Personal Amplifiers: A Good Alternative To Hearing Aids

Are you having trouble hearing nearby conversation? Maybe your family is telling you the TV volume needs to be turned down. Or maybe you’ve moved to the front row of your worship service because you seem to be missing a few words here and there when you sit in the back.

You think you’re not quite ready for a hearing aid, but you dislike straining to hear the important messages that are being spoken all around you. In this case, you may want to consider using a personal amplifier. But before making that decision, it’s important to understand the differences between a personal amplifier and a hearing aid.

Hearing Aids

Hearing aids are classified as medical equipment. This means they can’t be purchased over the counter, or without a prescription. To get a prescription for a hearing aid, you must go through a hearing test, called an audiogram.

Hearing aids are fitted on or in your ear. They are specifically designed for people with hearing loss, and their manufacturing process is regulated by the FDA.

There are different types of hearing loss that range from mild to severe and that affect the detection of different frequencies. Hearing aids can be programmed for the user’s specific type of hearing loss, based on the results of their audiogram. Because a hearing aid is so specialized, the price is significantly more.

Personal Amplifiers

Personal amplifiers are sold over the counter. They are not classified as medical equipment, and are officially marketed to “hearing” users that just need a volume boost. No prescription or test is necessary to purchase a personal amplifier and since they are not regulated by the FDA, the quality can vary. A $10 personal amplifier purchased from your local drug store will not perform as well as a high-end amplifier purchased from a medical supply company.

Since personal amplifiers are ready to use straight out of the box, there is no fitting procedure. The amplifiers have a design that is appropriate for universal use by most adults. This is why personal sound amplifiers are not made to stay inside of your ear all day. In fact, most amplifiers have an over-the-ear design or make use of features such as handsets, earphones, or earbuds.  

Personal amplifiers are not programmed for the user’s specific type of hearing loss. However, a good quality personal amplifier will come pre-programmed from the manufacturer to block out environmental sounds, such as background noise at a restaurant. Inexpensive amplifiers don’t do this.

Which One Works Better?

You might assume that hearing aids always work better since they are more customized and they are regulated by the FDA. However, Chase Smith, Laura Ann Wilber, PhD, and Kim Cavitt, AuD published a research article in the July 2016 edition of Hearing Review that seemed to show that assumption is not always true.

The results of their research were that some high-end personal amplifiers had the ability to outperform low-end hearing aids. Specifically, “Some devices, like the MD Hearing Aid Pro, are subjected to full FDA regulations and are classified as a hearing aid, yet they are outperformed by a high-end PSAP. While FDA regulation is intended to ensure device quality and patient safety, that effect is not entirely evident in the results of this study.”

They also concluded, “High-end PSAPs provided appropriate levels of amplification and directional benefit for users with high-frequency hearing losses ranging from mild to moderate in severity.”

Personal Amplifiers: A Good Alternative

Based on this information, it is safe to say that for people with mild to moderate hearing loss, personal amplifiers might be a good alternative to hearing aids. And high-quality personal amplifiers will work much better than cheap ones purchased over-the-counter at your local drug store.

If you are not ready to commit to the time and expense associated with getting fitted for a hearing aid, or you don’t feel you need to have your hearing amplified in every situation, there are a variety of personal amplifiers available to choose from.

Are you looking for a device to help you understand nearby conversation? If so, the WEAR Personal Amplifier is a good choice. The WEAR uses ten directional microphones to pick up sounds less than six feet away. It doesn’t pick up on background noise. The WEAR uses earbuds to deliver the sound, and clips onto the user’s clothing with a magnet.

The HAHA Communicator works like a phone handset, and is able to increase gain up to 45 dB. The user holds it to their ear, like a traditional phone, and the mic that is in the handset picks up the sounds around it. The charger base includes a sterilizer so that each listener can be assured they are using a clean device. The HAHA can be purchased by someone who needs assistance hearing, or it can be purchased by a business or individual who communicates with the public and wants to make themselves more accessible to their customers with hearing loss.

