Now Hear This Even Better. A Follow-up

First, heart-felt thanks to everyone who responded to my last blog post on the unique challenges caused by being a blind hearing aid wearer. There’ve been many useful contributions made through the comments. I’ve been particularly moved by some of the private messages I’ve received. If someone like me talking about this issue  publicly has helped someone in any way, then I’m delighted to have done it.

 

While I’ve been writing this post, our grocery delivery company dropped off my latest order. This is great because a hungry Mosen is a grumpy Mosen. I used to dread events like that, because I’d always wonder how well I would hear the guy when he brought all the groceries upstairs and engaged in a bit of chat. Now I look forward to chatting with him and finding out what he’s up to. The Phonak Q90s have made an enormous difference.

 

As promised, I’m revisiting the question of blindness assistive technology and hearing aids, now that I have more information, and what is for me an absolutely perfect outcome.

 

My previous post outlined in detail the issues I was having integrating the Phonak ComPilot into my workflow as a screen reader user. My audiologist, who has been wonderful during this fitting process, had the judgement to realise that the issues I was raising were not something she’d encountered before. She organised for a representative from Phonak to fly down to meet with us both. That meeting happened today. In advance of the meeting, I wrote a detailed email explaining how I use my laptop and iPhone, and the implications of that usage for the operation of the ComPilot. I posed a number of questions, and today the brilliant Phonak man, who’d been with the company for over 20 years, came with answers. I’m happy to share those answers with you in case they help.

 

The good news is that it is still possible to connect a cable and get stereo audio from the Q90s to an external source with a headphone jack, such as a computer or iPhone. To do this, an audio shoe is fitted to each aid. An audio shoe is a small interface which makes the aid just a little more bulky. With previous aids I’ve owned, it was necessary to remove the audio shoe whenever you needed to change the aid’s battery. This requirement no longer exists with the Q90. That’s good, because one of the reasons I’ve rejected some Phonak products in the past is how difficult I found fitting the audio shoes. If you think I’m grumpy without my groceries, you ain’t seen nothing compared to how I got trying to get those audio shoes to connect.

 

You then get a cable from Phonak, which for the hearing aid geeks has the part number 0570109. At one end of this cable is a 3.5 mm plug suitable for connecting to a headphone jack. The cable splits in two at the opposite end, with a connector that plugs into the audio shoe of each aid.

 

Phonak set up two programs on the Q90s for me. The first gives me audio from the cable with the hearing aids’ microphones turned on. This means I can wander around with the cable running from the aids to the iPhone, and hear absolutely everything all the time. There’s no time out, no fading in, no latency. It’s just always on and it always works. The other program gives me audio from the cable with the microphones turned off. I use this in my studio where I want to hear only what is coming out of my mixer, no externalities that may interfere with my ability to hear what kind of sound I’m producing.

 

The creation of these two new programs has meant I’ve had to sacrifice a couple of the programs I was using infrequently, since there is a maximum of five programs available.

 

The good news is that the ComPilot is unaffected. I can still use it and it works as it did before. That means if I’m out and about and need a single device where I can switch between a number of external sources, I can still do that.

 

I can’t be happier. I’m hearing like I haven’t heard in years, and now I’m getting sound from my computers and iPhone like I haven’t had from a hearing aid before. 

 

Not everyone reading this uses the same aids I do, and hearing loss is personal to the individual. But again, the message I want to convey is just how important the partnership is between a hearing aid user and the professional. I couldn’t have asked for more from the people working with me than what I’ve received.

 

Best of luck to everyone who is seeking to maximise their hearing potential, no matter what technology you choose. Hang in there.

9 Comments

  1. charles dickens

    hay i like these articals about hearing aids. i ware hearing aids now also and they are the seamen mosion 101 they have 3 programs that work so far so good. 1 is uni directional 2 is omni directional and the 3rd is for the telicoile.theyre be hine the ear type and i ware my headphones over them when i listen privately. i have had them for 4 months now. the man told me you have to ware them alot to get use to them because you hear things differantly.like i said so far so good.

  2. Pam Quinn

    I’m sure these posts are helpful to many, as all too many of us who are blind also have hearing loss for whatever reason. Does your hearing loss result in distortion as well or merely a loss of amplification? Because I was wondering if there are hearing aids available yet that can clean up distortion as well as amplify the sound, since the hearing loss I have in only one ear so far, results in distortion as well. Thanks for your willingness to talk about this, as it isn’t a pleasant experience to even think about.

