Assistive Listening Devices

Assistive technologies for the hearing impaired

Hearing aids are usually the top all-around treatment solution for individuals with hearing loss. There are other specialized hearing assistive technologies that can come in handy in a number of different environments and circumstances. Assistive technologies for the hearing impaired include a number of items known as assistive listening devices (ALDs) as well as other more generalized solutions. Learn about hearing assistive technology today to make the most of about any listening environment. 

FM Systems

An FM system uses the same frequency-modulated radio technology that you use to tune into your favorite stations as you drive to work. The main difference, however, is that FM systems used as assistive listening devices are very low-powered by comparison and are tuned to a frequency band designated for personal use.

The two main parts of an FM system are the transmitter microphone and the receivers, both of which can be configured in a number of ways. Essentially, the sound to be projected is processed through the microphone transmitter and sent over radio waves directly to the receivers. The radio waves are then picked up through a variety of means by the listener. Receivers can be a physical component that attaches to hearing aids or implants, an induction loop worn around the neck, or a body-worn receiver that pushes the sound through traditional headphones. This process cuts out distracting background noise, improves sound clarity, reduces listening fatigue, and allows hearing from a distance. FM systems are used in many different settings including education, theaters, movies, lectures, and more.

Telecoils and induction loops

Telecoils, sometimes called t-coils, are a hearing aid feature designed to be used in conjunction with a number of devices that produce electromagnetic signals. Telecoils have been around for a number of years and are a common hearing aid feature. They were first designed to help listeners better understand sound transmitted through landline telephones. Today, their most common use is with induction loops in public spaces, sometimes called hearing loops.

Induction loops are essentially electromagnetic transmitters that can beam clear sound directly to a hearing aid that has a telecoil. Localized induction loops can cover a small area such as a service counter, or they can surround entire rooms like a live theater or lecture hall.  Most often you can engage the telecoil feature on your hearing aids with just the push of a button. 

Telecoil-enabled areas are often designated by signage like this.

Telecoil-enabled areas are often designated by signage like this.

Coupling Accessories

Newer Bluetooth®-compatible hearing aids allow users to stream audio from Bluetooth-enabled devices, like smartphones and televisions, directly to their hearing aids. However, this feature may not be available in older or smaller hearing aids. A number of Miracle-Ear hearing aids can still take advantage of the Miracle-Ear TV Streamer, even without built-in Bluetooth compatibility. This small coupling accessory takes the audio input from your television set and streams it to your hearing aids, helping everyone in the room have an enjoyable listening experience. Similarly, the Audio Clip allows you to stream Bluetooth-enabled devices to your hearing aids, and it also doubles as a remote microphone. This allows you to get extra amplification from specific audio sources, like a friend in a busy restaurant, when you need it most.  

Alerting devices

There are a number of household and electronic devices that have been adapted to fit the needs of the hard of hearing and deaf communities. These alerting technologies are available in a wide range of products such as alarm clocks, smoke and carbon dioxide detectors, doorbells, phones, baby monitors, weather alerts, and more. They use a number of different signal types to appeal to the user’s senses outside of conventional hearing. They can use visual alerts such as a flashing light. They can use vibrotacticle alerts, meaning there is a vibrating component. They can also use enhanced auditory alerts, such as ones with increased sound amplification and lower frequency sounds. 

Captioning

Captioning is text displayed on a screen such as a television, mobile device, or movie screen that provides the audio portion of a program in written form. This service is vital for the deaf community and can also provide assistance to hard of hearing individuals by giving context to the words being spoken or the sound effects occurring. Captions are helpful because hearing is affected, much like vision, by our expectations. Having certain expectations for spoken words or sounds within a piece a media primes the brain to hear those sounds more clearly.

There are two main types of captioning: open captioning and closed captioning. Open captioning means that the captions cannot be turned off and always remain on the screen. Closed captioning, conversely, is captioning that can be turned on or off through means such as the settings of a TV or streaming service.

A number of government regulations ensure that most broadcasts and modern TVs have captioning capabilities, and the use of the technology is increasing. Recently, captioned phones and video conference captioning have entered the market. Captioning technology is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, and we’re excited to see where it turns up next.

Speech-to-text services

Speech-to-text services, sometimes known as real-time transcriptions, are similar to captioning in that the user reads text on a screen that relates to the programing at hand. The main difference, however, is that speech-to-text services occur live and in real time. A stenographer uses specialized computer equipment to transcribe programming such as a church service or a lecture as it occurs. The computer equipment then transmits the accompanying text to screens like a large projector for a crowd to read or a laptop or mobile device for an individual.

The main three speech to text systems are CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation), C-Print, and TypeWell. Though each system varies slightly, the main difference is that CART is a word-for-word (verbatim) speech-to-text service, whereas C-Print and TypeWell are meaning-for-meaning services. While CART text will include everything said including verbal pauses, C-Print and TypeWell provide condensed texts that highlight main themes and pertinent information.

The market for hearing assistive technology is one that is constantly growing and evolving. However, this overview should give you a good idea of some of the main solutions available to you. Empower yourself today with hearing assistive technology to help get the most out of your experiences. 

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