assistive listening devices

I Would Love to Hear the Conversation

By Joe Mussomeli

Music is another language that calls to my brother, Alex. Though he was born with hearing loss, he experiences music as more than just sounds, as something more beautiful. He sets his daily activities—painting, doing homework, or reading—to the melodies of either classical or popular music. 

Music for Alex, and for many others with hearing loss, is both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes loud music volumes, especially in crowded spaces, can be a distraction for him. This recently became apparent at dinner in a restaurant with our parents. At first, he appreciated everything about the restaurant: the delicious smells, the cheerful faces, and the lively music.  We talked amongst ourselves until problems arose for Alex. Alex struggles to hear what others say under ordinary circumstances, but in a loud restaurant, conversation is virtually impossible for him. 

Restaurants serve and are staffed by so many people in close quarters, all of whom are immersed in their own simultaneous conversations. Music creates another layer of sound on top of these many voices. In this environment, Alex is only able to hear a tornado of noises, all scrambled together, that do not make any sense to him. 

That evening at the restaurant, Alex desperately tried to make sense of what we were saying, but couldn’t. The noise was too loud and too much to bear. We tried to accommodate Alex by repeating our words or speaking closer to him. Unfortunately, as the evening went on, the restaurant got more crowded and the noises, including the music, grew louder.

Eventually, Alex couldn’t manage the noise anymore, so we left. When we got home, Alex sat in his room for hours before I eventually entered to ask if he was okay. He was unhappily replaying the experience in his head. He told me, “I was lost in a storm of noise, unable to find my way out.” 

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I just sat there for a moment, unsure of how to respond, but I knew I had to say something. So, I asked Alex what he was going to do about his problem. Would he find a solution or simply refuse to go to another restaurant ever again? The choice was up to him. With that, Alex reflected, and eventually, an idea came to him: The Mini-Mic. 

The Mini-Mic is an assistive device Alex had previously used at school whenever he needed to hear others more clearly in crowded, noisy spaces. When someone speaks directly into the mic, the audio feeds into Alex’s hearing aid and cochlear implant. The mic had worked well in the classroom, so Alex figured that it could work successfully in a restaurant, too. After this realization, Alex was determined to give the restaurant another try.  

Nothing had changed at the restaurant, but Alex had. The crowded restaurant buzzed with loud chatter and music. Alex was not discouraged. As soon as we were seated, my mom placed the Mini-Mic on the table. Alex connected his implant and hearing aid to it, and then, he could hear everything. Just like everyone else, Alex was able to enjoy a meal and conversation at the same time. He was able to dine with us, talk with us, and laugh with us. And he was able to enjoy the music, playing vibrantly in the background.

Joe Mussomeli is an 11th-grade student who lives in Westport, CT. His younger brother, Alex, has been featured in Hearing Health magazine and is a participant in HHF’s “Faces of Hearing Loss” campaign.

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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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