Hearing loss: technology
The impact in changing technology provides new ways of hearing and communicating. We’ve already given you details about Hearing loss: at home and the technology that can make life easier, but there are other devices that will come in handy.
There may be some question regarding technology and the rules of usage during Jewish holidays. Rabbi Wayland addresses the issue of electricity use on Shabbat as it applies to hearing loss in the article, Judaism and Modernity, Part 7, Electricity on Shabbat - Hearing Aid Loops, when he writes:
...is the hearing aid like a musical instrument, the use of which is forbidden on Shabbat? Is speaking into the microphone, or the hearing aid itself, generating electricity? Is one permitted to wear a hearing aid in a street that does not have an Eruv? The Rabbinic authorities grappled with these common issues. They permit the use of hearing aids, wearing them in the street and even adjusting the volume, provided that they were turned on before Shabbat. A factor that underlies their permissibility is "kavod habriyot"—protecting the dignity of those involved. Halachic questions are not viewed in a vacuum. Hearing aids transform the daily lives of those who need them, and it would be unimaginable if the hard of hearing were not able to communicate with the world on Shabbat.
These rules also apply to other Shabbat compliant electronic devices that can help you carry on with your day-to-day life...without having to worry about technology restrictions and holidays.
Assistive technology (AT) refers to technologies that are made to support people with specific impairments. For hearing impaired people, there are three commonly used devices: hearing aids, loops and FM systems.
Hearing aids are perhaps the most common AT used by people with hearing loss, although there’s no question that more people could benefit from wearing them. While it may take a little time for you to get used to it, a properly fitted hearing aid can improve your quality of life.
There are several resources regarding every aspect of hearing aids. Hearing Link has a whole section dedicated to hearing aids, covering everything from how they work to why they whistle. Action on Hearing Loss has many resources on Hearing aids, including helpful leaflets that can be downloaded. The same organisation runs its Hear to Help service that can assist with hearing aid maintenance and care.
If you are in the Haywards Heath or Worthing areas, Action for Deafness runs free courses on how to retube, clean and maintain your hearing aid. And in the London Borough of Barnet, the Jewish Deaf Association (JDA) has drop-in hearing aid clinics on Mondays in the organisation’s offices.
If you’re not sure about the condition of your hearing, Action on Hearing Loss offers Locate and Rate, a tool that can help you find the best service to assess whether or not your need a hearing aid. These services are rated by users, which means you’ll get unbiased reviews based on real life experience. You can also add your review to the site, so others can benefit from your feedback. You will need to register first to use this service, but it’s free and easy to use once you’re logged in.
There are also several sites that provide hearing aid accessories and maintenance kits. AskSARA, a self assessment site that’s from the Disabled Living Foundation (DLF), takes you through a list of questions and provides an impartial report with a list of product suggestions that might help. Through DLF there is also Living Made Easy—a wide range of listening equipment for hearing aid users if you want to skip the assessment and go straight to the products. And Action on Hearing Loss has an entire shop devoted to hearing loss products of all kinds.
Hearing loops (also known as audio induction loop systems or audio-frequency induction loops) consist of a microphone, an amplifier and a loop cable that is placed in and around a designated area—usually a room or a building. The cable acts as an antenna to generate a magnetic field in that space so sound can be picked up by other ATs such as hearing aids programmed to the proper setting (the T setting or loop programme). Ideally, the end result is less background noise and clearer speech.
If you use a digital hearing aid, your audiologist should programme it with an induction loop setting. When it is on this setting it will connect to most induction loops. There are two additional types of receivers: headsets (if you don’t have or need a hearing aid) and neckloops (which work better with hearing aids). There are also infrared systems which work in the same way as induction loops for hearing aid users but need you to wear a neckloop.
Hearing loop systems are especially helpful in high traffic public spaces like concert halls, meeting rooms, reception areas, courtrooms, theatres and even places of worship. If your synagogue doesn’t have a loop system, have them contact the JDA to find out more about financing and installation arrangements.
In some parts of the UK, loop systems may either be free or else subsidised by Social Services or Sensory Impairment Teams, depending on the results of your needs assessment. For more information on Hearing loops, visit the Hearing Link site.
FM systems are widely used in educational settings but can be just as appropriate in a situation where listening to a single sound source (speech/music/video) is difficult.
