Assistive Listening Devices and What Have You

Hearing loss folks face a challenge like no other challenge. A distinct feature of humans among the living creatures universe is the ability to communicate by talking and listening.

We utilize talking and hearing for employment, social interaction, recreation, information, and so forth. Listening is one of the most vital and rewarding of all human endeavors. To lose our ability to hear forces us to face a challenge like none other.

And yet we do. One approach to overcoming the ability to hear normally is with the aid of technology. Such devices as hearing aids (HAs), assistive listening devices (ALDs), and signal alarm systems assist people with hearing loss.

Because the field of HAs, ALDs, and the like are so pertinent to SWCers, this section of the SWC Online Voices will feature the topic in each issue. (Editor)

ALD Column
By Curtis Dickinson November 2003©

Information about alerting devices to wake you up

Which is best for being awakened from a sound sleep during an emergency or just a regular wake-up alert: Vibrations, Incandescent Flashing lamps, Strobe (Photo-electric) lights, or sound?

It really depends on the individual. Some swear by vibrations. The more powerful vibrating devices are typically called bed shakers. The smaller ones are called pillow shakers—for the obvious reason. And then there are the wrist-shakers. Guess what that is called? A vibrating wristwatch. Smile. Some swear by a flashing lamp. This means a regular lamp bulb or incandescent bulb. Others say only a strobe will work. A strobe light produces a high degree of intensity. Also in the running for wake-up alerts are those that produce sound. Some of these types allow different settings for volume and tone. Of course, these are for the hard of hearing consumer—not those who are deaf. A good bed shaker vibrator will fit between the box spring and mattress and shake the bed. A flashing lamp can be seen through your eyelids and so can a strobe light. A strobe light is much brighter, almost like a burning bright white light, though no guarantee to be more effective when in a sound sleeps. Some say no amount of flashing light works for them; both types of light can be ineffective if your face is covered.

A good audible alerting device will have separate volume and audible controls. You won’t know which you prefer unless you try. Truth is, all will work the first few times after they are installed because the alert is new and you awaken through surprise, (as if it were an emergency alert). Therefore it can be assumed if the same alert wakens you every day, at the same time, it becomes less of an emergency, does it not? Then it becomes easy enough to ignore the signal. Lifestyles come into play here, too. If you pass out from a night of drinking, a screeching alarm may wake everyone in the neighborhood but you. Not a good way to start the morning, eh?

VIBRATION ALERT: There are some bed shakers (vibrators) that alert you by a continuous single-phase vibration. This means it produces a steady vibration until you either shut it off or it turns itself off. Another type of vibrator alerts you by emitting a pulse-style vibration. This is an on/off, on/off, and on/off type of alert. It releases a burst of vibration. Then stops, and then vibrates again. This, too, continues until it is shut off either by you or the alarm.

STROBE LIGHT ALERT: These are special lights producing a quick sharp white flash, such as in a flash camera, but it’s a continuous flash and much brighter than a lamp.

LAMP LIGHT ALERT: Basically you just plug the lamp of your choice into the device. The more expensive lamp flashing devices allow you to use the lamp in a normal fashion. This means that the lamp will flash when the alert is activated, regardless if the lamp is on or off. (As in using it for reading). The less expensive alerting devices will not allow this. In other words, if you turn on the lamp to read, and then forget to put it back into the flash position, it will not flash. If you purchase this type, be sure to tape the on/off switch or cover it some other way. This will act as insurance that the light will remain in the on/flash position and also act as a warning to visitors that it must not be changed.

AUDIBLE ALERT: These emit a sound that also can be of a constant type, or on/off, on/off, on/off. The better ones allow separate sound controls such as volume and tone. Some have quite a good range of effect. Others allow for a radio station to pop on. And some have the love-to-hate snooze. (Why do people use a snooze rather than set the alarm for the snooze time? That makes as much sense to me as setting a clock 10 minutes fast.)

COMBINATION ALERTS: These alerts offer sound, vibration and light flash to go off all at once to awaken you. I suppose this is good if you want to scare the pets or have the bodies in graves turning over!

MANUFACTURERS: The following are some of the manufacturers of these devices. Contact these people and they will inform you where to purchase their product:

WEBSITE Email for information:, PHONE: 800 874 3005

Silent Call:
WEBSITE Email for information:, PHONE/TTY 1 800 572 5227

Global Assistive Devices, Inc:
WEBSITE Email for information:, PHONE: 1 888 778 4237, FAX: 954 784 0047

Sonic Alert:
WEBSITE Email for information:, PHONE: 800 566 3210

Shake Awake clocks:
WEBSITE Email for information:

For information contactCurtis

Digital Aids
By Rick Ledbetter

I have to jump in here and add my two cents to the discussion about digital hearing aids.

