Products That Make TV Viewing More Enjoyable With A Hearing Or Vision Impairment

Football day is coming on February 2nd and millions of people will be glued to their TV set to watch the big game. This isn’t the only day of the year that people watch television, of course, but it is the time of year where the most TV sets go on sale in anticipation of the game. For persons with hearing loss or vision impairments enjoying screen time might not be as enjoyable as one might hope. This blog will look at three different types of technology that helps bridge the gap so that everyone can watch their favorite TV program, big game or otherwise, more enjoyably.

TV Glasses

Television glasses enable persons with macular degeneration, or other vision loss, to be able to see the screen more clearly up to 10 feet away from the screen itself. Because no two eyes are exactly the same these glasses allow for vision adjustment in each eye independently allowing for more precise vision.  These glasses are intended for watching events, sports, or movies but are not for reading or close up work. These glasses also work well with the closed captioning feature enabling the viewer to be able to read them more clearly.

These  Eschenbach MaxTV Glasses provide 2.1X magnification through plastic Galilean lenses. The lenses measure 1.25” each and are connected to a black frame. Each pair comes with a sturdy protective zippered case.

Amplifying Headphones

When it comes to assisted listening devices for the television, Healthy Hearing states that there are several advantages over simply turning up the volume on the TV itself.

  • They send the signal directly to headphones or hearing aids, minimizing the interference of background noise in the room.
  • The direct delivery of the auditory signal improves the overall clarity of sound.
  • The person with hearing loss can operate their personal volume independently of the volume produced by the television’s speakers.
  • Loved ones with different degrees of hearing ability can enjoy television together.

The TV and Audio Listener Amplifying Headphones does all of these things and more. These headphones pair wirelessly with either your television or mobile phone to amplify TV shows, phone calls and music. This allows the user to amplify the television volume, while others in the room listen at their preferred level. This product has a 30′ headset range.

Wireless TV Speaker

Think of these speakers as kind of a portable “boom box” for your TV. Instead of it playing a cassette tape or the radio these speakers transmit the sound coming from the television. Many come with a convenient handle for carrying it from room to room. The sound and volume from the speaker are completely independent from that TV itself. In fact, you can turn the television sound off and just listen from the wireless speaker itself. Just like with the headphones in the last section, these speakers allow loved ones with varying degrees of hearing ability to enjoy television together again in addition to improving the overall clarity of sound.

One example of this type assisted listening device is the TV SoundBox Wireless TV Speaker by Serene Innovations. It is simple to install, just plug the included transmitter to your TV’s audio output port with the provided cable. The transmitter will then wirelessly deliver your television’s audio to this portable speaker. This transmitter base also serves as a charging dock when the speaker (receiver) is not in use. Simply rest the speaker on the transmitter base charging dock. The built-in rechargeable battery delivers up to 8 hours of listening time between charging periods.

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Cell Phone Amplification Provided Through: Hearing Aid Compatibility (HAC) and Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT)

Cell phone amplification allows persons with hearing loss to be able to communicate more clearly with less noise or static distortion. In order to get the most bang for your buck, when looking into obtaining a phone and/or special equipment for this enhancement it helps to have a basic understanding of both hearing aid compatibility (HAC) and hearing assistive technology (HAT). This blog will look at a basic overview of both with a more elaborated explanation on Bluetooth and Telecoils following.

Hearing Aid Compatibility (HAC)

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Hearing Aid Compatibility Act and other federal laws ensure the availability of wireless telephones that are compatible with hearing aids and cochlear implants.  Wireless telephones that are certified as being hearing aid compatible should minimize unwanted noise and be compatible with the magnetic coils (telecoils or T-coils) in many hearing aids.

Healthy Hearing states that when shopping for a phone, look for what’s known as the M rating for hearing aid compatibility. The M rating ranges from 1 to 4, with 4 being the best compatibility. A higher rating means less distracting noise and feedback coming in, but some unwanted noise is still possible. M3 is perhaps the most common rating. Further, your telecoil may automatically switch on or it may require you to manually switch into the telecoil or “T” mode. Ask your hearing healthcare provider for more details. This is something you’ll want to test out when trying out different phones. If you plan to use the telecoil feature, look for what’s known as the T rating for hearing aid compatibility. The T rating also ranges from 1 to 4, with 4 being the best. Many cell phones today are T4.

Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT)

Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT) can dramatically improve the lives of people with hearing loss. Assistive listening systems and devices bridge the gap between you and the sound source by eliminating the effects of distance, background noise, and reverberation. They can bypass challenging acoustics—sending sound directly to users’ ears. The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) is a great place to learn all about HATs and other things related to hearing loss.

Hearing aids with a telecoil can make a dramatic difference in the user’s ability to hear clearly on the telephone, in meetings, a noisy restaurant, at the theater, and while navigating buses, airports, train stations and other challenging environments.

All assistive listening systems are required to be accessible for people with hearing aids, people with hearing aids but no telecoil, and people without hearing aids.

There are three types of assistive listening systems that provide ADA mandated communication access in public places. First are hearing Loops, also known as Induction Loops or Audio Frequency Induction Loop Systems (AFILS), consist of a copper wire placed within a room, theater, or counter which is connected via a special loop “driver” to a public address or sound system. An electromagnetic field is created that connects to a telecoil in hearing aids, cochlear implants, or telecoil receivers. Loops are the most user-friendly of assistive listening options. Next, Infrared Systems (IR) work like TV remote controls. A transmitter sends speech or music from a public address or sound system to an IR receiver using invisible infrared light waves. This technology is line-of-sight and cannot be used outdoors during the daytime due to being affected by light. Thirdly, FM Systems, or Radio Frequency Assistive Listening Systems, transmit wireless, low power FM frequency radio transmission from a sound system to FM receivers. An advantage of this system over an infrared system: FM is not affected by direct sunlight.

Confused? HLAA has created a new service called HAT HELP which is staffed by volunteers. Supervised doctoral level audiology students from the University of Washington and Gallaudet University are now available to answer your technical assistance questions. Simply write to hat_help@hearingloss.org and they will provide an email response.

Bluetooth

Healthy Hearing states that Bluetooth technology is the latest innovation to take off among hearing aid users. Although Bluetooth hearing aids are not yet available, the technology allows two devices such as a cell phone or computer, for example, and a wireless hearing aid with a compatible streamer to talk to each other. The range is limited, somewhere around 20 feet, but the lack of interference and secure connection of this convenient hands-free technology outweighs any negatives. In addition, the use of one streamer can allow the user to switch back and forth among multiple devices, from cell phones to tablets to iPods.

Another page on their website dedicated to this topic further elaborates that Bluetooth is a wireless communication platform that allows for the transfer of data between two or more electronic devices. The technology uses radio waves set to a high frequency to transmit data without interference or security risks. If your hearing aid doesn’t include a feature for direct streaming from your smartphone to your hearing aids, don’t worry. Manufacturers of wireless hearing aids long ago created a clever solution for accessing this prevalent wireless standard. Wireless hearing aids can use compatible assistive listening devices, often called streamers, to provide a communication link between the wireless technology in the hearing aids and any Bluetooth-enabled device.

This type of technology allows users more options and opportunities including personalized listening experience, multiple connections, remote control of your hearing aids, and standard protocol (which means there is uniformity in the way that it works across all devices).

Telecoils

Based on just the above information it is apparent that telecoils (also called t-coils) are important and can enhance the usability of hearing assistive devices but what are they?

Everyday Hearing provides an excellent article concerning this very thing. The following are highlights from this article. A telecoil is a small copper wire coil located within some hearing aids and cochlear implants. It is designed to communicate with telephones and loop systems through an electromagnetic wireless signal. The goal of a telecoil is to enhance and “clean up” the speech signal coming through the audio system, whether it be a telephone or a microphone, such as in an auditorium or place or worship. Because it’s a direct wireless transmission, the telecoil signal volume can be adjusted by the listener.

Not all hearing devices have telecoils. The smaller the device is, the less likely it will contain a telecoil. This is because the telecoil takes up too much space for them to fit within the smallest devices, such as a completely in the canal (CIC) or micro behind the ear (BTE) hearing device. Most cochlear implants have telecoils built within them. In general, any hearing device equipped with a size 10 battery will not include a telecoil.