The Super Ear Plus picks up sound over 100 yards away and amplifies it over 50 dB. It uses both earbuds and walkman-style headsets. The Super Ear Plus has a high sensitivity, hand held microphone that can be swiveled and pointed in any direction to better focus in on the person you want to hear. Some places of worship or school lecture halls make amplifiers like the Super Ear Plus available to attendants. Owning your own Super Ear Plus would mean not having to worry if the venue you are at is prepared to offer these accommodations.

And finally, if earbuds and headphones aren’t your thing, you might want to try the Stealth Amplifier. The Stealth Amplifier is designed to be as inconspicuous as possible. This amplifier is designed to look like a cell phone ear piece. Although you don’t get the custom fit of a hearing aid, the Stealth comes with three different rubber ear tips so that you can create your own optimal fit. The Stealth also amplifies up to 50dB.

These personal amplifiers are all the type of good quality amplifier that the study concluded should provide appropriate amplification to users with mild to moderate hearing loss.

In a future posting, we will discuss Personal FM Systems and Group FM Systems. These systems both use separate transmitters and receivers. Personal FM systems are great for small groups or classrooms, when a specific user wants to better hear the teacher or speaker. Group FM systems are great to broadcast a speaker’s voice to multiple people in the congregation or classroom.

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Assistive Technology In School: Top Three Uses

Assistive Technology for the visually impaired isn’t just necessary for reading assignments. Assistive technology can be used throughout the school day to make most classes more accessible. You may be surprised at the variety of devices available, and for what subjects they can be used. Adapting reading assignments is one of the top uses of technology, but you can also find uses for math and writing.

Assistive Technology For Reading

Enlarged text is a good choice for people who have low vision. Sometimes acquiring large text is as easy as ordering the “large print” edition of a book or textbook. When that’s not an option, pages can be enlarged on a copying machine, or printouts can be adjusted through your computer’s word processing program. Enlarged text can be used efficiently up to about 24 point. After that, other magnification options should be explored.

Magnifiers are another thing to try. When you don’t have time to enlarge the text ahead of time, hand magnifiers are a quick way of making print bigger. Some magnifiers magnify sections of the page, while others magnify the full page.

Finding books written in braille is a modification for those who are blind. The National Library Service provides free braille books and will deliver them postage-free. If necessary, instruction sheets, class notes, and other customized information texts can be created on a Brailler. Bookshare, a Global Literacy initiative of the nonprofit technology company, Benetech, has the largest collection of accessible titles. Bookshare books can be read in a variety of different ways, and membership is free to United States students and schools. Other organizations can receive books for a minimal fee.

Audiobooks are also an option for many text books and classic literature. Audiobook delivery is another free program offered by the National Library Service. Audiobooks can be delivered in hard copy format or instantly downloaded. Audiobooks can be played on devices such as the Plextalk Digital Talking Book Player, which accepts books on CD as well as other digital formats.

Assistive Technology For Math

One of the first ways children with low vision can learn the concept of counting is by using an abacus. It’s a low-tech way to teach the concept of numbers and operations. The abacus eliminates the need for pencil and paper and stands in well for a calculator in the early grades.

Tactile manipulatives are good for any age. 3D shapes and unit cubes can be used to teach basic math concepts. Games, such as dominoes, bingo, cards, or Rummikub are fun ways to improve fluency and cement knowledge. These games can be found in brailled or large print versions. Older students may need more advanced math tools, like a Geometric Set, marked in braille.

Talking calculators have high contrast, tactile keys that assist with location of the numbers and operations. They speak both the entries and results and often include a plug-in for earbuds or headphones. This facilitates privacy in class or while doing homework at home. Talking calculators can range in function from basic calculators up to sophisticated graphing scientific calculators.

And braille writers aren’t just for writing and reading assignments. These braillers can be used to work out math problems. While that may seem time-consuming, it’s a good tool for helping students understand and express all the steps involved in their higher math computations.

Assistive Technology For Writing

The type of assistive technology you want to use for writing depends on the purpose of the writing. For taking personal notes, digital recorders are a great option. Their use is much quicker and easier than attempting to handwrite or type out notes during class.

Adaptive paper can be purchased or made depending on what your personal needs are. Lines can be raised or embossed to provide a tactile guide. They can also be darkened, thickened, or marked in different colors to enhance visibility for those with low vision. And to make your own writing easier to read on the paper, you can use a bold line pen or a bold line pencil.

