I was the only child in my elementary school with hearing loss. In an effort to help me hear better, in addition to my hearing aids, I was fitted with a personal assistive listening device (ALD). This being the late eighties, the device was quite clunky. It consisted of a battery pack that was strapped to my waist. A neck loop attached to the battery pack and transmitted sound directly from the microphone my teacher wore into my hearing aids. The range of transmission was quite broad and did lead to some funny experiences, as when I would hear the toilet flushing when my teacher would forget to turn off her microphone when she used the restroom. Other times, I would accidentally eavesdrop on conversations she would have outside the classroom. The only real downside was how obvious the device was. Though my hearing aids were quite large, I could easily hide them by wearing my hair down. There was no way to do that with the assistive listening device. The listening device, along with my quiet personality, made me a target of teasing and bullying from the other girls.
After being homeschooled during middle school, I returned to public school as a high school freshmen. Remembering the bullying I had experienced, I refused any sort of assistance from the school. No assistive listening devices. No speech classes. I pushed my way through high school and college through perseverance alone. When I went to grad school, I was unaware that I qualified for any type of assistance. Even though I struggled to understand the professors and often missed key bits of information while taking notes, I muddled my way through without any hearing-related resources that could’ve helped me.
Assistive Listening Device-FM System
Fortunately, there have been several technological advances to assistive listening devices since I was in elementary school. The FM device (which is what I used) is the one most commonly used in schools. However, the teacher is now the only one who wears a battery pack which is attached to her microphone. While there are neck loop receivers and body packs, children most commonly wear the ear level receiver. The receiver is small and clips directly into the back of the behind the ear portion of the hearing aid. The receiver can be purchased in the same color as the hearing aid so it can be worn discreetly. The sound from the microphone is then transmitted directly into the hearing aid.
Sound Amplification System
Another option is using a sound-field amplification system. With a sound-field amplification system, the teacher uses a microphone and then the sound is transmitted to a loudspeaker that is positioned strategically in the room. The ensures that children sitting in the back of the room can hear as well as children in the front of the room. The amplification system has been designed specifically for speech sounds to ensure speech clarity when listening. All students can benefit from this amplification system, even those who do not have hearing loss. Also, a sound amplification can free a child with hearing loss from having to wear a personal assisted listening device.
Captioning is another resource that can be used to help a student with hearing loss. Captioning can be provided on any video or audio device, including internet videos and podcasts. CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) provides a written transcription in realtime, as the words are being spoken or played, and the captions can appear either on a large projection screen, a laptop, or a mobile device. The school can hire a CART writer to be present in the classroom or the captioning can be done remotely and streamed to an internet browser. This solution works best for students with a more profound hearing loss who may not be able to understand speech even with amplification or a student who relies heavily on lipreading and is in a classroom setting where they have to take extensive notes (like a college course).
These are just some of the technological advances used to help students with hearing loss. While none of the systems are perfect, they can help a student with speech comprehension and assist them with learning. Hearing aids are still the prominent assistive listening device used but the general amplification that hearing aids provide means that background noise can often be an issue for students or for anyone in a noisy environment. The personal assistive listening devices can help mute the background noise and help the student focus on the teacher or the speaker without being distracted by other noise around them. As technology improves, the listening experience of those with hearing loss will also improve, giving them more resources to succeed in school and in life.