Hearing access specialists
Hearing access specialists

Illustration of a mobile phone with an app on it

Digital systems are undoubtedly the future, and glimpses of what is to come are already emerging. A hugely important step forward was taken in March 2014 when it was agreed that a new Bluetooth standard for hearing aids was to be developed to allow Bluetooth technology to send sound signals directly to hearing aids.

This means that before long, hearing aid users will have massively more scope to use smart phones, tablets and other devices to control the sound they hear as they move from one listening environment to another.

Digital assistive listening systems

These are beginning to appear in some theatres and lecture halls.  They are less costly to install and they can also be used to deliver audio description for those with visual impairment.

In 2017, the Seinhesser Mobile Connect Smartphone system was the forerunner.  It works as follows:

  •  Venue links the digital system to their existing audio system.
  •   User connects to the system via an App on a smartphone. The App can be downloaded in advance of going to the venue or the user can rely on the venue making available a smart device with the App already installed.
  •  The App picks up the digital signal and sends it direct to the hearing aids, assuming the user has Made for iPhone hearing aids. For the majority who do not have Made for iPhone hearing aids, there are two options:

a)  Connect to the App digital signal by using a neck loop, which is made available by the venue (hearing aid must be on T-setting, assuming user has a telecoil)

b)  Connect to the App digital signal by using a streamer/intermediary device that connects to the smartphone (e.g. Widex T-Dex; Phonak ComPilot). NOTE:  It is still to be confirmed that the App does not somehow prevent streamer coupling.

  •   Those who don’t use hearing aids can connect to the App by putting headphones into their smartphone.
  •   Apps offer users the scope to adjust volume and tone so the sound can be personalised to a degree.

Take care – you must have enough battery life on the smartphone to use this system.  Also note, there may be some latency in the sound due to the processing speed by the App and the smartphone/device i.e. speech may be slightly behind the lip-shape of the speaker.

This is a fairly new system so there isn’t yet much data available about user experience and satisfaction.

Hearing aids and Bluetooth

Some hearing aids can already receive Bluetooth signals. These are the so-called ‘made for iPhone’ hearing aids or the newer ‘Bluetooth-enabled’ hearing aids.

The vast majority of digital hearing aids, however, cannot yet receive a Bluetooth signal directly. Instead, the signal has to go into a small phone-sized receiver device (commonly known as a ‘streamer’) and then be ‘forwarded’ on to the hearing aids. The receiver has to be compatible with the hearing aids i.e. it has to be the right accessory for that particular make and model of hearing aid.

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Advice & training

Ideas for Ears provides advice and training to facility managers and customer care teams to assist them in assessing the needs of customers and service users.

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