Hearing Aids–seeking affordable solutions

People who use hearing aids frequently complain about their high prices. Often their families complain too, since the unaffordability of a solution means continual frustrations for both speaker and listener, and a deepening sense of isolation for all. Organizations from the National Association for the Deaf to The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) have been campaigning for years for a  tax credit of up to $500 to cover costs for the purchase of a hearing aid that is not covered by insurance. The credit would only be available to parents of children with hearing losses, or adults over 55. If you fall into either of those categories, your income must not exceed $200,000.

At least it was probably cheap.

At least it was probably cheap.

Reasonable as that all may seem, the bill is alas, stuck in committee, with a predicted 0% chance of getting passed. Still, we like to tilt at windmills, so we suggest you look at BHI’s site dedicated to the bill.

Outside of Washington, there’s a wonderful effort to get hearing aids to more people.  The Kentucky Assistive Technology Network (KATS) is running a drive to collect old hearing aids, which they will clean (obviously) and refurbish, and then distribute to those who can’t afford the several thousand dollar cost of new aids.

If you wish to donate, you can contact KATS at 800.327.5287 for a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Or you might consider starting such a program for your own local community. If you know of any similar, existing programs, please let us know and we’ll get the word out.


FTC rules video clips should be close-captioned

In 2010, President Obama signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act to great fanfare, including a White House Press Conference appearance by Stevie Wonder. The purpose of the legislation is “to increase the access of persons with disabilities to modern communications.”

Four years later, the FTC is still working on refining its implementation. The latest rules regard short video clips, which the FCC now mandates should be closed captioned, in line with a previous ruling that full-length clips should be. From Chairman Tom Wheeler’s prepared remarks:

“Accessibility of programming must evolve with technology in order for us to maintain our commitment to universal access. When the number of U.S. households viewing TV programming exclusively on the Internet is poised to surpass the number viewing only via antenna, and 77% of Internet users regularly watch video clips online – often to get news, sports, and entertainment programming, it’s time to update our closed captioning rules to reflect these changes.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNmTyVG2xd4]

You may notice that this video of the 2010 press conference is not close-captioned. That’s because the FTC has mandated rolling deadlines, based on the type of video clip. According to their press release:

  • January 1, 2016, will apply to “straight lift” clips, which contain a single excerpt of a captioned television program with the same video and audio that was presented on television.
  • January 1, 2017, will apply to “montages,” which occur when a single file contains multiple straight lift clips.
  • July 1, 2017, will apply to video clips of live and near-live television programming, such as news or sporting events.  Distributors will have a grace period of 12 hours after the associated live video programming was shown on television and eight hours after the associated near-live video programming was shown on television before the clip must be captioned online in order to give distributors flexibility to post time-sensitive clips online without delay.



Honey, did you forget the Smart Phone?

An insight into the interactions of senior adults and technology comes from a friend whose mother has Alzheimer’s. She cannot remember that the chocolate-bar shaped thing her son carries around is a phone. It remains utterly novel and incomprehensible, especially because it doesn’t have a physical, numeric keypad. The idea of texting is science fiction to her—phones are for talking, but this “phone” doesn’t seem to have a mouth- or ear-piece.

Yet, what it does resemble is a pad of paper. And since this particular phone is a Samsung Galaxy Note, it can perform like one. Thus, with her son’s help, she happily writes notes on it, which he sends off as texts to his father. Now, even when he’s outside or in another part of the house, she can “converse” easily with her husband.

It’s a wonderful piece of enabling technology for both of them, since her condition has left her almost voiceless, and he suffers from age-related hearing loss. Nevertheless, there has been some pushback. Unfortunately for my friend’s father, “Sorry, honey, I forgot to put in my hearing aid,” no longer works as an excuse.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvH6vbhOs6Y]

Cool Hearing Aids, Iffy Price

Technology continues to blur the lines among medical prosthetics, consumer devices, and  just plain cool bionics. The latest device on that frontier is the ReSound LiNX system, which boosts hearing by connecting through Bluetooth to Apple iPods, iPhones and iPads.

It takes advantage of the ability to download apps in the Apple ecosystem, so that it can customize to the wearer’s preferred settings in particular environments. Lloyd Alter of Treehugger.com spotted them at CES and was loaned a pair by the company. His detailed assessment, which could double as a user manual, makes them seem like an ideal solution.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_SWP3qI7Rg]

Now why would we need hearing aids?

There’s just one little problem: When we turn to ReSound’s site, we don’t see prices listed, only that it compares to “premium products.” Fox News reported the prices as ranging from $2,400 to $3,500, depending on the amount of hearing loss. That’s on top of the cost of Apple hardware, leaving LiNX, like standard hearing aids, out of financial range for many of the people who need them most.