telecoil

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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Communicate Effectively 
Over the Phone

By Dusty Ann Jessen, Au.D.

Even with email, texting, and video chatavailable, the humble telephone remains a primary means of communication in the workplace. Telephones, of course, render the communicators unable to see each other when talking, so they can’t take advantage of important visual cues, including knowing when it’s their turn to talk. This is especially disconcerting for those with hearing loss; however, communication breakdowns can happen over the phone even between people who don’t have difficulty hearing. Here are simple strategies to help.

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If you are the speaker, you are responsible for conveying a clear message that is received accurately. Focus on the call (don’t multitask!), and make sure the telephone receiver or headset microphone is near your mouth. Speak at a slightly slower pace and enunciate clearly. If your listener is struggling to understand, don’t just repeat what you said; rephrase it or provide additional clarification. This is especially important when conveying letters or numbers; say “C, as in Charlie.”

If you are the listener, place your full attention on the phone call. Turn up the volume to a comfortable level, and consider using the speakerphone so you can hear with both ears. If you miss a word or sentence, don’t just say “What?” Ask your speaker to rephrase the last sentence. You can also ask follow-up questions requiring a yes/no answer (easy words to understand over the telephone) and repeat back what you think you heard.

For optimal hearing—and whether your workplace environment is an office, classroom, or factory—do your best to eliminate background noise when on the phone. Turn off any distracting sounds in your environment, such as silencing a cell phone or muting your computer, or find a quieter place to conduct your phone call.

Landline phones are available with amplifiers and tone controls. Landline phones work well with the telecoil (t-coil) built into most hearing aids (ask your hearing health provider if you are unsure). The t-coil is a small copper coil that picks up the electromagnetic energy naturally emitting from landline phones for a clear signal, without needing a microphone.

If you are in the market for a new cell phone, be sure to choose one that is “hearing aid compatible,” with a microphone (M) and telecoil (T) rating of 3 or 4. Many advanced hearing aids can connect wirelessly to mobile phones, creating a convenient “hands-free” option with excellent sound quality.

These strategies can be applied to many other situations as well. Enunciating clearly on the phone will make you a better communicator all around. Getting out of the habit of asking only “What?” and replacing it with a polite, “Can you please rephrase that?” will help in any situation. Reducing background noise and taking advantage of technology can improve communication efforts for everyone.

Dusty Ann Jessen, Au.D., is based in Colorado. This article, which also appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Hearing Health magazine, is adapted with permission from her book, “5 Keys to Communication Success.” For more, 
see 5keys.info.

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