The worse your hearing is, the more difficulty you will have hearing on the telephone or in large rooms and public places. For this reason, a telecoil will become very useful for improving speech understanding in these situations.

Cell phone amplification devices currently highlighted for the week include the Bluetooth T-Coil Headset for Cell Phones, Blue Tooth Cell Phone Amplifier for Behind The Ear Hearing Aids, and HearAll Cellphone Amplifier.

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Smartphone Apps, Tools, and Tutorials for the Hearing Impaired

There are many apps, tools, and tutorials to help just about anyone leverage their smartphone for their own greater good. This blog will look at some of those options currently available to assist those living with a hearing impairment.

Apps

The Internet is a wonderful place to learn about the various apps currently available to assist persons living with hearing loss. Each section provides a brief overview of its contents. More info for each section is available from the linked site listed towards the beginning of each paragraph.

Apple products have an entire website dedicated to accessibility for their devices. This page of iaccessibility is dedicated to hard of hearing accessibility apps. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can communicate in a variety of ways with iOS features like FaceTime® video calling and unlimited texting. And assistive technologies such as closed captions and mono audio help you enjoy your content. As of this blog and in addition to the built-n programs mentioned, it provides links to 49 IOS compatible apps for the hearing impaired. These apps range from American Sign Language to Lyft and Uber.

Live Transcribe is an app available for Android smartphones from the Google Play Store. It is an accessibility app designed for the Deaf and hard of hearing and usable by anyone. Using Google’s state-of-the-art automatic speech recognition technology, Live Transcribe performs real-time transcription of speech and sound to text on your screen, so you can more easily participate in conversations going on in the world around you. You can also keep the conversation going by typing your response on the screen.

Sound Amplifier is another app available for Android smartphones from the Google Play Store. It enhances audio from your Android device using headphones to provide a more comfortable and natural listening experience. Use Sound Amplifier on your Android device to filter, augment, and amplify sound in the real world. Sound Amplifier makes audio clearer and easier to hear. It works by increasing quiet sounds while not over-boosting loud sounds. With 2 simple sliders, you can quickly customize sound enhancement and noise reduction to minimize distracting background noise.

The San Diego Hearing Center provide a few more options for both IOS and Android phones in the linked article. Some of these apps allow you to test a baseline of your hearing.

Tools

There are many tools and accessories that can be purchased to turn your smartphone into a magical bag of tricks to assist you in most areas of life.  These are but three of the many choices currently available.

The AlarmDock Smartphone Dock with Bedshaker is a docking station that pairs with a personal smartphone and uses a wireless bedshaker and 100dB alarm to wake a hard sleeper or someone who is hard of hearing. It uses a free iOS or Android app to manage alarms, timers, volume and tone control, flasher activation, and large clock read out. A wireless speaker can play music from the phone in clear, full sound.

The InstaLINK Smartphone Alert Watch is a wearable wristwatch that can be easily paired to your iPhone or Android smartphone to receive vibrating notifications while using the free iPhone and Android App. The strong, quiet, and non-intrusive vibrations will not disturb others while attending lectures, classes, business meetings, or out socializing. Use this wristwatch as a personal alarm clock and as a discreet way to keep you in touch with your smartphone.

The SmartShaker2 Bed Shaker for Smartphone is a Bluetooth pillow vibrating disk that is designed to operate with your smart phone as a vibrating alarm clock. Just download the user-friendly app, for free from the app store, and this SuperShaker2 can become your favorite alarm clock for home and whenever you are traveling. Place this disk under your pillow, beside you, or in your general vicinity while you sleep. When your alarm time has arrived, this disk will vibrate to alert you that it is time to get up.

Tutorials

If after looking at all this information and you’re still scratching your head at what to do and how to do it there are many built in phone features and outside tutorial sites that can be of assistance.

Deaf and hard of hearing videos and podcasts, available from iaccessibility, provides a page of linked devices and subject matter to choose from covering topics such as hearing devices, subtitles and captioning, and TTY software and includes how to videos/podcasts for many IOS compatible devices.

