The compatibility between hearing aids and peripheral hardware and consumer electronics like phones and mp3 players is often very bad. My bluetooth adapter often fails to pick up calls, so the first thing I do when someone calls is asking “Do you hear me? Wait, I don’t hear you, I’ll call you back.” And seriously, especially in a work environment, that is quite embarrassing and annoying.
Also, signal quality is often bad, especially with mobile and bluetooth-compatible phones of particular vendors. I cannot freely choose to buy a phone, I always have to borrow the same model from a friend first and check if it works. It often doesn’t, which restricts my freedom of choice significantly. If I have choice at all. My guess is, that there is not much testing going on to make a piece of peripheral hardware as compatible as possible to the consumer electronics market.
Most modern hearing aids communicate with each other. If you switch the program on one side, the other hearing aid does so as well. Also, for the signal processing, they talk to each other and exchange information to analyze the acoustic setting more thoroughly. This does not work when two hearing aids come from different vendors, sometimes not even when they are different models from the same vendor.
The same applies for peripheral hardware. Hearing aids from one vendor most often are only compatible to peripheral hardware (such as bluetooth adapter or FM systems) of the same vendor. If you buy a hearing aid from that vendor and the compatible peripheral hardware, you are very likely to to choose your next hearing aid from the same vendor, because you don’t want to rebuy the peripheral hardware or the hearing aid for your other ear. You are stuck with one vendor and don’t have the freedom to choose the best product next time, just because there are no standards and/or no willingness of the vendors to coorporate with each other.
The same applies to compatibility between cochlear implants and peripheral hardware, other hearing aids or cochlear implants of other vendors.
Also the parameters and settings between hearing aids are not compatible, often not even between different models of the same vendor. When your hearing aids break and you temporarily get a spare hearing aid of a different model, the accoustician can only roughly tune it and you have to live with those crappy settings until you get back your own hearing aids from the reparation.
Nowadays hearing aids still don’t fully compensate a hearing loss. They fail particularly in difficult but frequently occurring acoustic situations. The reality is that the cocktail party problem still exists and that it makes life hard for the hard of hearing. Hearing-impaired people still avoid noisy situations like in restaurants, bars, at parties, or any kind of event where a lot of people are talking. Since those are exactly the situations where people socialize, hearing-impaired people have significant problems in connecting to other people – both in their personal life as well as in professional environments. That means if you are not able to make friends and business partners, you will get isolated and won’t make a career.
Also, many hearing-impaired people depend on lip-reading and ‘guessing from the context’, because hearing aids are just not good enough. It is not uncommon that hearing-impaired people still avoid situations where they have to rely on acoustic channels and switch to workarounds like subtitles for movies or text messaging instead of calling on the phone.
One specific problem of the signal processing of hearing aids are feedback loops. Feedback loops occur frequently when something is close to the hearing devices, for example if you put on a hat, if someone hugs you, or you lay down on the sofa to watch a movie. The only effective measure that today’s hearing aids have is to detect the feedback loop and then damp the affected frequencies. But those frequencies might be the ones that you need to understand speech. Thus, you have the choice between wearing a hat on a cold winter day or being able to understand the person in front of you.
In the last couple of months, I was often ask to list the things that I wish to be addressed by the hearing aid industry. This list got lengthy, but I figured I have to illustrate each point sufficiently. Thus, every point gets its own article.
This is my wishlist to audiologists and accousticians, hearing aid manufacturers, and the health care system. If you like to add something, share your experiences, or provide more information, I encourage you to submit a comment.
Good news! With the help of some great people, I was able to provide subtitles for the recording of my talk at the 28c3 conference. You can watch the video on youtube and switch on the subtitles as explained in the following screenshot.
Just click on the “CC” button at the left bottom of the video.
If you have any problems viewing the video, please let me know. Also, I highly appreciate it if you have feedback for me. Just send me an email or drop a comment here. Thanks a lot!
Lovely people help me with my project. This time, I got a french translation of my slides. They were translated by Marie-Pierre (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I am very thankful for that! She says it is so far just a draft, so if you find any errors, please let her know so she can correct it.
I also offer a version with detailed speaker notes, because especially my hearing-impaired audience might need it to be able to follow. I had to downsample the images in this version to avoid the files getting too big. Please have a look at the “slides only” version for details in the images.
Additionally, I have a nasty tinnitus sound in the frequency range which is affected by my hearing loss. The following file has this sampled in. Since the tinnitus sound is similar to a feedback loop’s sound, you are advised not to play it too loud, because it could destroy audio equipment.