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Assistive listening devices (ALDs) for people with hearing loss

What is an assistive listening device?assistive-hearing-devices

Assistive listening devices (ALDs) include a large variety of devices designed to improve audibility in specific listening situations. Some are designed to be used with hearing aids or cochlear implants (CIs), while others are designed to be used alone. Many that are used in conjunction with hearing aids require a telecoil (T-switch).

While there are a bewildering variety of microphones, pickups, headphones, earphones, etc., that comprise assistive listening devices, they all have the same goal: to emphasize the ONE signal that you are interested in. That signal might be a faraway voice (e.g., a lecturer in an auditorium), or a relatively near signal that gets lost in other noise (e.g., listening to TV while others are talking nearby, or trying to converse in a restaurant).

Assistive listening devices can usually amplify a signal, but their primary purpose isn’t to make a signal louder. Rather, they place a pickup (microphone) close to the sound source, so that it becomes louder compared to the other sounds in the environment. Assistive listening devices improve your ability to hear because they make the desired sound stand out from the background noise.

What Kinds of ALDs Are There?

There are two basic types of assistive listening devices; those intended for personal use and those intended for group use.

Who can benefit from an assistive listening device?

Anyone with some amount of residual hearing can benefit from an assistive listening device. A person who is able to converse one-on-one in a quiet room without lipreading would get a lot of benefit from assistive listening devices, because a properly used ALD can duplicate that quality of sound. People with less residual hearing will benefit from the use of an assistive listening device, because the device will provide extra lipreading clues.

There’s an emerging movement in the US to make facilities accessible through the installation of hearing loops, also called induction loops.

Some people also include alerting devices in the ALD category. These are things like visual smoke alarms, alarm clocks, doorbells, etc. Click here if you’re interested in one of those.

November 2012 – New national hearing assistance device/loop locator

May 2012 – 12 Apps to help You hear Better

May 2012 – Tools to assist the hard-of-hearing

February 2012 – A Comparison of Loop, FM and IR Technologies For Assistive Listening

December 2011 – 21st Century Connectivity in Hearing Devices

October 2011 – Apps With Amps: Mobile Devices Provide Hearing Assistance

September 2011 – Phone and TV Solutions for Better Hearing

August 2011 – Highlights from the American Academy of Audiology’s annual AudiologyNOW! Expo

July 2011 – New Mobile Translation App for People with Hearing Loss

April 2011 – National Park Service Adds Assistive Technology System

April 2011 – How to use an Assistive Listening System at the Theater

February 2011 – Assistive Listening System Designed for Airplanes

October 2010 – Comfort Contego to be Supplied to the New Mexico State Courts in 2010

September 2010 – Assistive Listening Systems

July 2010 – Making Your Home Accessible and Safe

May 2010 – Operation of Some Wireless Microphones Prohibited after June 12, 2010

February 2010 – Check your wireless microphone!

February 2010 – A Survey of Awareness of ALDs and Hearing Difficulty in Places of Worship

January 2010 – Is your next hearing aid an iPhone or iPod?

January 2010 – Personal FM Systems for Adults

June 2008 – Stylish Bracelet Serves as Ears for People with Hearing Loss

June 2008 – Bluetooth and You – everything you wanted to know about how Bluetooth can help you communicate!

May 2008 – Neckloops 101

March 2008 – House technology helps hearing-impaired lawmaker

April 2007 – Concert Listening Technology for Deaf and Hard of Hearing

February 2008 – Requirements for Assistive Listening Systems in Conference Facilities

January 2008 – Comfort Audio Opens Doors in US

January 2007 – Recycle Your Assistive Technologies

January 2007 – Able Talker Personal Communicator

December 2003 – Want to know how you can use ALDs to hear better in the presence of background noise? Here’s Neil Bauman to tell you all about it!

July 2003 – Here’s Cheryl Heppner’s report covering an SHHH Convention workshop on how to overcome noise, reverberation, and distance by using directional microphones and ALDs.

April 2003 – Did you know that many tourist attractions offer some sort of ALD for people with hearing loss? Here’s a report by full-time RVer Jan Christensen.

June 2002 – New to Assistive Listening Devices? Or maybe you know someone who could use a good introduction to the various devices on the market. Here’s a great primer from the League for the Hard of Hearing. Note that they include alerting devices in their definition of ALDs.

More on this and related topics

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New national hearing assistance device/loop locator

November 2012

There’s a new, interactive national locator for specific hearing assistance technologies, including loops. For each location, one finds the address, phone number, and web address . . . so far 2,121 locations, of which 1,519 are looped. Note that the locator enables people to search for type of ALD and even type of venue in any given area. Hearing loop advocates, vendors, and installers . . . this new ALDlocator.com welcomes your submitting venues not yet included.  http://www.aldlocator.com/

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12 Apps to help You hear Better

May 2012

Developers of Apple iphone, ipad, or ipod Touch applications (apps) are taking advantage of built-in microphones and speakers to turn these portable devices into personal amplifiers. While new apps are constantly being introduced, we’ve reviewed the following 12 hearing assistance apps and rated their features when used with standard Apple ear buds. For people who have mild hearing loss, perhaps related to the aging process, these apps can be a good option. They exemplify the intuitive ease of use and touchscreen capability that Apple products are known for, and they can help eliminate carrying an extra hearing device. Although we always recommend having your hearing checked by a qualified hearing healthcare professional, at least one of these apps may help a person in a noisy room or help a person with milder hearing loss get by. Because these apps function as amplifiers, please be aware that the sound levels may be high and could be harmful to your hearing if not used safely (see “Maximum Output Sound Levels,” page 22). Please also note that the apps reviewed are for the versions noted; future updates may change some features.

