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Washington State News for Hard of Hearing People

The official newsletter for Puget Sound District Umbrella of Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH)

Volume 6, Issue 1
Fall 1998

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SHHH and You

The digital age has arrived. Yet, unless products become hearing aid compatible, most of us with a hearing loss will be left behind.

National SHHH has been at the forefront in watching out for our needs. National SHHH leadership is dealing with, not only Congress, but also with Federal Agencies to ensure we will not be left out. But they cannot do it alone. They need our backing and our help.

Most agencies are more interested in the number of SHHH members than how many people have a hearing loss. Your membership in National SHHH gives it numerical clout to influence these agencies.

In this issue we are covering cellular telephones. At the present time the manufacturers are making little progress in making their digital phones accessible to us. Yet this appears to be the communication of the future.

Will you do your part? Will you become a member of National today? Together, we can make things happen.

SHHH National Membership dues are $25 per year for individuals, $30 for two people at the same address, and $35 for families.

Make checks payable to SHHH National and send to:

SHHH Membership Desk

7910 Woodmont Ave. #1200

Bethesda, MD 20814

If you prefer, you can send your National membership request to the Umbrella (see address on page 8) and we will forward it to National for you.

Please do your part in making hearing loss an issue of national concern. Join National SHHH today. Together, we can improve the lives of hard of hearing people. You will be glad you did.

Coordinator's Comments

by Gordon L. Nystedt

 

During the past year I have visited many retirement and senior centers. It is very disheartening to see so many that do not automatically use amplification in their meeting rooms. When we consider that hearing loss affects approximately one out of every four over the age of 65 and one out of every two over the age of 85, we have to wonder, "why not?"

Many of our seniors either do not know, or prefer to ignore, their hearing loss. Few wear hearing aids. To compound the problem, many of our seniors have very soft voices and may be difficult to hear in conversations, even with normal hearing.

Every retirement and senior center should have a good quality portable amplification system. If a center has a portable amplification system, it is usually a very cheap system used to call bingo numbers. The sound quality is usually not too good.

Many centers tell me they don't need amplification because they talk loud enough. When we raise our voices we distort our mouth movements, making it more difficult to speech read.

If you live in a retirement home or visit a senior center, please let them know that you need amplification to hear well. When you help us educate the staff, you are performing a function that will help many of the others who come, but are too shy to admit to a problem.

I was at one senior center where an employee told me that she just became aware of an excellent amplification system she found in one of their storage rooms. It was not used because people had not requested amplification.

Cellular Pursuit

By Penny Allen, Assistant State SHHH Coordinator

How many times have you wanted to make a phone call from your car when you had an emergency or were stuck in traffic? How many times have you stopped someplace to use a phone and couldn't find one that was amplified? Have you ever been delayed at a friend's house or at a place of business and wanted to call home but couldn't because the phone wasn't hearing aid compatible? When all of these things were routinely happening to me (no, I didn't decide to stay home), I decided that I needed a cell phone. Much to my dismay, I couldn't find any that were hearing aid compatible. Then, at the SHHH Regional Conference in Portland two years ago, I tested and bought an Audex cell phone. It has saved me untold anguish in many situations and gives me peace of mind every time I get into my car or leave home.

My husband and I recently returned from the 1998 SHHH National Convention in Boston, where I tested various phones and he attended workshops focusing on wireless communications. Our research did not, thankfully, end when the convention ended. Since the manufacturers' reps at the convention seemed to know all about telecoils and hearing aid compatibility, and since I hadn't done much research on phones for the past two years, I was led to believe that things had changed. The good news is that cell phones are accessible to virtually every hard-of-hearing person and hearing aid user. The bad news is that trying to buy an accessible cellular phone today is still like buying a pig in a poke.

