty so staff can be instructed to personally inform you of any emergency, e.g., fire alarms. If you feel you need it, ask for an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) deaf/hard-of-hearing kit from the hotel; they are required to have them available.  These kits include such items as a door knock sensor, telephone handset amplifier, telephone ringer signaler, visual/audio smoke detector, and a special alarm clock. Not all hotels are in compliance with the ADA so check ahead on the availability of a kit.

  • And most of all, relax and enjoy your travels!

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Stephen O. Frazier is a hearing loss support specialist, the former Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) chapter coordinator for New Mexico, and director of Loop New Mexico. He serves on the national HLAA Hearing Loop Steering Committee and on the New Mexico Speech-Language Pathology, Audiology, and Hearing Aid Dispensing Practices Board. To learn more about loops, see hearingloop.org.

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Flying My Way

By Ryan Vlazny

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Airplanes and learning about their mechanisms have always made me feel alive. My longtime fascination with all things aerospace inspired my desire to work with computers for a living. But, at times, my hearing and vision loss caused some turbulence.

I was born profoundly deaf and later diagnosed with Usher syndrome―which combines deafness, retinitis pigmentosa (progressive vision loss), and problems with balance―at 8 years old.

Lucky for me, Usher lets me enjoy roller coaster rides with a perspective different than people with typical hearing and vision. I can more acutely feel the car’s ascent up the hill, the hang time at the top, the speed on the drops, the toggling back and forth on the track, and all the loops and twists in between. These sensations are most fun when I ride an inverted coaster―like my first “serious” ride in Oslo, Norway―with the track above me and my feet hanging in the air. I feel like I am flying.

My parents, heavily involved in the Deaf community, decided I’d learn Signing Exact English (SEE)―a manual communication system that, unlike ASL, matches English language and vocabulary―in place of spoken language. By the time I was in the eighth grade, I was fully emerged in mainstream classes, thanks to my parents’ commitment to my language development, and had undergone cochlear implantation. While I cannot understand spoken language with my cochlear implants (CIs), they allow me to hear laughter, birds, music, and the roar of a rollercoaster.

A few years after my CI surgery, airplanes replaced my passion for roller coasters. For my 17th birthday, I had the thrill of riding in an Pitts aerobatic airplane at the airport in Pompano Beach. The 20-minute charter ride felt like being on a roller coaster ride with 4,000 foot drops above the Everglades. The pilot, Jim, did a tricks that felt similar vertical loops on a roller coaster.

My mom and I took an (ordinary) airplane ride to Tallahassee when it was time for me to take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), a requirement to graduate high school in the state. There we spoke with government officials about making the test optional for students with hearing loss, and we were successful. Still, after three tries, I passed the FCAT even though the requirement had been eliminated.

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For the remainder of high school I continued on track, taking advantage of computer-related courses like web design and engineering. I was accepted to the Pre-Baccalaureate Engineering Program at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), where I enrolled with a major in mechanical engineering concentrating in aerospace. Some math classes, especially differential equations, were too difficult, and with the support of my advisor, I changed my major to information technology (IT). Unlike with engineering, I felt I was able to fully understand and apply the concepts of IT.

As an IT student, I created a greeting card in Adobe Flash, a multimedia software program, about greeting a new student on my make-believe RIT World Airlines. The greeting card was even commended by the university president, Dr. William Destler in a one-on-one meeting.

Few college experiences compare with my opportunity to build my own airplane game in an application development class, though. The game simulated landing a plane, which other students found fun to play. Even though I wasn’t an aerospace student, I still got to enjoy some exciting plane rides at RIT.

Today I work as a Java developer for a financial technology firm, where I couldn’t be happier. I’m proud to be the pilot of my own career.

BIO: Ryan W. Vlazny lives in Pennsylvania.

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