See page 20 at this URL

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Tools to assist the hard-of-hearing

May 2012

Digital hearing aids can do wonders for faded hearing. But other devices can help, too, as audio technology adds new options to help people converse at a noisy restaurant, or talk quietly with a pharmacist at a crowded drugstore counter. Richard Einhorn, a composer who suddenly lost much of his hearing two years ago, relies on his hearing aid, of course, for general use. But when he is meeting friends at a busy coffee shop — where his hearing aid is not always good at distinguishing their voices amid the clatter — he removes it. He has a better solution. He pops on a pair of in-ear earphones and snaps a directional mike on his iPhone, which has an app to amplify and process sound.  Full Story

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A Comparison of Loop, FM and IR Technologies For Assistive Listening

February 2012

There are many options for assistive listening technologies. This blog post provides a comparison between the three technologies used in assistive listening. There’s been a lot of discussion about loop technology for use in assistive listening. The recent New York Times article “A Hearing Aid That Cuts Out All The Clatter” points to the many benefits of using induction loops in theaters, places of worship and other venues. Thus, the purpose of this blog is to provide a comparison between the three technologies used in assistive listening.

RF (Radio) Technology

IR (Infrared) Technology

Induction (Loop) Technology

Full Story

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21st Century Connectivity in Hearing Devices

December 2011

If we reduce the distance between the sounds we want to hear and our hearing device microphones, we dramatically improve SNR and reduce the negative effects of reverberation. The ideal distance is three to six inches. That’s a great ideal, but quite difficult to implement. Just imagine watching TV with your ear three inches from the speaker or asking your boss if you can sit on their lap during your annual review. Kidding aside, let’s look at some practical ways to achieve an optimal sound capture.  Full Story

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Apps With Amps: Mobile Devices Provide Hearing Assistance

October 2011

Mobile devices such as smart phones, tablet computers, and MP3/iPods can be used as hearing assistive technology (HAT). The potential uses are continually growing as new apps and updates are introduced. Current models of mobile devices pick up sound through an internal microphone or through added external remote microphones. Sound output is possible through the built-in speaker of the devices or by connecting transducers, including earphones, earbuds, or telecoils such as the TecEar Music Link T-coil. The actual devices, when used with appropriate apps, can enhance or modify the incoming sound or convert it to a visual signal.   Full Story

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Phone and TV Solutions for Better Hearing

September 2011

The world is full of connectivity-cell phones, land-line phones, and television media-and people now expect to have access to communication devices. All technology to connect hearing aid users to listening devices in the world around them has one major functional goal: to make the signal of interest louder or easier to discriminate in the midst of background noise. While telecoils and amplified TV and phone systems are not new to the hearing instrument marketplace, hearing instrument digital wireless technology has been available only for the last several years. The main technological difference between wireless and older technologies is that wireless technology functions on a digital protocol, whereas telecoils and older systems are based on analog transmission. Advantages afforded by digital wireless technology over analog include a more robust signal, the possibility to transmit binaurally in stereo, a more favorable signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), and the potential of encoding the signal for privacy concerns.1 Market research among hearing care professionals and hearing instrument users, conducted in the United States, France, and Germany by an independent market research firm, revealed clear advantages to being able to connect to audio sources with hearing devices. In particular, responses indicated the most desirable improvements to increase the market penetration of wireless-enabled hearing instruments were for television and cell phone usage.1 There are a great number of solutions available today for improving satisfaction while using the television and phone, both with and without hearing aids. These solutions vary in their applicability for the individual patient, so it is necessary to explore the user’s needs when choosing among them.   Full Story

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A Survey of Awareness of ALDs and Hearing Difficulty in Places of Worship

February 2010

Large halls with soaring spaces help create a sense of the divine in places of worship. While acoustic reflections, scattering, and long reverberation times may benefit liturgical music, these features also pose significant challenges for listeners with hearing impairments. Primary among these challenges are difficulty understanding the speech of worship leaders and other congregants, hearing the music and lyrics clearly, and remaining connected to the worship experience. Church is one of the most commonly identified situations of concern for persons with hearing loss.1 Thus, places of worship would seem to be amenable environments to employ assistive listening devices (ALDs).  Full Story

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Check your wireless microphone!

February 2010

Under a new FCC rule, anyone who uses a wireless microphone that operates in  the 700 MHz Band must stop operating their wireless microphone no later than  June 12, 2010.  All users of 700 MHz Band wireless microphones (and similar  devices) – including theaters, churches, schools, conference centers, theme  parks, and musicians — will need to retune (where possible) or replace  their wireless microphone equipment with other microphone devices no later  than June 12, 2010. This action helps complete an important component of the  DTV Transition by clearing the 700 MHz band to enable the rollout of  communications services for public safety and the deployment of next  generation 4G wireless devices for consumers. For further information, please visit the website

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Stylish Bracelet Serves as Ears for People with Hearing Loss

June 2008

The “Vibering” consist of two rings and a wristwatch. The two rings are worn on both hands. They are designed to act as the ears, by listening for sounds coming from behind, while at the same time determining the distance and position, and vibrate according to the source. While the wristwatch collect and identifies the sound wave and presents the info to the user, the watch surprisingly is also programmed to listen for specific phrases such as “excuse me”, when the user’s name is being called, and most importantly, a car’s horn. It certainly helps the deaf to move around more easily and normally. By the way, the bracelets look stylish, too. Nobody would think it was a device for the deaf. However, the release date and price are yet to be known.   Full Story