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On the current situation of hearing-impaired people in society
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On the current situation of hearing-impaired people in society

Learn more about the current situation of hearing impaired people in society and how holistic inclusion can succeed.

Sennheiser has developed MobileConnect, the WiFi-based system for barrier-free hearing, to give people an individual listening experience. This is not just about people with a hearing impairment who want to use their smartphone as a receiver for audio transmission during lectures, for example. People with an intact sense of hearing also use the MobileConnect app to focus 100% on the spoken word. This article highlights the current situation of hearing-impaired persons. For more information about MobileConnect as a tool for more focus and concentration, see this blog post.

According to the World Report on Hearing (WRH) of the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1.5 billion people are currently living with varying degrees of hearing loss (as of March 2021). According to estimates, this figure could rise to 2.5 billion people by 2050. In Germany, one in six people is reported to live with hearing loss, and almost 6 million of them are significantly impaired. Hearing loss can be mild to severe and can affect one or both ears.

According to the WHO, hearing disorders are among the six most common conditions in industrialized countries that have the greatest impact on quality of life. Even minor hearing impairment can become a disadvantage in a world of rapid information exchange. Hearing impairment primarily leads to difficulties in understanding speech and to communicative and social problems.

Hearing is our first sense

Healthy people hear even before they are born. The sense of hearing functions in the unborn child from the 22nd week of pregnancy, so that embryos can already distinguish voices. Later in life, a person can distinguish up to 20 individual acoustic signals per second. The hearing range of a healthy person without hearing impairment is approximately between 20 and 20,000 hertz. Hearing responds best to frequencies between 500 and 6,000 hertz. This is the frequency range of human speech. In order to learn to speak, this frequency range is therefore particularly important. The reception and processing of acoustic signals, linked to different memories and experiences, is important for the process of understanding. The sense of hearing is not only crucial for language acquisition and cognitive development. Through the perception of sound, we can also estimate distances and orient ourselves in our environment.

Dangers of an undetected hearing impairment 

In children, good hearing is essential for unrestricted language acquisition and good mental development. But what about later in life? According to the WRH, untreated hearing loss could be the cause of over 8% of cases of dementia in older adults. A study from Norway concludes that people with mild to severe hearing loss have only about half the chance of higher education compared to people without hearing impairment.

The more advanced the individual hearing loss and the longer hearing loss persists, the more degenerative degradation processes of the nerve cells in the auditory pathway occur. At some point, the loss is irreversible; the affected person has effectively forgotten how to hear. This is why it is so important to diagnose and treat hearing impairment as early as possible.

What does a hearing impairment mean for the individual? 

Hearing-impaired people are constantly faced with major challenges in everyday life, at work and in their leisure time. Our information and communication society is full of barriers for them. However, a mixture of support, acceptance and new technologies can significantly improve chances of inclusion. For the participation of people with hearing disabilities, it is important to expand their communication options. Individual communication training can help people with hearing impairments to meet the communicative demands of their social and professional environment. The aim is to learn to make better use of the remaining communication options and to open new communication channels. As different as the effects of hearing impairments are, so are the forms of necessary support. Examples include the provision of hearing aids, technical equipment at the workplace, or the use of sign language interpreters as needed.

The invisible disadvantage: hearing impairment and psycho-social consequences

Hearing impairment is often accompanied by other medical conditions such as chronic fatigue and depression. Therefore, in addition to the communicative aspect, the psychological burden of a hearing impairment must always be considered. Specific therapies can be complemented by behavioral training and relaxation techniques. However, it is also important for people with hearing impairment to shape communication situations through their own active behavior. How do I point out the special features of my hearing impairment to people I relate to? How do I avoid misunderstandings and conflicts in interpersonal communication? The decisive factor is how people with hearing impairment and their environment deal with the impairment. 

Because of the invisibility of their hearing impairment, they often encounter incomprehension and rejection. Misunderstandings and obstacles lead to frustration and attempts to conceal their hearing problems which can end up in isolation and social withdrawal. Often job loss is the result. The overall quality of life is severely limited. Especially the perception of information demands much more strength and concentration from people with hearing impairment than from people with good hearing. They quickly suffer from communicative overload. Hearing-impaired people usually perceive acoustic signals only fragmentarily. Their attention is almost completely focused on first understanding what is being said acoustically and distinguishing the signals. 

What do traditional assistive listening technologies do and what are their limitations?  

Hearing assistive technology is designed to make communication more accessible to people who are hard of hearing. By improving sound quality and speech discrimination, it supports a person‘s interaction with their environment. Hearing assistive technologies include both software and hardware that can be used in a variety of environments, for example in schools and universities.

The three traditional methods of hearing assistance commonly used are induction loops, infrared transmission systems, and FM systems. All have serious limitations, starting with limited range.

  1. FM radio signals are unsafe and can be easily interfered with.
  2. Induction loop infrastructure requires expensive, labor-intensive installation and limits hardware to a specific seating area within the room.
  3. Infrared systems take a lot of time and resources to implement and properly maintain the hardware.

The inadequacies of induction and infrared systems – particularly special seating areas for persons with hearing loss – create social stigma and situations in which hard-of-hearing people feel excluded, which reinforces feelings of loneliness, isolation, and frustration. WHO cites these as the emotional impact of hearing loss. In addition, in the COVID-19 era, as well as after, shared assistive listening devices pose a major hygiene and health risk.

Given all these limitations and shortcomings, using traditional technologies is simply no longer appropriate if people with hearing loss are to be assisted to participate in public communication as effectively and respectfully as possible.

MobileConnect – Holistic inclusion of hearing-impaired people 

MobileConnect is a system for hearing support via WiFi that enables an individually optimized hearing experience.

With MobileConnect, Sennheiser gives hearing-impaired people access to hearing support that is easy to use and available anywhere in the room. Instead of rental devices which must be handed out in advance of an event and then returned, MobileConnect relies on a device that almost everyone has in their pocket anyway: their own smartphone. As a hearing-impaired person or someone who simply wants to concentrate better on the event without being distracted by ambient noise, all you need is the MobileConnect app on your iPhone or Android device. The audio signal is streamed into the room via WiFi, so you no longer have to rely on a front-row seat. You can be anywhere in the room without losing speech intelligibility. The lowest possible latency is achieved by connecting headphones, hearing aids or cochlear implants to the end device, as Bluetooth in particular can (still) lead to significant additional audio delays. Wearable induction loops, which are invisibly worn on the body and can be connected to the smartphone via cable, can provide a remedy.

Once the app is installed, the available audio channels can simply be selected in the app or found via a QR code. And since preferences and individual hearing needs vary greatly from person to person, the sound can be customized with the help of the so-called Personal Hearing Assistant.

This is the only way to true inclusion.

MobileConnect consists of one hardware and two software components: The MobileConnect Station connects to the existing AV system and streams the audio signal over WiFi. The MobileConnect app can be installed on any iOS and Android device and receives the audio stream via WiFi. Users can switch between multiple streaming channels and easily adjust the sound profile to their personal preferences thanks to the Personal Hearing Assistant.

Conclusion

As we have seen, hearing impairment can lead to a variety of health risks and social problems. It is therefore important to start therapy and use assistive technology early in order to take a holistic approach to ensure true inclusion of hearing-impaired people. This is not just about hearing support, but about preventing social stigmatization of hearing-impaired people and creating an optimal audio experience, especially one that perfectly reproduces the frequency range of the human voice.

 

Are you interested in the topic of assistive listening and would like to learn more? Feel free to visit our website: www.sennheiser.com/mobileconnect