Also known as Radio Aids, FM systems are battery operated wireless devices that send sound from a speaker (who wears a transmitter) to a listener (who wears the receiver). FM systems may help you whether or not you wear hearing aids. They are really helpful in noisy places with bad acoustics or in large rooms where there is distance between the speaker and listener. For more information on how FM systems work, visit Hearing Link; there is also a Hearing Link page dedicated to frequently asked questions on FM systems.
Some organisations will let you try these devices before you buy them. The Ear Foundation has a resource centre where you can book a try before you buy a session with a professional audiologist (for a small fee) who can help you determine what technology will work best for you. The audiologist can also provide information on funding, set up and use.
Action on Hearing Loss has several helpful fact sheets that cover Equipment to help you, whether you wear hearing aids or not. The organisation also has an information hotline if you have a general question about equipment or need support. Call 0808 808 0123 (telephone) or 0808 808 9000 (textphone) for assistance.
Surgical AT for hearing loss
Cochlear implants (CI) is a surgical procedure that can help address hearing loss that happens when there is sensory damage to the hair cells in the cochlear portion of your ear. CI is a good option for people with severe sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL), especially when hearing aids or FM systems are not enough to do the trick.
While CI is not a cure for deafness, it can be very effective; however, the quality of sound after a CI can be quite different since the procedure transmits less sound related information to the brain. Still, CI can help you understand speech better while improving your ability to hear environmental sounds and even enjoy music. [For an article that examines the bioethical perspectives of CI and Judaism, read, "Cochlear Implants and Jewish Law", written by Rabbi Darby J. Leigh.]
During the CI procedure, the surgeon places the device under the skin behind the ear. The device includes both external and internal components that mimic the transmission and reception behaviours of hearing aids and FM systems—but on a much smaller scale.
The Ear Foundation has a great deal of information on CI, including information sheets and links to CI centres throughout the UK. For interesting coverage on CI and other types of implants, Hearing Link has helpful information on Auditory brainstem implants (ABI) and middle ear implants (MEA). There is also the National Cochlear Implant Users Association, which is a good place to check out if you have CI or are considering it as an option.
Bone anchored hearing aids (BAHA) may work well for people who cannot otherwise wear in the ear or behind the ear devices. BAHAs (also known as bone anchored hearing devices) use a surgical procedure to transmit sound through bone directly to the inner ear.
By bypassing the outer or middle ear, BAHA can increase hearing in noisy situations. In addition to improved speech understanding, it results in a natural sound with less distortion and feedback compared with conventional hearing aids. The ear canal is left open for comfort, and this transfer of sound gives a 360° sound awareness.
Hearing Link explains how BAHAs work and features a testimonial from one person who has opted for this surgery. The Ear Foundation also has a great deal of information on BAHA, including leaflets to download and forums to post questions and discuss other related issues.
Helpful hearing loss apps
Most tablets and mobile phones now come with speakerphone and speech recognition options. Apple devices come with Siri, and Android devices come with a built-in speech recognition feature.
There are several other apps on the market to help you communicate. These apps are available for Apple devices from the iTunes store; for Android devices, you can download them from the Google Play store.
BioAid turns your phone into a hearing aid.
Braci records sounds around your home so your smartphone can alert you to smoke alarms, doorbells, telephones and intercoms.
British Sign Language Finger Spelling uses cartoons to teach you two handed BSL.
Cochlear Baha® Support includes general information, cleaning instructions, battery information, a troubleshooting guide and other tips for your system.
Dragon Dictation allows you to speak and instantly see your text or message.
Hearing-Check lets you check for sensorineural hearing loss without having to visit your doctor’s office.
MobileSign uses more than 4000 signs to help you learn BSL.
Pedius is a communication system that allows you to make conventional phone calls.
Petralex® Radio performs sound processing to suit individual hearing and delivers music, speech and any type of content.
SoundFocus lets you listen to music in full fidelity based on an audio profile that matches your hearing pattern, compensating for the spectrum of frequencies that your ear doesn’t hear well.
TapTap causes your phone to flash and vibrate in order to attract your attention so you can respond. Cost: £2.29 from the iTunes store (as of February 2016).
UHear is a screening test that will help you find out if you have hearing loss.