HLAA Convention: Bluetooth and You – Part One

HLAA Convention: Bluetooth and You – Part One

This article is part of our coverage of the 2008 HLAA National Convention. We’ll eventually have full coverage posted at http://www.hearinglossweb.com/res/hlorg/shhh/cn/2008/2008.htm

This is part one of two parts.

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June 2008

This workshop was presented by Tina Childress of Advanced Bionics. It was so popular that the start of the workshop was delayed so more chairs could be brought in. Tina commented that the popularity is testimony to the fact that people with hearing loss really want to keep up with new technology and use it to maximize their ability to communicate.

Tina is an audiologist and a late-deafened person. She was an audiologist before becoming late-deafened. She is also a bilateral cochlear implant user.

She remarked that people probably already know that Bluetooth is everywhere. It’s a digital wireless protocol. It uses very low power, so has a much more limited range that Infrared (IR) or FM. One of the big advantages of Bluetooth over either IR or FM is that it’s digital. There are very good reasons that everything from hearing aids to television broadcasts are going digital, and that applies to wireless communication, as well.

She told a story about a recent airport experience. The battery of one of her cochlear implants needed to be replaced, so the signal light was flashing red. A woman walked up to me and said, “I have Bluetooth. Is that Redtooth?”

One interesting development is that so many devices are starting to look alike. Some Bluetooth headpieces look much like hearing aids, and vice versa. So those of us who use hearing devices are looking more and more like members of the general public.

There are several reasons that a person might want to use Bluetooth, including:
– Low noise
– Secure communication
– Wireless
– Relatively inexpensive if you are able to use over-the-counter devices
– Easy to use
– Improved hearing in noise (because sound arrives directly to your ear or hearing device)
– Supports hands free cell phone operation, which is being required while driving in many states

Some Bluetooth devices have important benefits for people with hearing loss. Some Bluetooth receivers incorporate amplifiers that allow the user to adjust the volume. Some of these have earmolds to facilitate direct insertion into the ear, and others can be used in conjunction with hearing aids. Another good device for people with hearing loss is a pair of Bluetooth wireless headphones. Some manufacturers of audiology equipment are even looking at those for use in the testing booth.

There are many mainstream applications for Bluetooth, but Tina said she was going to focus on those that are most applicable to this audience: cell phones and listening to personal audio devices. Other common applications include listening to television, your computer, and even GPS navigation systems.

There are several ways to access Bluetooth audio, and we’ll discuss each of them here.

One way is to access the audio stream acoustically, which means using the microphone on your hearing aid or cochlear implant. One way of doing this is to use a Bluetooth headset to receive the wireless signal and stimulate the microphone of your hearing aid or cochlear implant from the headset speaker. This is a very inexpensive method, because it requires only a standard Bluetooth headset. Another method of accessing Bluetooth acoustically is using Bluetooth headphones. If the headphones have a built-in microphone, they can be used as a hands-free device with a Bluetooth-compatible phone. A third acoustic access method is the use of a Bluetooth speaker, which you may have seen hung on the visor of someone’s car.

A second way to access Bluetooth audio is using the telecoil in your hearing aid or cochlear implant. One way to do this is to use a neckloop attached to a Bluetooth receiver. If you are binaural or bimodal (cochlear implant in one ear and hearing aid in the other), you can use both hearing devices with this method. A similar method is to use induction earhooks, which resemble the HATIS devices with which people may be more familiar.

A third access method is direct coupling. With this method, you would attach a cable to your Bluetooth receiver, and plug the other end into the DAI input of your hearing aid or cochlear implant. You can get receivers that allow you to plug into the DAI inputs of two devices simultaneously.

An interesting variation on these access methods is to use a Bluetooth-compatible FM transmitter such as Phonak SmartLink. In this case, the transmitter would receive the Bluetooth signal, and would transmit over FM to the receiver. From there, any of the standard techniques that are used to get the signal to your device from an FM receiver could be used. This method is great for people who already have the Smartlink or a similar system, because they don’t need to purchase anything else to access Bluetooth devices.

Here’s Part Two

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