By Chelle Wyatt


Hearing aids are expensive and it is a bit overwhelming going in for many first-timers. Not all hearing professionals are created equal and there are some things they don’t tell us. Here are some guidelines written with first-timers in mind, so they can feel a little more confident going in.

The Hearing Test

What’s the difference between a Hearing Instrument Specialist (HIS) and Audiologist (AuD)? Audiologists go to school for 5-7 years at the university level and receive a doctorate in audiology. They are able to give a more complete hearing evaluation. Hearing instrument specialists train for a couple of years, they offer basic hearing tests and sell hearing aids. There are good audiologists and bad audiologist. There are good hearing instrument specialists and bad hearing instrument specialists. No matter which professional you see, you should feel comfortable with them and they should make you feel welcome to come back as often as needed.

What should you expect for a hearing test?

They should make sure you do not have a wax buildup. If you have a buildup, that should be removed before hearing tests.
A discussion about your lifestyle and where you will be using your hearing aids on a day to day basis.
A pure tone test (listening for the beeps) and a word discrimination test.
Other tests may be performed as well. They will find a comfortable, programmed level according to your hearing loss to simulate what hearing aids can do. Keep in mind this will be in a quiet environment and will not reflect many hearing situations you encounter in real life. We will discuss different programming options shortly.

Getting Hearing Aids

What to expect after testing. The hearing loss professional should explain your hearing loss to you. Is it conductive, sensorineural (missing certain frequencies only) or mixed? It the loss mild, moderate, severe or profound? How will the hearing loss affect the sounds of speech for you? Get a copy of your audiogram to keep for future reference.

Hearing Aid Options. The main brands are: Oticon, Phonak, Resound, Siemens, Starkey and Widex. There are a variety of sizes too which range from tiny and inserted into the ear to behind the ear. The bigger the hearing aid, the more programming options available. There are also a variety of colors available for hearing aids and hearing molds. You can get a color to blend with your hair or you can choose a fun color.
*When ordering hearing aids, make sure you have a telecoil in it as well as Bluetooth. Hearing professionals will say it’s old technology but it is useful in a variety of situations (see below).

Programming Options. There are multiple programming options available for hearing aids. Generally 3-5 options are available per hearing aids. Here are some of the options available.
Comfort program, also called noisy setting or restaurant setting. These programs try to cut out background noise by focusing the microphones forward.
Stroll for listening to voices side to side. Also works great in the car.
Telecoils pick up a magnetic sound signal from phones, neckloops (replaces headphones and earbuds) and rooms equipped with hearing loops. It can cut out all surrounding noises (coughing, talking, papers crinkling) and focus only on the sound source.

Bluetooth also reduces surrounding sounds to focus on personal devices; the phone, the computer, the TV.
Music, because we hear music differently than we do speech.
Speech in Wind helps cut back the noise of wind on the microphones.
Tinnitus for those who have a hard time with ringing of the ears in quiet environments. It introduces soothing sounds such as ocean waves or chimes.
Ask about other options.
Some people like multiple options and others like only two programs. It’s up to you.

Bundled pricing and programming.

When getting hearing aids you buy them in a bundled price which includes up to 5 years of programming and minor maintenance. Take advantage of this by going back as often as needed until you are happy with your hearing aids. You are the boss, go back until you are satisfied. Keep a list of noises you don’t like and share it with your hearing professional. He/she will be able to program the hearing aids better with specific information.

You should have 30-90 days to trial hearing aids, ask how long you have to trail the hearing aids. If you aren’t happy with them, try another brand. The different brands may ‘hear’ differently. You may have to pay for different ear molds but you should not have to pay for any portion of the hearing aid. Hearing aid brands seem to be an individual preference; while one person may love one particular brand another may not like them at all.

Hearing aids aren’t called ‘hearing miracles’ for a reason.

They will not replace the normal hearing you lost but they should make a difference. Hearing aids are only good in a 4 to 6 foot range, after that their effectiveness diminish. Though you will voices from other rooms, you still won’t be able to understand everything said. You won’t hear sermons at church or teachers from the back of the room, to work well you need to be within 4-6 feet or use an assistive listening device (ALD). Bad acoustics will also affect hearing aids in a negative way, hard surfaces cause reverberation which confuse hearing aids. Although hearing aids have improved a great deal, they can still be difficult in noisy settings. You may also have a hard time figuring out which direction voices and noise come from.

Assistive listening devices (ALDs) to bridge the distance gap.

People are happier with their hearing aids when paired with assistive listening devices. Many venues, classrooms and meeting places have ALDs available, look for the symbols below. If it has a T in the corner, it means a hearing loop is available and you will not have to pick up a device as long as you have a telecoil in your hearing aid.


Most devices come with headphones, however headphones over hearing aids might cause feedback and you may still hear too much surrounding noise. Ask for neckloop instead which is a wire that lays around the neck and plugs into the ALD or any audio source. Personal ALDs may help in cars and large gatherings as well.