In a nutshell: there are digital phones and there are analog phones. A few of the analog phones are hearing aid compatible; virtually none

digital phones are hearing aid compatible. What digital technology gives us over analog is the ability to access e-mail, voice mail, or use a pager with a phone (and some other very technical stuff). Digital technology is the latest and greatest thing, but has some bugs to work out. The biggest problem, speaking from a hard of hearing person's point of view, is the interference with hearing aids--or a loud buzzing. Testing a phone, in my opinion, is the only way you're going to know if the phone will work for you.

Currently, in order to use some digital phones with hearing aids, there are three options of which I am aware. One is the notorious HATIS, an inconvenient gadget which is compatible only with T-coil-equipped hearing aids. It's basically an ear piece (or silhouette) which loops over the back of the ear, magnetically coupling directly with the aid. The silhouette is connected to a wire, which plugs into the cell phone. The second option is usually referred to as a "hands free accessory". It's a nice way of saying they want to truss you up like a chicken—you wear a length of wire with a microphone and hang an ear hook over your ear. The third option is a neckloop/microphone assembly. Oh! I forgot to mention that with all of these things, you have to keep the phone at arm's length from your ear to prevent buzzing! Come on now! Does this sound easy to do? For this particular reason I am not recommending any digital phones. But if you really gotta have a digital phone with all the bells and whistles (which admittedly, I'd like to have), and you're willing to use any of these gadgets to get one to work, then go for it. I personally consider these accessories a burden, and they defeat the spontaneity of a cell phone.

I have a severe hearing loss and wear Phonak BTE hearing aids, which have a strong T-coil. There were only three cellular phones at the convention which I could use with my hearing aids (and none without my hearing aids), so my recommendations are limited to what I tested. One is a nice small phone by Ericsson (Model #AF778), that felt good in my hand. It has a built-in vibrator/ring option. Another phone is the Motorola MicroTac/Lite XL, which I believe also has an built-in ringer/vibrator option. I really liked the flip-phone feature, as a lid flips up to protect the keypads and is small enough to clip on a belt. The third is the Audex phone (Panasonic EB-H63), which is similar to the one I own, but a bit more compact. My phone has a separate vibrator for incoming calls (like a pager), and I believe this newer model does too.

My biggest frustration after I got all psyched up about the cell phones I tested at the convention was trying to locate them. According to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, companies in the business of making phones have to make a phone (one only) accessible to hearing impaired people. I now have a better understanding of the word "accessible." It simply means they have to produce a phone that can be used with hearing aids...it doesn't mean we have to be able to find it. Of the three "accessible" phones I tested at the convention, I already knew I wasn't going to find an Audex at a retail store, as they're available only through designated Audiologists, hearing aid dispensers, hearing health clinics, and from Audex headquarters. That left two phones, neither of which were in stock at any of the seven stores we visited. Those nice people in the exhibit hall at the convention forgot to pass the word downline. The sales people I talked to at five stores had no idea about hearing aid compatibility and cellular phones or the inability to access digital phones because of interference. I usually got a lot of bewildered looks. I visited Fred Meyer, Office Depot, Circuit City, Car Toys, and Radio Shack. The clerk at Radio Shack at least understood that hearing aids and digital phones don't mix, but he also told me that none of their cell phones are hearing aid compatible. Costco no longer carries cellular phones.

We found two places in our area, Magnolia HiFi and the AT&T Service Center, both in Silverdale, which encouraged and allowed testing of their cellular phones. In addition, both of these places had knowledgeable personnel who understood the equipment they were selling, as well as the needs of hard of hearing people. However, neither store carried on their shelves the phones I found acceptable at the convention. AT&T does have the Motorola MicroTac/Lite XL in their inventory, so it can be ordered. Magnolia HiFi (our local store) does not carry either phone. However, they carry Ericsson Model # AH600, which is a hearing aid compatible analog phone (I did not test this one). They said they can special order the Motorola MicroTac/Lite XL, but will not be able to refund your money if it doesn't work for you!

