There are numerous types of assistive technologies available today, aimed at enhancing accessibility and making everyday tasks a little easier. A piece of technology that improves communication for those that have hearing loss is often referred to as an assistive listening device (ALD). As more and more of these technologies appear, and they become more and more complex, it can be a bit of a headache deciphering which options are best for different scenarios.
Here, we’ll delve a bit deeper into hearing loops and Bluetooth systems. We will cover a bit of history, the technology used, and identify how the main features of each impact the user.
Bluetooth is a wireless communication platform that uses radio waves at high frequency to transfer data between two or more electronic devices. It is a young technology, developed first by telecommunications company, Ericsson, in 1994*.
Bluetooth is now used in numerous applications, one of which is as an ALD. Bluetooth technology cannot be put into hearing aids itself as it requires an enormous amount of power so hearing aid manufacturers make wireless enabled hearing aids and things called streamers (usually worn around the neck or in the pocket) to link them to the Bluetooth device that the user wants to hear clearly.
One advantage of using Bluetooth connectivity is that multiple devices can be connected at any time, enabling you to switch between your phone, tv and tablet if desired.
Now let’s talk loops. Hearing loops, also called induction loops, are a relatively old technology developed officially in 1937 for use with the telephone. This invention was called the telephone coil, which is where the word ‘telecoil’ comes from.
The first hearing aids like those used today, worn behind the ear, with the telecoil were made in the 70’s. Not much has changed since then. Therefore, it is an extremely simple piece of technology with straight forward operation.
A length of wire is laid around the edge of a room or installed in a counter and then connected to a loop driver. This produces a magnetic field. The electromagnetic signal is then picked up by a coil of wire within a hearing device (the telecoil) and converted back to speech or music. This might sound complicated but all a user needs to do is switch their hearing aid or cochlear implant to the “T” setting and they will be able to hear clearly.
A loop reduces background noise and amplifies just the sound source you’d like to hear. It works with your hearing device and is therefore tailored to each and everyone’s own hearing loss.
Hearing Device Compatibility
A large factor in choosing what technology to aid you is the compatibility with your current hearing device. Wireless technology that allows hearing aids or cochlear implants to function with Bluetooth enabled tech are not standard and are often costly solutions. The Bluetooth receiver that you use must be made by the same hearing device manufacturer, meaning if you were to get new hearing aids, there is a chance that it wouldn’t work with your Bluetooth device.
The telecoil is found in almost all NHS provided hearing aids in the UK. An audiologist just needs to activate the telecoil before handing it over to the individual. It is a good idea to remind them to do this!
Although it is universal for a number of applications, Bluetooth is only really useful within the home environment. The Bluetooth receiver will not interact with equipment when you’re out of the house.
Hearing loops, on the other hand, are installed at many venues, shops and public places throughout the UK. The Equality Act 2010 states that all service providers must make reasonable adjustments for those with hearing loss which means there should be a loop in all of them!
Other factors to bear in mind
When using a Bluetooth streamer to watch your favourite soap, you may notice latency. This means that there is a delay from the picture to the sound being relayed to your hearing device. This happens with Bluetooth due to the complex process involved in converting and transmitting the signals from different bits of equipment. Sound from a hearing loop is transmitted to the hearing device in real-time for a superb listening experience.
Bluetooth relies on you remembering to carry around or wear around your neck an extra bit of kit. Once loops have been installed by the venue or at your home then all the user needs to do is switch their hearing aids to the correct setting.
There is often an assumption that newer means better but in this instance we believe simplicity wins over complexity. Simple technology = fewer problems.
At Contacta we design and manufacture loops that are suitable for a variety of settings, whether it be at home or in an amphitheatre or stadium. See our loop range here and talk to us if you’d like to know more.
Founded in 1997, Tau is one of the leading distributors of quality audio products in the Netherlands. It has almost 20 years’ experience installing and distributing hearing loops throughout the region. Tau Audio has an extensive range of AV products from recognised brands in which Contacta is excited to be included.
Tau Audio’s goal is to make the lives of their AV integrators easier by assisting them with designing and commissioning systems.
Tau Audio Solutions have exclusive rights to distribute British built technology from Contacta’s talented in-house design team, to contractors and dealers across the Netherlands. They will be circulating the full range of large area loop products, one-to-one loop systems and loop accessories. Tau are also adding Contacta’s speech transfer systems as a new product range within their repertoire.