All that said, hearing aids should improve your life. Some other things I might add to make your experience even better is…
Be upfront about your hearing loss. There’s no shame in hearing loss anymore than there is someone using a wheelchair. Most people are good and want to help, don’t let a few bad experiences shut you down.
Even with hearing aids you will need people to get your attention before they start talking, this will cut back on repeats.
Even with hearing aids, people will need to face you when talking. This gets the sound to come right at you and believe it or not, you are using some minor lipreading skills, especially if you’ve been losing your hearing awhile.
Number one is up to the hearing aid user, that is your responsibility. Numbers 2 and 3 are both people’s responsibility, the hearing person and the person with hearing loss. Communication goes both ways, if they don’t do their part how on earth will you ever be able to do your part? You will have to remind them often.

To those who have hearing aids already, what other advice would you offer?

Chelle Wyatt works for the Utah Division of Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing as a Hard of Hearing Specialist. She’s been a long time member of the SayWhatClub finding her tribe and gaining valuable experience with volunteer work through them.

Don’t be Afraid to Travel with Hearing Loss: How Communication can be Better Overseas

Photo by Agustín Diaz on Unsplash

I have traveled quite a bit over the course of my life. From family vacations – to mission trips – to several years working abroad in Indonesia and Ghana, I have tried to see as much of the globe as I can. I even met my husband in Ghana and got married there. Traveling is in my blood. But as someone with moderate hearing loss, travel can also pose some unique challenges. I always worry that I won’t hear my boarding call when waiting for my flight and end up in the wrong zone or miss my flight altogether (while I have gotten in the wrong group to board, I have yet to miss my flight). Here are some tips for traveling with hearing loss and some ways communication is actually easier overseas!

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask for Help

Gate agents are there to help you. If you worry that you won’t hear your boarding call, explain your situation to the agent. They can make sure you board on time and in your correct group. The same goes for train or boat travel. Even if you are in a non-English speaking country, most people who work in the tourism industry can speak English and are willing and able to help you. If you can’t find an agent, your fellow travelers are usually able to help. When I have traveled by train, there is always someone willing to tell me if I am at the correct stop. Generally, people are friendly and want to assist fellow travelers.

There are Usually Signs Everywhere

The airport always has signs directing you to your gate and letting you know your departure time and gate location. The same is usually true for train stations (but not always, especially in a developing country). But if you can’t find the signs to direct you where you need to go, there are always agents around that can help. Or you can usually find maps and directions in English inside the terminal.

Hand Signals: an Effective Form of Communication

When I lived in Indonesia, I walked everywhere. I would often get a bit lost as I was exploring and have to stop to ask directions from someone who didn’t speak English. I found if I said “Paris Van Java?”, the main mall in Bandung, the city I was in, they could always point me in the right direction. Even general conversations could be had mainly using hand signals. If ASL is your primary language, you can usually get away with writing down a few words and using gestures to explain yourself. On the plus side, many people in non-English speaking countries can write English better than they can speak it. And people are often more willing to have a written conversation overseas than they would in the U.S. Especially in Indonesia, I found there were a lot of people who jumped at the chance to practice their English, whether by writing or speaking. Teach them some signs and you may find a new friend who is willing to show you around and introduce you to new adventures.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask People to Repeat Themselves

I say “What?” a lot. I’ve found that if I am constantly asking someone to repeat themselves in the U.S., they tend to get annoyed. On the contrary, when I don’t understand someone overseas, they assume it’s because of their accent. They are usually more gracious to repeat themselves multiple times or say something in a different way so you can understand them. They also don’t tend to dismiss you by saying, “Never mind.”

If People Don’t Understand You, They Think it’s Because of Your Accent

Because I can’t hear certain soft speech sounds, I don’t always enunciate my words properly. Or I may not pronounce a word correctly. While some people are understanding, others are not. However, when I am abroad, people just assume it’s because of my accent. I would say ‘American accent’ but I’ve frequently been told that I don’t sound ‘American’. Most people tend to guess that I am German by the way I talk and by the way I look (my heritage is mainly German so that makes sense). But I have never had anyone ask me if I have hearing loss based on my accent (or on the fact that I can’t understand them).

Find the Local Deaf Advocacy Group or Visit A Deaf School

Different countries have different resources for people with hearing loss. If you are in Europe or another wealthy country, the local Deaf advocacy group may have different resources for you as a traveler or be able to recommend places to go and people you can connect to. If you are in a developing country, there are often very few opportunities and resources for those with hearing loss. Oftentimes isolated, a person with hearing loss has little communication with their society and denied educational or work opportunities. By visiting a school or group, you can provide encouragement and connection. And you can advocate for change by your example.

It may seem intimidating to travel when you have hearing loss. But you will usually find that people are willing to help and it is easier to communicate than you initially thought. Don’t be afraid to get out and explore!

About the Author

Jenny Beck is a chiropractor and advocate for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. She has had moderate hearing loss since a very young age. She is passionate about health, travel, writing and spending time with her family.


