Personal Hearing System

(This article first appeared in the Resound Magazine which is for Cochlear Implant Users based in the North West.)

For those few people who don’t know by now I have taken up a new hobby.

Every Sunday while the weather is still good, I jump in the car and motor down to Stafford to spend the day on a disused airfield learning to glide.

Apart from the exercise and the suntan that I have now acquired I do actually enjoy flying and the sense of freedom when gliding aloft above the clouds is magnificent. However, this is not about my favourite pastime, it’s really about the biggest issue that most of us face in our lives and that is to be able to hear clearly especially when outside or at an event.

The reason it became an issue with me was that when in the glider I sit in the front and the instructor sits behind me.

Although things have changed considerably since I first went gliding as a cadet, nearly fifty years ago, (there is now a canopy and the gliders don’t fly like bricks), one problem still remains.

Whilst on the ground with the canopy closed I can hear the instructor very well, however once we are flying there is a 60 mph wind blowing around the cockpit, a considerable amount of background noise and an instruction like ‘I want you to turn to the right’, or ‘watch your speed’ needs to be acted on and there isn’t always time for ‘pardon can you repeat that’ especially when coming into land!

There is no intercom and headset in a glider as you might find in a light aeroplane so I have had to turn my mind to another way of solving the problem.

The first issue is that Hearing aids, and BAHA’s (Bone Anchored Hearing Aids) for that matter tend to amplify ALL sound so speech is drowned out by background noise. There are sometimes choices of program that can be set up on Cochlear Implant Processors and BAHA’s but they are really designed to minimize traffic noise or background chatter and not a 60 mph gale.

My thoughts turned to some sort of loop system, but how to fit one in the glider when I got in first time and remove it when I had had my flights; the aircraft of course belongs to the club and could not be permanently changed just for me.

The answer ideally would be a remote microphone that the instructor wore connected in some way to either my hearing aid or the BAHA.
A quick check of the mountain of documentation supplied with my BAHA showed that there was such a device, hurray!! Oh dear I have not been issued with one by the clinic as most people use a different device to connect to their mobile phone and you only get one device issued. A new one would cost over £200.

Back to the drawing board, or should I say GOOGLE!. A quick check on google turned up an intercom system used by motorbike riders which allows the rider to talk to the passenger with a boom microphone connected using a Blue Tooth Intercom system, in fact is was so good you could use it to talk to a group of riders! Yes! …. er No, I won’t be wearing a motorcycle helmet in the glider. ☹

In the end I decided that engineering a solution was the only way. I purchased a cheap set of ear defenders, bought the motorcycle intercom and by drilling, cutting and a large amount of gaffer tape have managed to construct what looks like a standard headset.

OK it’s a bit ‘Heath Robinson’, for those of you with long memories, various so called inventions were published as cartoons in the newspapers in the 40’s, but it works.

All of this turned my mind to what other deaf pilots did to overcome the problems.

I actually found a website called ‘deafpilots.co.uk’ and soon realised that this was not a new problem.

Their solutions varied, some put a mirror on the side of the canopy so the pupil could lipread the instructor, one person had a microphone on the end of a long cable that the instructor wore which he attached to a neck loop system and it was fastened inside the glider, but I couldn’t get permission to do that.

So all of this turned my attention to the wider issue of day to day communications. Here are just a couple of the solutions to help both in the workplace in other situations.

  1. Cochlear Wireless Mini Microphone.

    There are two versions of this device, one is for connecting to a smart phone, whereas the one shown is just a microphone. Both will connect to the BAHA or Cochlear implant processor using BlueTooth and include a noise reduction facility in the microphone. There is a setting on the Processor to connect to the microphone via blue tooth. The issue with this is that these devices are Manufacturer specific and what I was looking for was a more general device that would work with any type of hearing equipment.
  2. Bellman Domino Loop system

    This consists of two devices, the receiver for the Implant user and a separate remote microphone. The remote microphone, which has a filter on it to reduce background sounds, can either be placed on a desk for example in a meeting or can be worn by a presenter clipped to their clothes.

The receiver can be used with Hearing Aids, Cochlear implants or BAHA devices as it can use a neck loop for a telecoil connection or can use earphones if appropriate.

The receiver also has a built in microphone so can be used without the remote microphone if necessary.

So how does this help in a glider, well the Instructor wears the remote Microphone, either on a lanyard or clipped to his clothes (or both for the more safety conscious) and doesn’t need to do anything. This microphone is ‘paired up’ with the receiver, which I wear, which has a loop connection so my Hearing Aid and BAHA are on the ‘T’ setting.

That’s all there is to it and it is a less obtrusive solution than my headphones!

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About Kev

Retired computer programmer living in Manchester, now a member of Derbyshire and Lancs Gliding club at Camphill, previously was a member of Staffordshire Gliding club. Secretary of the Manchester CICADA charity which helps cochlear Implant patients with their post op rehabilitation. Mad on flying, started when in ATC solo at 16 then raising a family so not a lot in between. Just getting back into it and really enjoying everything.