Both workers and students with hearing impairments can encounter obstacles throughout the day that can make accomplishing tasks even more challenging and daunting. Today’s work environments consist of a wide range of situations, from formal meetings to group conversations, where being able to hear is imperative. There are also industrial noises, poor acoustic environments, open floor plans and phone conversations that can impact one’s ability to hear.
It is well documented that individuals with any degree of hearing loss struggle more in the presence of background noise than do their normal-hearing peers. This raises the question: How can an employee with hearing loss overcome listening challenges on the job and function optimally? Fortunately, today’s technology offers many new tools that can optimize listening even in difficult environments and help hearing-impaired individuals perform to their full potential.
Beyond Hearing Aids
Today’s hearing aids are incredibly discreet and more advanced than ever. It is standard for various hearing instruments to feature noise cancellation and directional microphones, which allow for better hearing when surrounded by a lot of background noise. However, there are times when just a hearing aid will not satisfy all of an individual’s listening needs, with group situations and telephone conversations being the two biggest areas of concern. Fortunately, there are now alternate assistive technologies available. Tools are available that, when coupled with hearing aids, help improve signal-to-noise ratio (improving speech relative to environmental noise levels).
Tools used in conjunction with hearing aids to maximize their potential are called assistive listening devices (ALDs). These include telecoils, wireless connectivity and FM systems. All hearing instrument companies have various solutions that are specific to their own product lines, but most of them operate using very similar technologies. The main difference is design and how they utilize their wireless features. Let’s take a closer look at each of these ALDs.
Telecoils, or t-coils, have been around for decades, but they have gained popularity in recent years as the technology continues to be reliable and present a clear signal. Most behind-the-ear instruments and even some in-the-ear instruments have a t-coil built into them. Originally, a t-coil served to pick up sound on landline phones and eliminate acoustic feedback by gathering input via a magnetic signal rather than the microphone of the hearing aid. Now, many cell phones are hearing aid compatible, and they access a hearing aid’s t-coil in a different manner. Additionally, many hearing aids have the functionality to switch to the t-coil automatically when they sense the presence of a phone, rather than the individual having to manually push a button each time. The t-coil can also be used in business meetings, noisy restaurants, the car or even the home to hear the television.
Smartphones and cell phones have become a necessary part of the workday, so wireless connectivity is essential. You may be surprised to hear that even though Bluetooth headsets are commonplace these days, they actually cannot be used with hearing aids in many instances. Fortunately, a Bluetooth chip is built into many hearing aids, which allows the hearing aid to serve as the Bluetooth headset either directly or through the use of a streaming device. The individual wearing the hearing aid then has the ability to hear phone calls without having to use any additional equipment.
Hearing everything that is being said in a meeting or large space can be difficult for individuals who are hearing impaired. FM systems are designed to improve the signal-to-noise ratio and directly send the speaker’s voice to the hearing aids. These tools consist of both a transmitter and a receiver. The receiver can be coupled to the hearing aids, or the signal can be transmitted wirelessly to the hearing instruments via a streamer or a t-coil. Some perks of FM systems are that they do not have to be installed and they are completely portable. Hence, they can empower the individual to take control of their listening environments and be less dependent on others.
There continue to be new solutions for all the listening demands of a busy day. The EasyCall II is placed on the back of a smartphone and streams a clear, crisp phone signal to both hearing aids. There is also a mini remote microphone that is more simple and economical than an FM system. It clips onto the shirt of the person being spoken to and wirelessly streams the signal to the hearing instruments, freeing the hearing aid user from having to wear a larger, more visible streaming device.
The sleek design of the Phonak Roger Pen transmitter makes it a discreet solution to boost the speaker’s voice simply by placing the pen on a table in a meeting. The Roger Pen can also stream television and phone signals to hearing instruments, presenting multiple uses.
In a competitive workforce, where no one wants to feel like a burden because of his or her hearing loss, the use of assistive listening devices becomes crucial. The development of Bluetooth and wireless technology has opened the door for numerous applications of these tools. From phone solutions to devices designed for use during meetings, there is typically a device to satisfy each person’s needs.
Choosing a hearing device for the workplace is definitely an area where a one-size-fits-all solution simply does not work. The first step in selecting the proper tool is to seek the advice of a doctor of audiology for a thorough hearing evaluation. This professional can also analyze the nature of your job and the listening environments you encounter on a regular basis to help determine the best hearing solution for your situation.