The People You Meet at Our Conventions: Liza Sylvestre

Our 2018 SayWhatClub (SWC) convention was held in St. Paul, MN last October and we had a variety of workshops  which our members. One such workshop was led by Liza Sylvestre, an artist who turns her hearing loss into art. She first caught the SayWhatClub’s attention with her video titled: _a_i_i_old you a__ory in a language I _an_ear which we posted to our main Facebook page. She tells a story, on video, sharing about how she hears a conversation with all the high-frequency sounds of speech missing. High-frequency hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss, which makes all conversations a constant puzzle of filling in the blanks. Liza lives in Minnesota where she has a grant from the Minnesota State Arts board to explore communication in the form of art.

We are thankful to Listen Technologies for sponsoring Liza’s workshop. Listen Tech has been an annual contributor to the SWC conventions since 2012 and continues to support the hearing loss community in a variety of ways, especially in continuing to advocate for quality assistive listening systems in venues. Listen Tech took an interest in Liza’s workshop because she makes communication barriers visual.


In one of her earlier exhibits titled, “Communication,” Liza had two audio/visual components and one real-time audio experience to share. In one part of the exhibit, Liza is on one screen having a conversation with another person on the wall opposite, the other person is blurred, and that half of the conversation is garbled.

At this exhibit, she also made space with a table to communicate with attendees called: the Equalizer Room. They would sit in a room with her — a room similar to a sound-proof booth for hearing tests — and wear headphones. The headphones were rigged to have a ‘hearing loss’ or a ‘normal hearing’ experience with the push of a button putting people on an ‘equal’ level of communication. She took note of reactions from the guests sitting across from her as they were bluffing during conversation or getting angry and upset. Hearing loss is not easy.

The third part of the exhibit was called “The Movement Centric Language”. Liza knows sign language but doesn’t have anyone in her life who uses it, most people in her life are hearing. So she created her own signs, titling some (without the sounds she can’t hear) and leaving others blank for people to think about. “I like this idea of revealing things but then also hiding them at the same time. Which, to me, is akin to what it’s like to be out in the world with a disability.”

What is language?

She takes her experiences and “turns them inside out” so people have a better idea of what hearing loss is like. Her goal is to, “Get people to ask what is language? What’s is the difference between written and spoken language?”

Liza showed us what watching a movie is like without captions for those who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Even if we are good at lip-reading, camera angles aren’t always ideal for it. Distance makes a difference, if it’s not full on closeup, we strain to see the lips. Are there mustaches? That too creates a barrier. If we’re lucky, we can catch words here and there with faulty hearing but as Liza shows, we can’t get much of the story. Click here to watch the movie, from the hearing loss side, titled “Captioned.” If you’re hearing, maybe turn the sound way down, if you’re hard of hearing you know exactly what it’s like.

“Standing in a Room Without Sound” is another video giving us a visual of what barriers are involved with hearing loss. Liza is reciting some of her own writing with most of her face blacked out, the only visual we have is a circle which travels around on her face; lips, eyes, nose. Over the years she’s learned that people are uncomfortable when she focuses on lips only so she moves her line of sight around on different parts of their face.

Liza talked about other exhibits she’s created using light, darkness, visual and obstacles in communication. She had people come up to her and tell her, “Let’s get you an ASL interpreter or captioner” which upsets her because that is NOT the point of her art. “The point of the project was to get at how the underlying design of things, which is included in how we communicate, fails so many people who have disabilities,” she explained. However, when people try to fix it, she takes it as a sign that they are uncomfortable and that her art is successful in that regard.

sensory loss

Over their summer, she worked some sensory loss scientists through the Center of Applied and Transitional Sensory Science out of the University of Minnesota. At the time of the SWC convention, they were in the midst of working on the upcoming Sensory Loss and Art Symposium. The people she worked with primarily study the loss of sight and hearing but also a few other sensory losses. They work on technology for us, such as a cochlear implant like device that will work with the brain stem instead of the cochlea. Only a few of these people had a sensory loss themselves so she wanted to build a bridge to help them understand these losses better. She set up a museum tour that included common obstacles to communication and those with other disabilities, then she made sure each group on the tour had someone with sensory loss.

That’s where this post will leave off because another SayWhatClub member was a part of that symposium and will share her experiences soon. We enjoyed Liza’s presentation and appreciate what she’s doing to make hearing loss better understood. Thanks again to Listen Tech for sponsoring this wonderful workshop. Stay tuned for another post.


about the author:

Chelle Wyatt started to lose her hearing at around 14 years old, a little at a time. When she was 18, tinnitus struck and she began wearing hearing aids at 23 years old. Her hearing loss has been progressive, with a few big drops over the years. She found support in the SayWhatClub in the late 90s after one such drop and learned to live better with her hearing loss. Another big drop in hearing sent her back to the SayWhatClub again in 2009. During that time she also found local support in Salt Lake City, UT, and started attending classes through the state Deaf and Hard of Hearing center where she began volunteering which led her to a part-time job at the center and then a full-time job as Hard of Hearing Specialist. She credits her volunteer work with the SayWhatClub in giving her the experience necessary in landing her full-time job with the state.