Are Your Hearing Aids Surviving Social Distancing?

Mine are getting a workout. And the batteries are showing it.

I have an Oticon Made for iPhone hearing aid, which means that whatever I hear via the phone is channeled by Bluetooth to my hearing aid. This is wonderful!

I can hear phone conversations, I can listen to podcasts, I can watch and hear online classes, I can watch a YouTube video with sound. Recorded books go through the Bluetooth to my hearing aid. So does the audio of a meditation app, like Calm.

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It’s spring! Can you hear the birds?

I also use the phone and bluetooth when I am following an online exercise class. I use my laptop for visuals and phone for audibles. I connect to the class on both devices and then press “play” on both simultaneously. That way the video is on my laptop, the audio is in my ear.

The main problem is that all this use drains the battery at a significantly faster rate than a hearing aid battery without using Bluetooth. This is true with standard disposable batteries as well as rechargeable ones. Here’s a fairly technical discussion of battery capacity with both disposable and rechargeable batteries.

I actually have only one hearing aid, and it’s doing all the work. I have a cochlear implant in my other ear, so if I wanted to connect directly to the implant as well I’d need to stream through a second device like a Roger Pen. If anyone has tried this, I’d love to hear if it works. Do the two assistive devices sync properly? The four steps it would take to sign on to yoga class on both phone and laptop, using both Roger and Oticon bluetooth, does seem a little absurd. One ear is fine.

I also have a clip-on mini mike, useful for a socially distanced conversation with a masked person on a park bench, and this also drains the battery. I just ordered a ten-pack of batteries.

The hearing aid itself is suffering wear and tear for other reasons.

I always wear a mask when I go out, which is frequently  — because I live in an apartment (no back yard) and I have a dog. Dogs need to go out at least a couple of times a day. The mask loops fit over my ears. Unfortunately it’s already crowded behind my ears, with my hearing aid earpiece in one and c.i. earpiece in the other. I also wear glasses, which take up even more behind-the-ear space. The mask tends to dislodge the c.i. earpiece, so I have to wear a hat or a wide headband to keep it in place. Somehow the hearing aid manages to get tangled in the mask.

The second damaging element is dirt. I make sure the wax guards are clean but the vent – a tiny duct that lets in just enough air to make the aid more comfortable – is clogged with wax. I can’t remember how I used to keep it clean but now the audiologist says the only solution is denture floss. She’s mailing me some. If were able to go into her office, she told me, she could vacuum it out. I wonder if I can get a special hearing-aid attachment for my Electrolux.

I wasn’t sure how to reach the audiologist but I finally emailed her. It turns out she can do much of her work through telemedicine. And good news from the CMS: Medicare and Medicaid will now cover any tele-audiology visits that would ordinarily be covered by an office visit. I’ll write about this when I know more about how it works.

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For more about living with hearing loss, read my books at Amazon.com.

Smart Hearing is a guide to everything about hearing loss. Shouting Won’t Help is my personal story of loss and renewal. Both are available in paperback and on Kindle. Available only at Amazon.com unless you can persuade your local bookstore to order one for you.

Let’s Make Hearing Loss a Visible Disability

Hearing loss is often referred to as an invisible disability, because there are no telltale markers — no wheelchair, no white cane. It’s invisible even compared to Deafness, with its vibrant silent language.

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NYPD Officer Daniel Carione and his attorney, Colleen Meenan, who successfully sued for the right to wear hearing aids.

For a long time, people with hearing loss wanted to keep it invisible. They wanted hearing aids no one could see, they pretended they could hear when they couldn’t. Even today hearing aid companies advertise: “So small no one will ever know you’re wearing them.” Hearing loss is for old people, or damaged people, and our culture values youth and health.

But as more and more of us use hearing aids – both because we are getting older and because we live in a noisy society – we want accommodations. We want captions on our TV’s and in movie theaters, we want hearing assistive devices that work in lectures and live theater. (The hearing assistive device that works best in large venues is the induction loop, hands down.) We want to be able to hear – even if it means “hearing” through captions – in an emergency room or hospital, in a courthouse, at a town hall meeting, at a house of worship, at a lecture, on an airplane, at a political rally, on public transportation.

We want to be able to work, and we want the accommodations that make that possible.

Hearing loss is a disability that prevents us from participating in corporate, municipal, religious, cultural, and educational life — unless accommodations are provided. Accommodations insure equal access.

We are guaranteed accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But if we want to claim those accommodations, we need to acknowledge not only that we have hearing loss but that it is a disability. (That’s the name of the act, after all.)

This notion was reinforced by the speaker at our HLAA-NYC chapter meeting last week. Dan Carione, a New York City police offer with an illustrious 28-year career, was forced to retire in 2011 when the NYPD decided officers could not wear hearing aids. He fought that ruling and won. (You can read about his four-year fight in an article published by Hearing Loss Magazine, or in a New York Times Op-Ed.)  But before he had any legal ground to stand on, he had to make an important admission to himself.

“The Americans with Disabilities Act is not this heroic shield that falls from the sky and protects each and every person who may or may not be disabled,” he said. “You have to be disabled.  That was very difficult for me to accept.”

Dan Carione does not look disabled. He was – and is – a powerful physical and intellectual presence. To use the word disabled about himself defied the visible reality.  “God bless Colleen [his attorney Colleen Meenan],” he said. “One of the first things she taught me was to use the word disabled.  It’s counter-intuitive.  Counter-intuitive, it hit me in the head like a dart because I didn’t want to use the word disabled.  But if you’re not disabled, the ADA can’t protect you.”

So if we want access equal to the access that hearing people have, we have to be open about our hearing loss. We have to acknowledge that it is a disability. That does not mean it’s disabling – it’s only disabling if we are denied the accommodations that make us equal.

For more information on living with hearing loss, see my books on Amazon.com.