    • Jonathan Mosen

      Hi Pam, I do get a bit of tinnitus at times, which can cause a kind of distortion, but I don’t know if that’s what you’re experiencing. There are so many variations and causes. I’m sure the distortion must be frustrating.

  3. Jim Snowbarger

    If there is ever a device to help with distortion, I would love to know about it. I can’t imagine what it would be. But, I have that problem as well, like Pam, and it has absolutely crushed my enjoyment of music. I hear people talking just fine. but, understanding them is sometimes another matter. I can navigate by sound ok. But, the reall problem is the lack of pitch descrimination, which does affect your ability to make sense of speech, such as distinguishing one vowel sound from another. Believe it or not, that comes down to pitch descrimination.
    I use an Odicon set, and find them as good as one can expect.
    I am curious about the reasons why the Fonak Q90 provides so much better understanding than previous models tried. Most of this article discussed connectivity, which is a very handy thing, of course. But, what made these win the day when it came to intelligibility. Maybe I should go read the previous post. <grin.

    • Andre van Deventer

      As far as I understand it the distortion has a lot to do with the dying of the hair cells inside the cochlea. These hair cells are nerve endings which picks up the vibrations transmitted through the outer and middle ear. So unfortunately they will always be with you because nerve tissue does not regenerate.
      Unfortunately the more progressive your hearing loss becomes the less your choice in hearing aid becomes and also the more expensive it becomes. At present with the loss in my one ear according to phonak the only aid that is really strong enough is the Naida. And it is also the most expensive I believe.
      I did try the Oticon Sumo which is the strongest aid they have but it simply does not have enough punch to do the job.

  4. Andre van Deventer

    Very interesting article once again.
    I used the direct connection method Jonathan talks aboutfor many many years. The only reason I purchased the compilot is that I started encountering problems with the cables themselves – especially where the small 3-prong europlug enters the audio shoe. The things kept on breaking down and I had to continually replace the cables because you can not open the europlugs themselves to fix them.
    But this type of connection is still the best way to connect your hearing aids to any kind of external audio source. There is absolutely no doubt about that.
    Especially when using screen readers – if you have a serious hearing loss try to connect directly to your hearing instruments and cut out the acoustics between the screen reader speech and your hearing aids.

  5. Christopher Kchao

    Many thanks for both of these posts. I have much of the same setup you do, just without the audio shoes. I typically use the com pilot with a cable to handle things such as the computer and iPhone. Bluetooth through the Com Pilot never sounded clear enough, as well as the latency problem you mentioned. My hearing loss is such that I can still get away with using headphones/earbuds in situations where it would otherwise be too noisy to remain productive with TTS going through the Com Pilot and the Bolero microphones active.
    Have you stumbled upon a way to get sound from both the FM system as well as the computer to your hearing aids? The FM helps immensely with speech intelligibility as you may well imagine, but the Com Pilot’s limitations dictate that I choose either sound from the cable, or the FM. This would be useful in environments such as lectures where hearing both a professor and computer is essential. Though TTS is increasingly a less effective modality, it remains the most efficient way for me to use a computer. My Braille proficiency is not quite at the same level, so I’ve been opting to get the computer directly through the com pilot, and using the microphones on the Boleros to pick up anyone speaking, all be it at the expense of some intelligibility.

  6. Jonathan Mosen

    That’s interesting the ComPilot works for you in direct audio. For me there was this awful fading in effect that I found quite distracting and difficult, particularly when editing character by character.
    No, I’m afraid I haven’t found a way to run TTS and FM at the same time, and I agree, that would be beneficial.

    • Christopher Kchao

      The fading issue you mentioned is very much present, and plenty annoying at that. I suppose I’ve learned to ignore it some, given that it’s been less than a year since I’d taken the initial steps to proactively address my hearing loss. This would be my first ever pair of hearing aids, so I’ve not quite yet learned what would be deemed a reasonable complaint and what’s just asking too much given technological/biological constraints. I went several years without sufficient amplification, so I’m simply happy to converse with others and no longer miss so many words. Having gone to great lengths to make sure I would be working with an audiologist who understood dual-sensory impairment, I left a lot up to their judgment.
      I largely ignored the fading of the ComPilot, but it’s more conspicuous now that I’ve been reminded. 😉
      You do bring up a curious issue, and I’m wondering if the ComPilot has a sort of built in limiter to protect against loud/transient noises, I.E. the spike that often occurs when one plugs a cable in. There is something similar used in the Smartlink FM system to mask the sounds of it being placed on a hard surface and what not.

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