The Best New Accessibility Features in Android 10, from Lifehacker, provides the current accessibility features for Android 10 phones. Many of these features started with Android 9. Each of these features is found from the accessibility option under phone settings.  Please note that not all options are available on all Android phones at this time, but this article does list the current phone model compatibility.

Understanding Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT), from the Hearing Loss Association of America, provides a lot of information and resources about the various types of hearing assistive technology currently available.

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Smartphone Apps, Tools, and Tutorials For The Visually Impaired

There are many apps, tools, and tutorials to help just about anyone leverage their smartphone for their own greater good. This blog will look at some of those options currently available to assist those living with a visual impairment.

Apps

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is an excellent online source to visit if you or a loved one live with a visual impairment. Info for each app is taken directly from the linked site. See the AFB link at the beginning of this paragraph to learn more about built-in apps and other apps available.

Be My Eyes is a free app that connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers and company representatives for visual assistance through a live video call. Every day, sighted volunteers lend their eyes to solve tasks big and small to help blind and low-vision people lead more independent lives. The app is available for both IOS and Android based phones.

Microsoft’s Seeing AI is a free app that narrates the world around you, now available in English, Dutch, German, French, Japanese and Spanish. You can complete multiple tasks with one app and switch between channels to tune the description of what’s in front of the camera. This app can help you with short texts, audio clues for focusing barcodes or documents within the screen, recognize friends/faces, identify currency when paying with cash and so much more. Currently, this app is only available for download on Apple based (IOS) devices.

BARD Mobile are free apps available for both IOS and Android phones provided by the National Library of Science for the blind and physically handicapped. The linked FAQ page should provide insight to questions about using the site and/or the mobile devices.  The site provides books, musical scores, magazines, and other materials that can be rented free of charge.

Tools

There are many tools and accessories that can be purchased to turn your smartphone into a magical bag of tricks to assist you in most areas of life.  These are but three of the many choices currently available.

The WayAround Starter Pack is a combination of smartphone app and physical WayTags™ that allows you to tag and label nearly everything in your environment. Download the free app for either iPhone or Android onto your own smartphone. Attach one of the different shaped tags to clothing, food products, files, medicines and more. Create a label for that tag on your phone by either typing or recording your message for that tag into the WayAround app. Add custom description for any item plus more details like washing instructions or purchase and expiration dates. To identify that item in the future, scan your smart phone over the item, and the item information is displayed on the phone. WayAround works with the accessibility settings on your phone. To hear your information spoken aloud, turn on VoiceOver or TalkBack to hear that information out loud.

The Scanmarker Air allows you to scan a single line of text using the ScanMarker “pen” and send that text to either your smartphone or computer, using either Bluetooth or USB connectivity. You can scan either directly into the ScanMarker app or to an external application such as Word. Within the ScanMarker app, scanned text can be read back to you, without the need for a voiceover function. Scanned text can automatically be translated into one of 40+ languages.

The Orbit Tracker Card is a credit card sized tracker that can slide into a wallet slot. The Orbit family of Bluetooth trackers will help you locate valuable items in seconds using a free iOS or Android app. The various shaped trackers physically attach to a wander-prone item. From your smartphone, use the app to page that item when it goes missing within a 100-foot range. The tracking device can also be used to page the smartphone in reverse, even when the phone is in silent mode! From your phone, you can page that item when it goes missing. Stop losing your stuff!

Tutorials

If after looking at all this information and you’re still scratching your head at what to do and how to do it there are many built in phone features and outside tutorial sites that can be of assistance.

Android TalkBack is the Google screen reader included on Android devices. TalkBack gives you spoken feedback so that you can use your device without looking at the screen. The linked help page gives tips to get started using your Android device with TalkBack.

Android Access provides honest reviews about online games and apps that visually impaired people can use easily.

IOS VoiceOver (or via an Apple Support YouTube video) is a gesture-based screen reader—you can use iPhone even if you don’t see the screen. VoiceOver gives audible descriptions of what’s on your screen—from battery level, to who’s calling, to which app your finger is on. You can also adjust the speaking rate and pitch to suit your needs.

AppleVis is a community-powered website for blind and low-vision users of Apple’s range of Mac computers, the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV, and Apple Watch.

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