Once you get a cellular phone, you have to find a carrier. We made phone calls to, or visited, the cellular service providers in our area and came up with the following information: GTE Wireless has several service centers at which to test phones, but they deal strictly with GTE dual mode digital phones (they switch to analog when digital doesn't work). AirTouch Cellular offers analog and digital service; they say that they carry one hearing aid compatible cell phone, which can be obtained for a reduced cost or for free (depending on the pricing plan you choose) at several retail stores. However, two of the retail stores (Sears and Radio Shack) who promote AirTouch Cellular, contradicted the "hearing aid compatible" information. AT&T (as mentioned above) has service centers throughout the state and offers both analog and digital service. Sprint PCS is a new provider in Washington, offers digital only service, and serves only the I-5 corridor at present.

I have an Audex cellular phone (which I love), and I like the company and the personnel--they do a lot of work for hard of hearing people. As wonderful as Audex is, their phones are not readily available, and most people know about the company only by word of mouth. Presently, Audex

distributes their phones through only two places in Western Washington. One is Audiologists Northwest in Bremerton (1-800-770-1605) and the other is Beltone of Southwest Washington in Longview (I don't have their number). The Hearing, Speech & Deafness Center in Seattle used to distribute them, but unfortunately no longer does.

One of the features of this phone is that it has an auxiliary jack for a cochlear implant patch cord. To my knowledge no other cellular phone has this feature. The Audex cell phone is free to anyone with a hearing loss (just this one particular model)--regardless of your income, but you have to sign a year's contract with a service provider that contracts with Audex (like AT&T in our area or U.S. Cellular in Southwest Washington). In our case, we pay a monthly service fee of $29.99 (no activation fee, 30 free minutes of airtime and 30 more free minutes of airtime for having a Costco membership).

You won't receive the phone overnight, but if you're willing to wait and fill out some paperwork, you can get a free phone (you'll have to pay shipping charges of anywhere from $12-$25). It's best to call Audex directly to find out who the service provider is in your area or to find out where to obtain one if you live in another area or out of state (1-800-237-0716; ask for Vicki or Sherri). I believe that the paperwork can be done by mail or phone.

CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association). CTIA is the international trade organization that represents the wireless telecommunications industry. Its members include service providers, equipment manufacturers and other companies and organizations involved in the industry. It has an excellent web site

(www.wow.com/com.consumer) which includes a current list of hearing aid compatible cell phones. But it paints a rosier picture than reality.

Although the industry has been rapidly moving towards all-digital wireless transmission, there are still major technical obstacles. Because analog phones and transmission systems are in place and operating satisfactorily, we can expect to see analog technology remain available for at least three to five more years. Concerning the use of cellular phones by persons with pacemakers, the current FDA advisory states that based on preliminary findings, cellular phones do not seem to pose a significant health problem for pacemaker wearers, but that they may want to take some simple precautions.

Accessibility to cellular phones has long been a major focus for SHHH, and I cannot go into any detail here because of space constraints. (The SHHH Website has an excellent article by Donna Sorkin, Executive Director, about access provisions in the Telecommunications Act of 1996). While minimally satisfying its legal obligations, the industry, as a whole, is prospering at record levels on sales of inaccessible products and is grossly underserving the millions of people with hearing loss. After having searched, researched, tested, digested, studied, listened, discussed, investigated, and participated in the cellular telephone industry as a customer, I am left with one overriding feeling—disenchantment.

Teen Conference Coming in October

By Marjie Fields,

Oregon Teen Conference coordinator

It's not too soon to start planning for the next teen conference for hard-of-hearing teenagers. It will be at Lewis and Clark College on October 23rd and 24th. This year we plan to have the conference on Friday afternoon and evening and Saturday morning to accommodate those who have to travel long distances. Friday we tentatively plan to have fun, social activities. The teens who have attended the last conferences have requested more interactive events. They want to get to know other teens who also have experience with the challenges of daily life with a hearing loss.

