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Bluetooth Technology and People who are Hard of Hearing

  • Published: 2012-05-15 (Rev. 2014-06-28) - Contact: Wendy Taormina-Weiss at Disabled World
  • Synopsis: The opportunity to work with bluetooth technology is something people who are hard of hearing now have the opportunity to pursue.

Definition: Defining the Meaning of Bluetooth

A proprietary open wireless technology standard for exchanging data over short distances (using short-wavelength radio transmissions in the ISM band from 2400-2480 MHz) from fixed and mobile devices, creating personal area networks (PANs) Bluetooth networking standard works at two levels: 1 - It provides agreement at the physical level - Bluetooth is a radio-frequency standard. 2 - It provides agreement at the protocol level, where products have to agree on when bits are sent, how many will be sent at a time, and how the parties in a conversation can be sure that the message received is the same as the message sent.

Main Document

"A person's controller works to convert and transmit audio signals from a bluetooth-compatible device to their hearing aids."

Like many of the people in America, my husband is beginning the journey along the path of using these forms of technology. First obtaining the equipment, and then setting it up and using them, is becoming a lesson in patience and surprise.

The Oticon Agil hearing aids Tom received through the Veterans Administration (VA) came with well...a glitch. While they are able to use bluetooth technology, they would suddenly stop working for no apparent reason; they are currently being repaired through the VA. What this means is a 3 week wait until they are mailed back to him. In the meantime; however, he has received the Oticon Streamer, TV adapter, and the microphone for me to wear from the VA.

Another item Tom has obtained is a Mac Mini computer, something else that uses bluetooth technology. When his hearing aids come back from the VA, it is going to be quite the lesson in connecting these various devices. It will also mean that he can hear sounds much more clearly, have the ability to enjoy music again, and hear the sounds his computer makes for example.

The phone he has is M3 T3 capable, so he will be able to change the ring tones to ones that are not well; let's just say that while the Beastie Boys are perhaps enjoyable - they are loud (No Sleep Till Brooklyn). He wants to change his ringtone back to Vivaldi's, 'Four Seasons.' When his phone rings I certainly know it.

The two things that interfere with his hearing most are white noise and tinnitus. Things like fans, air conditioners, traffic sounds, and blowing wind all interfere with his ability to hear voices or other things he wants to hear. Even from four feet away, things like my voice or the television are difficult for him to hear.

So what is bluetooth technology

Hearing aids that are bluetooth enabled use wireless technology in a couple of ways. It allows for communication between two hearing aids to start with. Another way it works with hearing aids is by giving people the opportunity to connect devices that are bluetooth enabled. The technology has been used in consumer electronics for a number of years, although it has only been available as an option with hearing aids for a little while. The majority of companies that make hearing aids today now have products that are bluetooth enabled and are designed to improve the performance of hearing aids, or to accommodate the listening needs of people.

Applications of bluetooth technology in hearing aids often use some kind of external controller or device. The devices are usually worn around a person's neck, or might be put into a pocket, acting as a link between the person's hearing aids and the device. The device transmits wirelessly to the person's hearing aids through the controller using a proprietary procedure. The controller then uses bluetooth technology to send and receive signals from the device the person wants to connect to - like a cell phone for example. The controller is essentially a junction between the person's hearing aids and the device they are connecting to.

When someone connects to a device that does not need two-way communication, it's only necessary to receive a transmission from the device; not send one back. This is referred to as, 'streaming,' and is done with devices like a TV. With two-way communications, the controller has a built-in microphone that let's a person transmit speech back to a device, like a cell phone. The controller converts the signal into a bluetooth one and then sends it to the device.

A person's hearing aids have to be programmed to link up with their controller, and the controller has to be paired with the device they want to use. Fortunately, a person only has to pair their hearing aids to their controller once. Unfortunately, a person has to pair their controller to each of the bluetooth devices they want to use.

An example of how a person might use a cell phone might go like this...

A person's cell phone rings, and it also rings inside their hearing aids. The person pushes an assigned button on their controller to answer the phone, and has the ability to talk hands-free! To end the call, all they have to do is push the same assigned button again; slick.

To call out, the person pushes the same assigned button on their controller. If they have voice activated phone numbers, they can speak in the name of the person in their call list. If they don't, they can dial the phone number. When they finish the phone call, all they have to do is push the assigned button on their controller to hang up.

A person's controller works to convert and transmit audio signals from a bluetooth-compatible device to their hearing aids. The most common use of these technologies is to connect a cell phone to a person's hearing aids, but any device that is bluetooth-compatible is capable of being connected to a bluetooth-enabled hearing aid. In other words, people can connect things like a TV, a computer, a GPS device, an MP3 player, or even some car sound systems.

Not everyone will easily adjust to the use of bluetooth-enabled devices; something that requires manipulating a controller, or changing programs. It doesn't mean that wireless technologies shouldn't be considered - the advantages are plain. Even if a person does not need these types of technologies at the moment, there might be a need for them in the person's future; particularly as these technologies evolve. Bluetooth technologies have immense potential to enhance a person's ability to hear.



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