Video magnification can be used to examine your own handwriting for proper technique or to just re-read handwritten notes at a later date. Video magnification provides high definition viewing which is free from distortion.

And if you want a quick way to compose a note, email, or paper to a sighted teacher or friend, voice-to-text software can make the process of writing longer pieces less laborious.

Applications For Other Classes

Since most classes incorporate some element of reading, writing, or math, all of these pieces of assistive technology can be used and applied outside of the subjects that were mentioned here. And there are non-academic items, such as padlocks for your school locker, that may be necessary to buy in an adaptive form. Whatever is on your class supply list, If you are getting ready to go back to school, Independent Living Aids has you covered.

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Three Popular Types of Walker: How Are They Different?


While there is a variety of walker styles, three of them seem to be the most popular. There is the standard walker that has four rubber-tipped legs. Then you have the two-wheeled walker, which is similar to the standard walker, but it has two wheels on the front. Finally, a style that is coming into more frequent use is the four-wheeled walker.

Standard Walkers

The standard walker is what many people imagine when they think of a mobility aid. When someone has a health crisis and needs maximum stability, the standard walker is what is usually issued by a hospital or rehab facility.

Standard walkers have four rubber-tipped legs and rounded handles. The handles are usually covered in a foam or rubber grip. Because standard walkers have no wheels, they must be picked completely up and then placed back down to move. This may seem more labor intensive, but it does allow the user to receive constant weight-bearing assistance without fearing the walker is going to roll away from them.

Most standard walkers are height adjustable, and many are foldable. Aluminum is the material of choice because it is sturdy, lightweight, and affordable. Standard walkers are slim, to allow the user to fit through doorways easily. If you over 300lbs and need something more substantial, you can find standard walkers in bariatric sizes.

Two-Wheeled Walker

The two-wheeled walker comes in a couple of different styles. Sometimes they look like standard walkers with two wheels on the front. Other models look like four-wheeled, folding-seat walkers with the back wheels missing.

Either way, two-wheeled walkers will have two rubber tipped feet and two wheels. The two-wheeled walker provides less stability than the standard walker but makes it easier to be on the go. The wheels make it unnecessary to pick up the entire walker every time you take a step. They are the best choice for someone who needs some weight-bearing assistance but doesn’t require it all the time.

Depending on the style, two-wheeled walkers will fold in the same manner their standard or four-wheeled counterparts do. Height adjustment and handle type would also be the same. Flip-up seats are usually available for two-wheeled walkers made in the style of four-wheeled walkers. Standard two-wheel walkers can’t accommodate this in their design. Two-wheeled walkers may be made of aluminum or steel.

Four-Wheeled Walker

The four-wheeled walker has become a very popular choice, most likely because it bridges the gap for people who would be given more freedom by using a mobility aid, but they don’t quite need the support of a standard walker.

Four-wheeled walkers have two wheels in the front and two wheels in the back. They come in several different styles and almost always include features such as flip-up seats, back rests, and even pouches or baskets for personal items. Four-wheeled walkers are not for people who need to lean on their walker for maximum assistance. They provide a bit of balance for those who have an altered gait or may be more at risk of stumbling and falling. They also allow people who become easily fatigued to go out in the community, knowing they have something at hand that allows them to rest whenever need be.

Four-wheeled walkers usually have an adjustable handle height and sometimes have an adjustable seat height. Because the handles are not meant to lean on, like a standard walker, they tend to be less padded and more rubbery, like a bike handle. The handles also usually have hand-brakes attached. Their material may be aluminum or steel.

What Type Of Walker Should I Get?

First, you should talk to your doctor or physical therapist. Depending on the level of support you need, some styles may not be a good fit for you. Beyond that, you should consider things like:

  • Where will I be using this walker? Inside, outside, or both?
  • How important is the weight? Will I have to lift or store the walker independently?
  • Do I want accessories, such as bags or baskets?
  • Will the walker need to fold? If so, do I need easy-fold buttons?
  • Do I have a contact allergy to any type of metal or material I will need to avoid?

One of these three types of popular walkers will most likely fit all of your criteria. And if you have any questions about styles, features, or brands, Independent Living Aids is always happy to help!

