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High-Tech Hearing Aids Can Help You in the Classroom

Hearing in a noisy classroom is tough even for teachers with excellent hearing. If you find yourself struggling even a little bit, today’s high-tech hearing aids can help.

“With today’s technology, hearing aids are not what they used to be,” says Leslie Rolph, AuD, CCC-A, audiologist in the Department of Otolaryngology, Center for Audiology and Speech Pathology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. “They are much smaller and in some cases you won’t even notice people are wearing them.”

The newest models can tune in radio stations and iPod selections, all in perfect stereo. They clear out most background noise and reduce unwanted tones (like clanking glass). They can even answer your cell phone with just a touch of a button, shooting sound through both ears and allowing you to talk back. With all of these fancy options and features, choosing a hearing aid is a lot more involved than it used to be. New creative designs and colors that coordinate to match your hair or contemporary designs to fit your lifestyle make it tough to tell if you’re looking at a hearing aid at all.

How can a hearing aid help in the classroom?

“Trying to understand soft-spoken and sometimes mumbling children in a noisy classroom, or trying to hear a child speaking behind you while you’re doing something else (like writing on a chalk board) are real challenges for teachers,” says Greta Ratliff, licensed hearing instrument specialist and Director of Member Services at Hear in America.

The good news:  In recent years, manufacturers have developed new products that improve speech understanding, cut out background noise and reduce feedback or whistling from the aids. And the newest aids can be worn behind the ear, in the ear or in the auditory canal.

What hearing aid styles are available?

Open fit: Open fit hearing aids rest gracefully behind the ear on crescents of stem-like wire. “The most distinct advantage of this model is for people who have good hearing in the low frequencies, with loss in the high frequencies,” says Ratliff. “People with this configuration tend to feel very plugged up by traditional hearing aids and are annoyed by the change in sound of their own voice. The open ear aids can be fit without blocking the ear canal to minimize those changes and make the hearing aid more comfortable to wear.”

Directional microphones: These aids have two adaptive microphones that search out and reduce background noise in a crowded room or noisy classroom. One microphone points to the front and the other points to the back so the wearer hears more of what is in front of them and less of what is behind them. These microphones also keep sounds to a comfortable level by amplifying soft noises and reducing loud noises. Since many people require two hearing aids, some newer devices work in tandem and communicate with each other wirelessly so the wearer has better spatial awareness of a sound’s origin.

Wireless technology: The greatest boon in hearing aids is wireless connectivity. Some hearing aids can now connect directly to cell phones via small wireless device worn around the neck. “Hearing aid users can now talk on their cell phone and hear the person they are talking to in both of their hearing aids,” says Rolph. “Wireless technology also allows them to listen to an iPod or MP3 player through their hearing aids.” There are even models coming soon that will automatically detect when you walk into a room and connect to the TV, radio or telephone (if equipped with a special adapter). So eventually you can talk on the phone without even holding the receiver.

What about the cost of hearing aids?

Experts caution that you don’t have to buy the best hearing aids to get really good results. “If your finances are limited, just tell your provider that you want to stay on the less expensive end,” says Ratliff. “We offer hearing aids to NEA members as low as $995 each with a wide variety at under $1,500 each—all with a warranty package and free hearing aid batteries.”

What’s more, these benefits cover the whole family so an active teacher who doesn’t have hearing loss can use it for their mom or dad, too.

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