People who experience hearing loss may have trouble with everyday activities like talking on the phone, listening to music and watching television. If you find you are always reaching for the clicker to turn the volume up on your TV set, you might benefit from a television-specific assistive listening device (ALD). These devices include systems that boost the sound through headphones, systems that stream sound through your hearing aids and closed captioning for your television.
Benefits of ALDs for television
People with hearing loss can have difficulty understanding dialog on television. Simply turning up the volume can cause issues for two reasons. First, the quality of the sound may deteriorate as the volume is raised, depending on the condition of the built-in television speaker. Second, the level of the sound may become an issue for other individuals who wish to watch the television with you.
Wearing assistive listening devices for television has several advantages over turning up the overall volume on your set:
- They can be used with headphones or hearing aids
- They send the signal directly to headphones or hearing aids, minimizing the interference of any background noise in the room
- The direct delivery of the auditory signal improves the overall clarity of sound
- The individual with hearing loss can operate the volume of signal coming from the television independently of the volume produced by the television's speakers
- Loved ones with different degrees of hearing ability can enjoy television together
Assistive listening devices for television typically consist of a base that plugs directly into the headphone jack of the television set and a delivery system involving a pair of headphones or your hearing aids.
TV earphones / headphones
For individuals who don't wear hearing aids, the most common ALD for television are TV earphones. These devices, also called TV headphones or TV hearing aids, are simple-to-use devices consisting of a transmitting base that plugs directly into your television's headphone jack and a headset worn by the listener wishing to hear the signal. One popular product, TV Ears, is a wireless device that uses infrared light to transmit the sound signal from the transmission base to the earphones. With an infrared signal, the wearer must position the base so it is within the line of sight of the headset at all times. There are controls on the headset so users may adjust the volume and tone of the sound delivered to their ears. One transmission base can deliver signals to multiple headset units, which can be controlled independently by users.
Hearing aids and television
Wearing hearing aids can improve your ability to understand the television. Most hearing aids today have features for reducing background noise and amplifying signals coming from the front of the wearer. Simply by wearing your hearing aids and directing your gaze at the television, you may find you can understand the dialog much better than before you wore hearing aids. If you hear some improvement but want to see if it can be optimized, ask your hearing healthcare professional if he or she can create a special program in your hearing aids to help you hear the television better. If you have a dedicated program for television in your hearing aids, you will need to know how to switch your hearing aids to that program when you are ready to watch television, and how to switch it back to your normal program when you are done.
Wireless streaming TV to hearing aids
Sometimes hearing aids alone aren't enough to give you the volume you want from television, especially if background noise is often present while you watch. Modern hearing aids are often equipped with telecoil or other wireless capabilities that can be utilized for streaming the audio signal from your television directly to your hearing aids. In addition to bypassing environmental noises, signals that stream to your hearing aids are filtered through settings that are personalized for your hearing loss.
Induction loops, or neckloops, have been in use with hearing aids for a long time. An induction loop sets up a magnetic field that can be picked up by the telecoil in hearing aids. These systems may connect to the audio via the jack on your television or with a small microphone placed near the speaker of your television. The sound signal is transmitted to an amplifier loop running around the perimeter of a room or a small, personal loop worn around the neck of the listener. When you want to listen to television, you turn on and wear the neckloop (if applicable), then switch your hearing aids to the telecoil setting. Many public buildings, churches and theaters have this type of system to ensure accessibility for hearing aid wearers, as induction loop technology is very easily accessed by anyone with a telecoil in one or both hearing aids.
Bluetooth and FM systems
Hearing aids can also connect to devices wirelessly through frequency-modulated (FM) systems or Bluetooth connections. These systems can connect directly to some types of hearing aids or through an intermediary device. Intermediary streaming devices receive the FM or Bluetooth signal and then send it to the hearing aids via another wireless connection. The intermediary device typically functions as a remote control as well, allowing you to adjust volume and change programs with the same tool.
Increasingly, Bluetooth technology is being introduced to electronic devices like hearing aids and televisions to fully integrate them with our smartphone-driven society. However, Bluetooth is not a standard feature of either hearing aids or televisions to date, so be sure to ask your hearing care practitioner which adaptors or streamers can be utilized with your hearing aids. Once the hearing aids are programmed to pair with the desired devices, the user can usually switch to wireless streaming via a single press of a button.
Sometimes the television audio signal just isn't clear enough, even for those who don't have a hearing loss. Closed captioned television allows you to both hear and see speech on the television, making it a popular option for everyone in the family to fully understand what the characters are saying on their favorite television shows. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires all digital televisions with screens greater than 13" to offer closed captioning. This is a great option for people with hearing loss because it likely already exists on your television. Look for a button on your remote control with a CC icon. It usually toggles captions on and off. It can take time to get accustomed to the captioning running across the bottom of your screen but those who use it regularly find it enhances their ability to enjoy television.
Finding a television-compatible ALD
If you need help and don't know where to start, visit a hearing healthcare professional near you. Many practitioners display and demonstrate television-compatible devices or can point you to local electronics stores which carry the devices you would like to try.