I am a musician /composer with a computer based digital audio production studio and many years of experience in recording studios on both sides of the board. I have been a musician for 45 years. I know the science of sound and recording. I am familiar with computers and the workings of sound modification hardware and software-EQs, Compressors, Expanders, noise reducers, etc. I have been through the evolution of sound processors from tubes to software, and I know what they do and how they do it. I also wear digital hearing aids.

In my situation, I wound up programming my aids myself. I learned what everything did and how it all interacted. From doing this and my past experience as a music producer and musician, I was able to decipher the workings of my digital hearing aids. Just looking at the numbers doesn't insure that the right setting will be correct as I learned the hard way - what is on the screen does not reflect what actually happens in the aid. I turned all sound processing off, and, just like if I was adjusting the sound on a track, set the EQ one band at a time, and balanced the aids left and right until I was happy with the tone. Then I gingerly brought back in the processing until the aids sounded "natural" to me. That is, compressors pumping did not bother me and squashing the sound down until there was no dynamic level and certain sounds were not being over- boosted by expanders.

Since I have two channel aids, I was able to set one channel for music and one for voice- the music channel has no processing, and the speech channel has minimal processing and a bit more EQ boost in the vocal area with the lows rolled off. I will not recommend this to anyone who does not know how to adjust sound processors, and who does not have the patience to test each adjustment, but I will say this- it is possible for a person with the know how to dial in a setting that fits the individual's needs and requirements. Just be prepared for a very steep
learning curve. Oh yes, and a lot of industry BS.

There is still a lot of misunderstanding about digital aids - mostly confusion with digital amplification and digital audio processing. As to amplification quality wise, there isn't a heck of a lot of difference between digital and analog in hearing aids. The big advantage of digital aids lies in the digitally programmable processing and EQs. When most people say they really like digital aids, what they really mean is that they like the fact that the multi-band EQ has been adjusted for their type of hearing loss. Remember, the older analog aids had little more than a treble boost, roughly centered on the point of the most loss, but were unable to pin point the frequencies that define an individual's loss. What people complain about the most with digital aids are the compressors, noise reducers, and expanders being out of adjustment, which affects the overall tone. The makers basically take those three types of sound processors and add their own spin and label to them since they all work more or less the same. The programming determines how they work and the aid's chip determines how good the processor is.

Now we arrive at the big sticking point: setting up the EQ, and the processors so that will work together to try to reproduce normal hearing. At present, the factory has an approximation of what they think the aid should do to compensate for the wearer's loss - a generalized template. But, the makers are focused on reproducing speech, not on hi-fi sound reproduction, and here is the first big mistake. The second mistake is in assuming that the template will work for the wearer. In my case, I listen to a lot of music and I perform, so I need an EQ that was not so much geared towards boosting the 1K to 3K area, and had as little compression, noise reducers, and expanders as possible.

My audiologist didn't know what to do to adjust the aids for my situation, even though he tried his best. And, when I called the maker to talk to them about this, they refused to discuss it with me, and treated me like I was ignorant, since I didn't have a pedigree. This is the third mistake - the makers don't train the dispensers, and a lot of the dispensers don't want to know how to set up digital aids. Why? Simple economics - the quicker you get a patient in and out of the office, and the less time is spent fitting a patient, the more money the dispenser makes. Add to it that most dispensers don't even have a way of testing the setting in the office, and you have a recipe for a disaster. And, then to the fourth mistake - discounting the wearer's complaints by telling them to get used to it, or that they are difficult, or that is as good as the aid can get. This is simply unacceptable.

So, to bring together these two points of discussion: digital aids have an huge potential to be tailored to the HOH person's loss and individual listening requirements, far greater than an analog aid - not because of the method of amplification, but because of the ability to create and finely program multiple band EQs, and sound processors. However, this potential can be realized only if the aids makers take steps to fully train, support, and certify dispensers to adjust the aids. The dispensers must have in their office a means of reproducing a variety of realistic acoustical environments in order to test the settings. We as HOH people have to teach ourselves about digital aids and learn how to find a well trained dispenser, and how to say, "This is not right - fix it" when the aids are not adjusted to your liking.

Only until all of these shortcomings are remedied will the true potential of digital hearing aids be realized.


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