Ron Vossen, Managing Director of Tau, released the following statement;
“We are looking forward to working with Contacta and introducing their range of UK-made products into the Netherlands. Their superior in-house design capability and hearing loop expertise make them an excellent fit for us.”
Simon Thomas, Managing Director of Contacta Systems Ltd added;
“We are delighted to be working with Tau Audio Solutions to distribute our products throughout the Netherlands. This is an exciting opportunity for our brand to expand into this region.
With one of the largest Audio Visual exhibitions in the world held at the RAI in Amsterdam every year, the BeNeLux AV market is competitive. The Tau Audio team have demonstrated their wealth of knowledge and experience within this market. Our combined induction loop designing, specification and installation skills acquired over the last few decades will undoubtedly produce great results in this territory.”
It isn’t always obvious what to expect from an audiologist appointment, so we’ve enlisted Laura Turton, Specialist Adult Audiologist & Operations Manager for the British Society of Audiology, and she’s helped us answer some important questions for you.
What can I expect from the appointment?
In your initial appointment the main focus will be around assessing your hearing and the impact your hearing loss is having on your life. The audiologist should ask you some medical questions about your ears, explore what expectations you have for the appointment and find out where your hearing loss is mainly affecting you and how that makes you feel. A fundamental part of this assessment is having your ears examined and undertaking a hearing test (where the audiologist will find the quietest sounds you can hear across tones of differing pitches).
This appointment is your opportunity to discuss honestly and openly what bearing your hearing is having and you should be presented with a range of options you can take to manage your hearing loss further. Take the time before the appointment to think about places where you have noticed your hearing has changed. If you are suitable you will be offered one or two hearing aids, which will probably be fitted at a future appointment.
At the hearing aid fitting appointment you may not see the same audiologist again, but your previous audiologist should have recorded your comments extensively from the assessment. The person seeing you should recap on these at the beginning of the appointment. Then they will typically undertake some tests (some of which you will need to actively participate in and others you won’t) to make sure your hearing aids are giving you an appropriate amount of sound during your appointment. During your appointment the audiologist should talk to you about different options within the hearing aid, such as whether you would like to have the hearing aid set to be fully automatic, or where you can have control over the volume, and the variety of programs available for different situations. This is the moment in the appointment where you need to consider if you want to try a loop system in the future.
If the audiologist does not activate part of the hearing aid called the telecoil at this point, you will not be able to use a loop system or take advantage of its benefits. Before this appointment keep an eye out for the loop logo in places that you work, socialise and visit. If you have seen one then ask for the telecoil to be activated, you have nothing to lose by having this done, even if you choose not to use it. After your hearing aids have been set up, the audiologist will show you how to use them and look after them. You should then be booked either a face to face or telephone follow up to check on your progress.
How long will it take?
The assessment should be between 45-60 minutes. The hearing aid fitting should be around 60 minutes and the follow up should be between 15 minutes on the phone and 30 minutes face to face.
Do I need to bring anything with me?
Bring any reading glasses so you are able to see the detail on the hearing aids as they are being demonstrated and for your first appointment take a list of any medication you are on.
What will the audiologist ask me?
Think of your appointments as a two-way conversation about any problems you have noticed about your hearing. The audiologist needs to understand any medical issues you have with your ears (such as infections, tinnitus – noises in your ears or head and dizziness), plus any wider medical conditions you have. This is important as sometimes they need to refer you to a medical consultant to investigate these further. However, the most fundamental part of the appointment is for the audiologist to get a better understanding about your hearing loss, what impact it is having and what you would like to do about it.
What type of hearing aids will the audiologist recommend me?
This is a hard question to answer as it depends on many different factors. The first is where you are being assessed. Within the NHS each department will chose a number of hearing aid manufacturers to fit, which will be different across different regions of the UK. Private providers have different hearing aids available to those on the NHS. Both the NHS and private dispensers have a range of styles available to them (although for the widest selection you may need to be seen by a private provider). The most appropriate one will be offered to you based on the choice available, the severity of your hearing loss and factors such as your dexterity and eyesight. If the loop system is an important feature to you it would be worth expressing this in your assessment to ensure your hearing aid has a telecoil located inside of it.
What questions should I ask?
Always think about questions that are personal to you, whether these are about how to use the hearing aid, when you should try the hearing aids, what you can expect in different situations and always express any worries or questions you have. If your audiologist advises you in some way that you don’t understand then please ask for clarification, as we are working to support you and want you to feel like you can ask us anything.
