Let’s take a look at the assistive listening systems we used this past year, in public and private settings. Also known as HATS, Hearing Assistive Technology.
Hearing devices (hearing aids, cochlear implants, personal amplifiers) work best within a 6 foot range. To understand this best, picture yourself in a 6 foot bubble. Everything in that bubble is what you’ll hear best; shuffling papers, someone coughing near you, candy wrappers. If it’s outside that bubble, the sounds will be more faint and less clear compared to what’s inside the bubble. Now imagine you’re 12 feet away from the speaker and you’re in an audience, it’s going to be tough to understand what’s being said. That’s why there’s assistive listening systems, to bridge that gap. They put the speaker in your ear.
A Variety of Assistive Listening Systems
It is a requirement by Title III of the ADA to have public assistive listening. Assistive listening systems are used for inclusion for many people with hearing loss. *Note: Once hearing loss reaches a certain level, captions equal inclusion as well.
Her is a short lesson on typical assistive listening systems by a hard of hearing user:
- Infrared System – Sound sent via an infrared light beam. A source sends a signal to a receiver. Example: Infrared headphones. Chelle used infrared headphones in a movie theater several years ago. The red dot on the back of her head in a dark movie theater felt conspicuous. (It’s not her favorite device for public assistive listening.) It involves picking up a device and returning it after.
- FM system – Yeah, kind of like the FM radio stations. It sends a signal via radio waves. This is the most common public assistive listening system. This too involves picking up a receiver and returning it. Use this in place of headphones.
- Note: Neckloops send a magnetic signal to hearing aids and are used in place of headphones for hearing aid and cochlear implant (CI) users. The hearing aids must have a telecoil program. Hearing through a neckloop is clearer for hearing aid/CI users.
- Hearing loops, AKA induction loops are a copper wire is laid in the floor in various arrays. It sends a magnetic signal to the telecoil in hearing aids and CIs. To hearing aid and CI users who try it, it typically becomes their preferred assistive listening system. The sound is clear and there are no devices to pick up or drop off. We talk about hearing loops in this late 2021 post.
Newer Assistive Listening Systems
- Wi-Fi systems – Sound is delivered via Wi-Fi to a personal device. A smartphone is used in combination with an app, delivering sound without the need of picking or dropping off a device. If the user doesn’t have a smartphone, receivers are available. Here’s a blog post LINK by Hearing Loss LIVE! We talked to Listen Technologies in early 2022. They manufacture a Wi-Fi listening system.
- Auracast – an up and coming system that works via Bluetooth. In the past, Bluetooth only worked with personal devices. It’s going to start being a public option. It works the same way as the Wi-Fi system, using an app on a smartphone. We have not been able to try this system yet.
For more information, check out the American Speech-Language & Hearing Association (ASHA) with this LINK.
To find out what assistive listening systems are near you, use the ALD Locator at this LINK.
Personal Experiences with Assistive Listening in 2023
Hearing loss conventions are a great place to try out assistive listening systems. At the SayWhatClub this year in Vancouver, we were in the loop! Both Julia and Chelle used and liked the hearing loop. It turns out, Julia as a hearing person needed to be in the loop too. Attendees at hearing loss conventions can be noisy, we don’t hear ourselves fully. We think we’re being quiet but we aren’t.
At the convention, they had a Roger Dynamic SoundField by Phonak.
Chelle: I was so excited to try it! In the past, I’ve used a Roger Pen and now I have a Roger On. Both items have been awesome. I just recently learned the SoundField and here was my chance to try it.
As soon possible, I asked them to connect me to the SoundField. They didn’t know how. The next day, they came to me and said they figured it out. They put a device near my Phonak hearing aids and…nothing. “Sorry, they won’t connect.” Bummer. (After note: They didn’t offer me a receiver.)
When I got home, I went to my audiologist to find out if I needed an extra program or what. She called in and found out my hearing aids don’t connect to the SoundField. Double bummer. This was a disappointing experience.
In the Loop
Julia: On the drive home from the 2022 SayWhatClub con, it dawned on Chelle that we should have looped my CART station because I was struggling with the HoH background chatter. At the 2023 con, I asked if I could sit in the loop and worked with the installers to set up my workstation inside of it. I used a receiver and it was awesome! Those that wanted to visit in the crowd could and I could focus on the presenter.
The second day of the con, the loop guys asked if I would try the new sound system they had, the Roger SoundField System. I used headphones with a receiver. There was a lot of static and interference for me. I used the headphones so I’m not sure if it was the receiver or the tower. The loop worked much better. After the first presenter I went back to the loop.
Wi-Fi Assistive Listening at Home
Chelle: I still using the Listen Everywhere at home (now called Wi-Fi Streaming). While using it, I can hear so many different background sounds I don’t normally hear. Over Thanksgiving weekend I had my Star Wars marathon. It was nice to hear sounds I haven’t heard since I was a kid. I like hearing the hear hydraulics when C3PO walked, water splashing, the distinctive vehicle/ship sounds and more.
This works through the Listen Everywhere app and any sound that goes through my phone gets streamed into my ears. Anything streamed can be managed further through hearing aid apps. There is a very slight delay with the process. If I don’t shut off the ambient/environmental noise through my app, I get an echo. When fully immersed in my movies, I don’t want environmental noise. With a severe hearing loss, I can’t hear two things at the same time. I need focused sound. I am able to use lipreading, even with the slight delay. The slight delay doesn’t disrupt that ability.
My living room has a small hearing loop. There’s no delay in sound but a slight hum that intrudes on my listening experience. While in the loop, I have to stay in the living room to benefit from it. With the Wi-Fi system, I can travel all over the house and still hear everything. We will soon take down the loop because I don’t use it anymore.
Wi-Fi Listening in Public
Julia: You’ve met our friend McClain (LINK). This summer at a local event, he asked if we would try new headphones from SkullCandy (LINK) that vibrate to the beat of the music. We used the Listen Everywhere app to stream the sound through the headphones. What a unique experience to have the music streamed to our ears and pick up the beat via vibration! There were a few glitches, as with any new product, but this is a great way to feel the music.
That’s our wrap for 2023 on assistive listening technology.
Many people don’t know about this public option. If you are attending an event soon, look for the assistive listening symbol. Find out what they have and use it! Try them all, find your favorite assistive listening system. The more of us using and requesting them, the more say we’ll have. If the receiver isn’t maintained, tell them. You might have to go back a few times to “train” them. There is no ADA police. It’s up to us. Together we can make a difference.
Listen Technologies talked about Bluetooth technology in their blog last week: Bluetooth Classic vs. Bluetooth Low Energy: What’s the Difference? Here is the LINK.