In the November 2007 Hearing Journal, Better Hearing Institute executive director Sergei Kochkin predicted that acceptance of hearing aids will grow with their increased functionality. His grand idea--putting "miniaturized internal wireless receivers in every hearing aid"--would double their usefulness. Hearing aids would serve a) as sophisticated microphone amplifiers, but also b) as wireless loudspeakers that deliver customized sound from PA systems, TVs, and telephones.
As a person with hearing loss who routinely enjoys this dual utility of hearing aids I can tell you: Sergei Kochkin is spot on. And the result is that I love my hearing aids.
My ear-opening introduction to wireless, customized loudspeakers occurred a decade ago as my wife and I worshipped within the high stone walls of the ancient Iona Abbey, off Scotland's west coast. The worship leader's voice, though amplified by a PA system, was foggy after reverberating to my ears. My wife, noticing a hearing assistance symbol with a "T," nudged me to activate the telecoils in my new aids.
Voila! Suddenly a clear voice was speaking from the center of my head. The secret, I learned, was the Abbey's hearing loop-a wire surrounding the seating that used magnetic induction to transmit information to my hearing aids.
The sudden clarity was overwhelming, an experience that I have since had in countless other British venues, from auditoriums to cathedrals to the back seats of London and Edinburgh taxis. Once, as I sat in a London airport unable to decipher the announcements about my delayed flight to Detroit, I activated my telecoil receptors and-how cool was this-found the announcements broadcast by my hearing aids. (As I sat there using wi-fi to answer e-mails, I thought: this hearing loop is to my hearing aids what the wi-fi is to my laptop!)
Wondering if this technology could work back home, I looped my TV room. To my delight, this enabled my hearing aids to serve as in-the-ear loudspeakers that deliver deliciously clear sound suited to my needs. Moreover, by using a mic + telecoil setting, I can also converse with my wife or hear the phone ring.
Thus began my efforts to support the spread of assistive listening that effectively doubles hearing aid functionality. This effort has involved
- creating www.hearingloop.org,
- promoting the installation of hearing loops in hundreds of west Michigan venues. (See Holland-Zeeland, Grand Rapids, and Grand Haven-Muskegon.)
- authoring two dozen articles.
Who knows what tomorrow's technology may bring? Exciting alternatives, I suspect. For the present, hearing loops (aka induction loop systems) harness low-cost, miniaturized receivers that can be accommodated in virtually all hearing aids. Small wonder that there is a growing consumer push (which I will describe in a later entry) for this user-friendly assistive listening that, as Sergei Kochkin urged, puts "miniaturized internal wireless receivers" into hearing aids.