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!

Accessible podcast for deaf pilots

Sam the author of The Glider Show has transcribed his latest podcast in effort to make his podcast accessible for deaf people.

Sam runs an interesting website about his journey learning to fly at Dartmoor Gliding Club.  You can view the transcript of his latest podcast here.

The Glider Show #9 – What a difference a day makes – transcript

Thanks Sam & happy landings 🙂

Terry speaks about his experience with a personal amplifier

Terry from Dumfries Gliding Club explains how he communicates when he’s flying gliders.

I am not completely deaf and I normally wear hearing aids but  they are forward facing so it is difficult to use them with an instructor behind me.  So I use headphones with a Sonido Personal Amplifier which I purchased from RNID (now known as AOHL) for about £40.  It has a microphone which can be clipped on the instructor’s collar and works very well.  (It has a built in mike as well and a loop pickup, so it can be used in other situations).

You can view the datasheet about the Sonido Personal Amplifier if you want to know more.

Information for clubs

Making your Trial flights accessible to deaf people

While we are keen to help clubs where we can, we recognise our resources are limited in how much we can do. However, at the same time, it is incredibly easy for clubs to make their trial flights extremely accessible for any deaf people who may wish to buy a trial flight voucher, and the aim of this article is to show you how you can do this.

What do I need to know?

The good news is that this can be done for the princely sum of £5. What you will need is a suction-mount mirror which can be purchased from large automobile stores or online. You can try searching for the Summit RV-30 mirror.

Suction-mount mirror

One caveat to bear in mind is that the suction mount can and does fail. As a result, you should have a cord attaching the mirror securely to a part of the glider as illustrated in the image. Be mindful of where you attach it in case of emergencies where the canopy may need to be jettisoned.

Communicating with a deaf person

There are several tips for communicating with deaf people. But the useful ones to remember out on the airfeld are the following.

    • Be mindful of the location of the sun – the deaf person will find it easier to understand you if the sun is facing you or from the side. Never speak to the deaf person with the sun behind you.
    • Face the deaf person while discussing the trial flight with them
    • Don’t speak with your face looking away from the deaf person

Pre-flight patter

When you run through the pre-flight patter, be mindful of the fact that the deaf person cannot look in multiple directions at the same time! So when you illustrate glider operations, be sure to explain to the person face to face prior to demonstrating the controls. Keep in mind that it may help the student if you illustrate certain concepts visually with movement of your hands.

Also, it may be best to explain the ground run in advance, instead of as you go along.

Agree on a suitable signal for evacuating the plane – but realistically speaking, if the person in front, who can see you in the mirror, sees you jumping out, they are likely to follow you out as well!

When the canopy is closed, check that the mirror is adjusted properly and that the person in front can see you in the reflection.

In air

Bearing the above section about communication in mind, face the front and look in the direction of the mirror when speaking. If the student is comfortable and you are comfortable in letting them have control, keep in mind that you can get their attention by shaking the stick gently. If you wish to tell them to perform certain manoeuvres or to look in a certain directions, you can again use pre-agreed hand movements (be mindful of the restricted view the student will have of you in the mirror) to show the student what to do.

Back on ground

Give yourself a mental pat in the back and let  know if this document was of use!

Using Headsets

The following advice is really aimed for those who have some hearing ability with hearing aids and may wish to improve their hearing reception using the aircraft intercom/radio.

Having said that, communication works both ways.  Even if you cannot use the intercom or are non-radio, your instructor/passenger needs to understand you too, so it is worth wearing headsets.

 

Wearing Headsets over hearing aids

If you’ve tried wearing a headset over your hearing aids, you’ve probably already worked out that its not very comfortable and the hearing aid will probably whistle.  The sound quality it not usually very clear either.

There are a number of alternatives.

 

Inductive Loop

I’m sure you are all familiar with the inductive loop system sign seen at many banks, post offices cinemas etc.  The technology is used very successfully at home for telephones, TV’s and music devices like ipods.

The hearing aid is set to the “T-Setting” which enables the hearing aid to receive sound wirelessly via an electromagnetic field.

If your hearing aid has a “t-setting” it is possible to use the inductive loop system in aircraft.

You can buy a hook loop or neck loop, which you can connect to aircraft intercom using a 3.5mm to ¼ jack adapter.

Also, perhaps not very well known is that the speaker coil within a headset also sets up an EMF and works with a hearing aid on the “t-setting”.

 

Problems using inductive loop

Unfortunately it is not always possible to use the inductive loop system in some aircraft because the hearing aid will also receive some electromagnetic interference from the aircraft electrical system and the alternator.   But this is not a problem in gliders and some motor-gliders.

How much EMF interference the hearing aid received depends on the hearing aid and the aircraft type.

For example a Slingsby T61F Venture motor-glider with a 50hp engine (and a small alternator) does not generate a large EMF and I personally find it ok to use my headsets with my hearing aids on T-setting.

However when I flew a Piper Super Cub (with a 150hp engine), I find the EMF interferes too much for me to hear anything.

Knowing which aircraft is more prone to interference than others can only be determined from trial and error.

 

Direct input shoes – an alternative method for connecting hearing aids

Some hearing aids also allow direct audio connection via direct input shoes.  These leads come with the 3.5mm jack plug can be used with tvs, hi-fis, ipods, computers….anything.

 

Modifying headsets with direct input shoes

Coming soon….pictures of modified headsets.

Disclaimer! – Headsets are expensive and modifying them will undoubtedly void the manufacturer warranty.  If you modify headsets, you do so at your own risk.  My advice would be to get the help of an electronics engineer.

 

Cochlear Implants

There are also personal audio leads available for use with Cochlear implant devices.  The leads may vary depending on which cochlear manufacturer you have, but you should be able to connect them to personal audio devices.  Therefore it should be possible to connect a Cochlear to an aircraft intercom.

 

Active Noise Reduction (ANR) / Electronic Noise Cancellation (ENC) Headsets

There are quite a few ANR/ENC headsets available for aircraft, however they are very expensive.

They work by cancelling out background noise, but in my experience they don’t really offer any benefit to deaf pilots.

The only possible scenario where they might benefit you, if your instructor/passenger is using a ANR Headset, as it will improve the clarity of their speech by reducing unwanted back-ground noise.

My advice would not to spend £500+ on an ANR headset (like I did), spend the cash on AVGAS, launch fees or beer!

Headset manufactures are developing new headsets all the time so this advice may change in future.

 

Which Headsets?

My personal choice and recommendation for headsets is David Clark and Sensizer.  Both these manufacturers have a larger ear cup, which is more comfortable if hearing aids are worn underneath.

David Clark headsets are the industry standard and are used everywhere.  If you ever see a pilot the movies they are always wearing the familiar green headsets!

Seniszer is a massive audio/electronics company.  They also make hearing aids!

The best thing to do is to try headsets on before you buy.  Lots of resellers such as AFE / Transair are present at Flying shows and have shops you can visit.

 

Headset Tips

  • Match the same headset manufacturer/type for student/instructor or pilot/passenger(s).  Not all headsets are compatible with each other.  It does really help if both pilots are wearing the same headset.
  • Borrow before you buy – headsets are expensive, there is no point buying the most expensive top of the range headset and finding out it doesn’t work for you!