The take home message is that you have nothing to lose by having the telecoil activated on your hearing aids and it can open up opportunities to use loop systems either with additional personal devices for your home, on the phone or in public buildings which can give you the extra support you need in these situations. Ask your audiologist about this option at your next appointment.
Laura has worked for the last 16 years in a variety of roles across the NHS and the voluntary sector. Her clinical work focuses on adults who have acquired their hearing loss later in life and is passionate about connecting people to all types of organisations who can support all of their needs in addition to the support Audiology can provide, in particular, any information and support that can lead to people feeling more confident in managing their own hearing loss and taking control. Laura currently splits her time between seeing patients, supporting quality standards in Audiology and managing the strategic and operational work of the British Society of Audiology.
“Curiosity, enthusiasm and stamina turned into fear, exhaustion and despair.”
Read Emmanuelle Ding’s account of the impact of hearing loss on her life.
Here she reflects on the challenges she faced after losing her hearing and how she has overcome these to embrace life after her diagnosis.
“I have been living with hearing loss for nearly three decades now.
The first diagnosis occurred in France, 27 years ago. It was a minor problem and nothing to worry about – according to my consultant. So I didn’t worry about it and kept going with my life. I knew I had a problem and adapted accordingly without real impediment.
However, slowly but surely, my hearing deteriorated further and 13 years ago I was diagnosed with a severe hearing loss.
It happened four months before coming to England to live with my husband. I nonetheless took up the challenge of moving to a new country, learning a new language without hearing and adapting to a new life.
It took me two years to learn English through lip reading and to find a job.
It has taken me many years to recognise and accept the damage hearing loss has done to my life – 13 years and a Self Management Programme with Hearing Link to be exact.
Living with hearing loss means that the connection with your surrounding environment is intermittent and uncertain. There is no alarm whatsoever – no fire alarm, no burglar alarm, no timer, no bell at the doorstep, no phone alarm.
Any verbal information, if not supported by lip reading is incomprehensible, therefore any announcement in public spaces and public transports is out of my reach and I am left by myself to figure out what’s going on, whether it’s a delay, change of platform, cancellation or evacuation alert.
While many businesses know they should be considerate towards visible access issues like wheelchair use, hidden disabilities such as hearing impairment are often not given the same attention.
Hearing aids alone are simply not enough for people with hearing impairment. They pick up all sound in the surrounding area and don’t distinguish speech from background noise, which can make it difficult to easily interact in public spaces.
Assistive listening technologies can give experiences in venues such as movie theatres, meeting halls, and churches back to those who have been missing out for years.
What is an assistive listening device?
Assistive Listening Technology, or Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs), capture a sound source and transmit it directly to the person listening.
There are three main types of ALDs:
Infrared light covers large areas and has a quick and simple installation, with signal reaching across the room as long as line of sight is maintained with the transmitters. Users must ask for receivers, which can be off-putting for those who do not wish to highlight their hearing loss. All receivers must then be maintained regularly due to hygiene issues and kept charged.
FM systems use radio frequencies to transmit directly to receivers or earphones when the user has a receiver such as a Neckloop equipped. Unless they have a custom hearing-aid, users must either carry their own equipment or, like with infrared, ask for receivers which must then be regularly maintained due to hygiene issues and kept charged.
Hearing loopsare universally compatible with the telecoil inside hearing devices, meaning no additional equipment needs to be worn by hearing aid wearers. Although they generally have a higher installation cost than other options, they are discreet once lain down and little maintenance is required other than periodic checks.
What about Bluetooth?
Bluetooth is the most recent of these technologies and uses radio waves to connect to users’ smartphones or computers. Convenience is a benefit, as savvy users just need to bring their electronic device with them and connect wirelessly. The main drawbacks are latency – there is a significant delay between when the sound is produced and when it reaches the listener – and that users are required to own their own smartphone or device.
Hearing loops are widely adopted
We have outlined the benefits of hearing loop systems as we believe they are the best all round Assistive Listening Technology, due to both their lack of latency and ease of use. These benefits have been demonstrated to users around the world, as hearing loops are the most widely adopted assistive listening technology option.
Contacta are delighted to announce their new exclusive distributor for Australia and New Zealand; Amber Technology.
Amber Technology is one of Australia’s largest and most respected distributors of high technology equipment solutions to a diverse audience that includes commercial installation providers, professional broadcast, film, recording, live production and entertainment markets. With offices and representatives in all major cities, Contacta is delighted to work with Amber Technology in supplying a range of hearing loop and speech transfer systems including the powerful and dynamic HLD7 hearing loop driver.