On Saturday we are tentatively planning exhibits and question/answer time for both the parents and the teens. Our focus will be on transition planning in high school and after high school (college, jobs, and careers), ADA (American Disabilities Act), assistive devices and coping with a hearing loss. We know that parents have many questions and, we hope this session will broaden everyone's knowledge base.

In addition, we have asked Lewis and Clark College if they will have any dorm rooms available for teens who have had to travel far distances. We will probably not have that answer until the registration form goes out next fall. If there are teens and/or parents of hard of hearing teens who would be willing to house one or two students from Oregon or Washington Friday night, please contact Marjie Fields.

If there are teens, parents or teachers who would like to volunteer for any part of the conference, please contact Marjie Fields at 3706 NE Thompson, Portland, Oregon 97212. Voice mail number is 503-916-3400 ext. 8007. E-mail address is jfields@aol.com

Please set aside this time in October to renew old friendships and meet some new friends!

[Editor notes: Marjie is in Idaho for the summer. Another contact is Janet Nelson. Her e-mail address is:

Janet.nelson@esd112.k12.wa.us

Or you can contact the SHHH Umbrella. See page 8.

Cost for the convention is $25, which includes meals. If you or your company would like to sponsor a meal or donate a prize, please let us know and we will inform the committee.

If you know of any hard-of-hearing teens please inform them of this event. It gives them a chance to socialize with other kids with hearing loss.]

My First Hearing Aid. Will I use it?

By Doug Gray, Seattle

I've been a member of SHHH for over 15 years, and just now am getting my first hearing aid! As a supportive spouse, I have participated in SHHH with my hard-of-hearing spouse, Beth, all of that time, but did not begin to lose hearing in my left ear until five years ago. Since the hearing in my right ear was virtually normal, when my hearing was checked four years ago, it was the consensus of my otolaryngologist, audiologist, and myself that a hearing aid was not justified at that time. But the latest tests, including an MRI (to play safe) indicated that a hearing aid in my bad left ear would substantially help my overall hearing, and perhaps give me back my ability to tell direction of sounds.

This is old hat to most of you, but to some who may have experienced initial hearing loss late in life, it may be an encouragement. I have divided this piece into two parts: Part A deals with my expectations just before fitting of the aid, and Part B will be my observations after fitting with the hearing aid. There will be no editing of Part A after-the fact. Let's see what happens.

Part A – Are my expectations too high? I have heard so many stories about people who bought expensive digital aids, then after a few days relegated them to a dark corner of a bureau drawer. I did not want to be one of those. I told my audiologist that if a "Ford" could do the job, I did not want to buy a "Cadillac". We settled on a state of the art programmable analog type of BTE, which should be adequate for the job, but would not cost an arm and a leg. My expectation is that I will be able to use a non-amplified phone with my left ear, and be comfortable, and that I will be able to tell directions again. My chief concern, since I am a lover of classical music, is that turning up the aid to the same level as my normal right ear will add a ‘tinny" quality to the music I listen to on the radio. (In which case I would use the aid mostly for speech.) I am also worried about how I will adjust to the discomfort of the ear mold.

It took some weeks longer than expected for the hearing aid to be shipped from Germany. Perhaps they shipped it by sea, and were waiting for the container to get filled up with more hearing aids! In the meantime, my tinnitus flared up and at times has been the worst ever. I hope that amplifying the sound in my left ear will help to mask the tinnitus when I am wearing the hearing aid. Speaking of tinnitus, I had a bout with same in my right ear, after having the MRI. It lasted for several days, and even though I wore earplugs, the tinnitus duplicated the same exact sound and frequency as beats from the MRI machine. (Sort of like being in a tin-roofed shed during a Texas hailstorm!) If you don't have a hearing problem before you have the MRI, you might have one after!

OK, so that completes Part A. Now lets see what I have to say in Part B, after the thing is "installed" and programmed.