Macular Degeneration: Assistive Technology For Computer Use

Much of our modern communication and entertainment comes from a computer screen. But when you have macular degeneration, it can be harder to manage some of your regular computing activities. Fortunately, assistive technology products can help you regain some control over your devices. And considering the significant role that computers now play in our everyday lives, finding the right assistive technology products is important.

There are several common types of technology used with computers. Input devices, such as keyboards, can be modified in a variety of ways to increase contrast and make them more visible. Screen magnification can be accomplished through both purchased hardware or software as well as features native to the operating system. And screen reading programs can also be found as both native or separately purchased programs.

Computer Input Devices

There are two things to consider when looking for the right computer input device. Keyboards will become easier to see as you increase either the size or the contrast of the keycaps.

Increasing the size offers the same type of benefit a large print book does. The text is essentially magnified, making it easier to see. There are several ways to accomplish the enlargement of the keyboard.

Some people chose to use covers for their current keyboard. Stickers or skins can be purchased as an overlay for whatever style you already have. Many people find this is helpful enough, especially when they don’t want to give up the feel of a keyboard their hands have gotten used to. Another way to increase the size of the keys is to buy a new keyboard with large print. The bigger, bolder typeface makes the letters easier to see.

The contrast between the letters on the keycaps and the rest of the keyboard can also make a difference. Some keyboards are offered in different color combinations. You can choose which one is easier on your eyes. Common combinations are black on white, white on black, and black on yellow.

Screen Magnification For Computers And Phones

There are three different ways you can accomplish screen magnification through assistive technology. Magnifiers can be purchased that sit in front of the screen, like a magnifying glass. Magnifying software programs can be purchased and installed to enlarge the text on the screen. And some devices come with native programs that enlarge text without having to bother with an installation.

Screen magnifiers can be considered computer hardware since they are designed to fit certain sizes and type of computer screens. They are designed specifically for screens, unlike the magnifiers you use for books and other printed text. Typically screen magnifiers mount on the screen or hang from the top of the monitor. They can be purchased in different sizes to fit your computer better. Screen magnifiers also reduce glare. They usually can magnify a screen anywhere from 50 to 200 percent.  

Magnifying software programs are the choice of people who want even more magnification and navigation options. Software programs are often the best choice for Microsoft users. Since a software program can allow you to zoom into certain parts of the screen, magnification can be achieved more than 3000 percent. Larger screen views can also be managed up to 400 percent. And products such as iZoom allow you to not only adjust the size of the text but also do color enhancements to reduce eye strain.

For Mac OS X and iOS products, Apple has built in Zoom, a screen magnification app. Zoom is able to magnify text and graphics up to five times on smaller devices, such as the iPhone or iPad, and up to 40 times on the iMac, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro. Zoom can be activated on the handheld devices by going to “Settings” > “General” > “Accessibility” > “Zoom.” On the computer, it can be turned on under “Universal Access” in the “Systems” row under “Systems Preferences.”

Screen Reading Programs

According to The American Foundation for the Blind, “Screen readers are software programs that allow blind or visually impaired users to read the text that is displayed on the computer screen with a speech synthesizer or braille display.”

Most Windows computers use readers, such as iZoom. Yes, iZoom can be installed onto your computer as a magnifier, but it can also read the text out loud, as well. And one neat feature of iZoom is that it can be purchased in a USB form that can be used on almost any computer. Instead of being restricted to using only your personal computer that has iZoom software, you can plug your iZoom USB in at your friend’s house, or the library, without having to worry about being granted any permissions by the host device.

For Apple users, there is a native app called VoiceOver.  VoiceOver is found on macOS, iOS, tvOS, watchOS, and iPod operating systems. To turn VoiceOver on on your iPhone, simply press the home button three times in a row, or enable it in the Accessibility settings like you would for Zoom. To turn VoiceOver on on a Mac, go to Apple menu > System Preferences, Universal Access, and then click VoiceOver Utility. You can then turn on VoiceOVer by pressing Command-F5, then holding down the Control and Option keys (the VO key) and pressing F8.

These options for screen reading, screen magnification, and keyboarding should allow you to continue to enjoy using the computer for both work and leisure. And as computers become more and more a part of our daily lives, the technology and innovations are sure to continue to advance.

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