Sunday, June 09, 2002

Alive and Well


New devices offer the gift of sound

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        Years ago, I figured out that sitting in the “best” seat at a meeting, dinner party or any other function where conversation might take place is the key to having a good time. Best, that is, in terms of sound, and sound as in being able to hear — or not hear — what others are saying.

        In a restaurant group of six, for example, the prime seat is one with your back to the greatest number of people in the room and centered as much as possible in your own group.

        By positioning yourself in such a way, you are surrounding your ears with the desirable sounds in this situation (the voices of your five companions) and placing the “undesirable” sounds (all of the other noise and conversation in the restaurant) behind you.

        Some 27 million Americans have hearing disabilities, and those numbers are increasing as baby boomers age. After spending a morning with Lois Gushin, an audiologist and coordinator of the assistive listening devices program at the Hearing Speech and Deaf Center of Greater Cincinnati, it occurs to me that many are struggling unnecessarily. If what you know of assistive listening devices is the oversized, whistling and ill-fitting hearing aid your grandmother used to wear, read on.

        Hearing aids themselves have come a long way — to custom-fitting, unobtrusive digital aids that can be altered with computer programs to fit individual hearing needs — but hearing aids are only part of the story. In the assistive device show room at the Cincinnati Hearing Speech and Deaf Center, an array of devices are available to boost sound in every imaginable situation from talking on the telephone to hearing the dialogue of your favorite television program to continuing the conversation with your spouse at a noisy fairground.
       

Hold the phone

        Many telephones now come equipped with volume controls, but phones especially designed for people with hearing impairments can boost the sound to a level that would be painful for a person with normal hearing.

        The Ameriphone CL40, for instance, ($150), looks like an ordinary cordless phone but has both volume and tone controls for better hearing.

        For individuals who need the sound of their own voices increased, Ultratech's Crystal Tone ($170), has a button for amplifying your own speech as well as amplification for incoming sound.

        In addition to a wide variety of phones with amplification, an in-line amplifier can be placed between the phone base and handset to amplify the sound on any telephone. Similarly, a ring amplifier (around $50) can be added to any phone to increase the volume of the telephone's ring.
       

Turn it up

        “You wouldn't believe how many marriages these devices have saved,” Ms. Gushin laughs, as we turn to the infrared devices for enhancing the volume of electronics.

        With the base unit plugged into the audio output of a TV, stereo, cable or satellite receiver, volume is controlled by the individual wearing a lightweight headset.

        Even with the TV volume turned all the way off, audio comes in loud (and louder) and clear through the headset, making it possible for one person to enjoy a television broadcast while a partner in the same room can read in silence. (Try the DirectEar Infrared Listening System, $229, or the aptly named Harc PeaceMaker, $130).
       

For all occasions

        For better listening in any one-on-one situation, personal devices such as the Williams Sound PockeTalker ($174), allow the user to aim the microphone of a tiny handheld gadget directly at the source and control the volume through an earphone or headset.

        The Hearing Helper ($650) is a more sophisticated personal FM system that can be used in a large classroom or conference setting, noisy fair ground or other public environment, delivering the sound directly to the ear of the listener even when the person speaking is 100 feet away.

        Alarm clocks that vibrate or flash to accompany a blaring tone or flashing lights to indicate the sounds of doorbells, baby cries or telephones are just a few other amazing tools available for those who have trouble hearing.

        Whether you're missing the funnier lines in your favorite sitcom or the mumbled “I love you” on the phone, chances are there's an assistive listening device that can put those pleasures back in your life.

        Consultations and a tour of the devices are available free by appointment at Hearing Speech and Deaf center's main location, 2825 Burnet Ave., 221-0527; 2085-A Front Wheel Drive in Batavia, 724-2022; or the Mason Health Center, 770 Reading Road in Mason, 398-3929.
        Contact Deborah Kendrick by phone: 673-4474; fax: 321-6430; e-mail: dkkendrick@earthlink.net.

       



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