Part B – No my expectations were too low… After Eileen Freed, at the Highline Speech and Hearing Center, had fitted the aid, a Siemen's Infiniti TM3S2 BTE to my left ear, and programmed it etc., Beth and I walked across Ambaum Blvd to Huckleberry Square for lunch. Both were good tests – heavy traffic and the noisiest restaurant in Burien! This will take some getting used to! I pressed the noise button on the top of the aid in both places!

My concerns about the comfort of the ear mold, and sound distortion were both unfounded. In the restaurant I was more aware of the sound of my teeth crunching a tossed salad than of the crowd noise. The hearing aid does help mask out the noise of my tinnitus.

Driving home, I noted that the turn signals and the air conditioner seemed a bit noisier, but road noise was no problem. Household noises seemed a bit sharper, but no problems with radio or TV. I used the T switch on both an incoming and an outgoing call. So far so good. Another big test would be on our trip to Texas. What will jet noise at 30,000 feet sound like now? And a roomful of Texans chattering away can wake the dead! At it turned out, no problems.

I really do feel that I needed this hearing aid more than I realized before I got it, and this one is both comfortable to wear and of high quality.

Assistive Devices and Listening Systems

[Information obtained from Let's Talk published by American Speech-Language-Hearing Association]

It is estimated that 28 million people have hearing loss. Although some of these people wear hearing aids, sometimes hearing aid use alone is not enough. Difficulty may be experienced while dining in restaurants, attending business meetings, or talking on the telephone. At other times – for example, while sleeping – hearing aid use is not practical. Help is available with assistive devices and listening systems. This equipment, in addition to hearing aids, is designed to improve the communication of people with hearing impairment.

Types of Devices

Alerting devices and systems signal the presence of sounds such as a crying baby, a fire alarm, or an alarm clock by using a flashing light, loud sound, or vibration. Ordinary table lamps may flash in response to a sound, such as a knock on the door or the ring of a telephone. The ring of an alarm clock may be amplified so that it can be heard. Vibrations can be received by a device that is worn on the wrist or placed under a pillow or mattress. Such a device is often used with alarm clocks.

Telephone aids include a variety of devices that can help telephone communication. Amplifiers are available built into a handset or may be portable and easily transferred from telephone to telephone. The amplification feature can b

receiver is returned to the cradle, enabling those with normal hearing to use the same telephone. In-line amplifiers plug into the side of the phone without replacing the existing receiver handset. Portable adapters generate a magnetic field that is picked up by the hearing aid if the aid has a telecoil or T-switch. Devices are also available to amplify the ring of the telephone or give a different ring that is easier to hear.

[Editor notes: People on low income can obtain an excellent amplified telephone from the state of Washington at no cost. Contact the Umbrella –see page 8 – for details.]

Personal Listening Systems are designed to carry sound from the speaker (or other source, directly to the listener and to minimize or eliminate environmental noises. Personal amplifiers are useful in one-to-one conversations. These amplifiers are clipped onto a belt or waistband or tucked into a pocket. Headphones deliver the signal to the ear.

Other systems enhance listening in rooms, movie theaters, lecture halls, and other large group facilities:

Audio loop systems consist of a microphone, an amplifier, and a length of wire that encircles a seating area. The electric current flowing through the loop creates a magnetic field that can be picked up by a hearing aid set on the T-switch.

AM systems allow users to listen to sound transmitted on an AM radio wavelength through individual AM receiver handsets or through a personal portable radio.

FM systems transmit signals on an FM frequency. Signals are directed to a headphone receiver or to a loop worn around the listener's neck. The loop connects either to an individually worn FM receiver and is picked up by the T-switch or a special boot attachment on the hearing aid.

Infrared systems consist of an infrared light emitter that is plugged into a public address system. Infrared light rays send the sound to portable infrared receivers that convert the signal back into an auditory signal. Receivers are available in stethoscope or headphone form.

Gordon L Nystedt

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