Hearing Not Required…


Shumka Dancers

I took my parents to see a Ukrainian Dance Troupe last night called “Shumka”.  This group based out of Edmonton Alberta (surprise, surprise) has been in existence for 50 years.  They put on an absolutely dazzling performance.  While my expertise on the art of dance is limited, I am certainly not ignorant to the elements of fine dance as I have been to about 10 ballets in my lifetime.  Last night’s performance, at least from my perspective, was every bit as technically sophisticated and beautiful as a ballet, but a heck of a lot more fun!

As I was watching and enjoying the performance, it dawned upon me that I was fully enjoying this event just like everyone else in the audience.  Sure, the dances were choreographed to music, but I heard that well enough. The music was not the focus of the performance, it was the dancers- their athleticism and ornate costumes.  I really did not need much hearing to enjoy this activity.  I just sat, clapped, and cheered like everyone else.

It seems that so many regularly occurring things in life are affected by hearing loss. Work, communication, enjoying television, theater, movies, music, going to a restaurant,  and going for drinks with friends, all require both technical assistive devices such as an FM system, and some accommodations from my family and friends in order for me to participate.  Not that I am complaining…I would not want to miss out on these important activities.  I am grateful that these devices grant me the necessary access and improve my ability to participate.

But its also nice to find exceptions to this through activities that are not taxing on the ears.  For me, these typically include hobbies such as fishing, archery, kayaking, hiking and photography.   And last night, it included dance!

Sometimes I wish I enjoyed more of the visual arts.  I have certainly tried…I have been to the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Musee du Louvre and Musee d’Orsay in Paris, the Met and MoMA in New York to name a few.  Sadly, visual art does not speak to me the same way that music does.  Perhaps I lack the training and education to fully appreciate the immensity of meaning these pieces of expression may hold.

In any event, there is much to enjoy in this world that does not require good hearing.  I find that it is quite beneficial to seek out these “hearing not required” activities to enrich our lives.  It also provides necessary relief from the challenges of hearing loss.  Its good for you!

For Family Day today, we are off to the Bell Lightbox (Home of the Toronto International Film Festival) to see a French film called Lancelot du Lac.  It will have English subtitles for all the viewers, not just me.  It should be fun!

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Song Sample and Gig Date!


Just a quick post this time.  My band, Below the Belt, will be playing at the Greyfriars Pub in Oakville, Ontario, Canada on Saturday March 3rd from 7-10 pm.

Exciting, because we will be playing 24 songs (2 full sets, we usually only get to play one set).  Also, my son’s band will be opening for us with a set of original material.  They are called Sticks and Stones and they are incredible.

My band does fun covers of songs from the 60’s all the way to present time.  We do songs by artists such as the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Big and Rich, John Mayer, Maroon 5, The Clash, the Tragically Hip, The Black Crowes etc.

We will be raising money for a organization called We Listen International.  This organization, headed by my friend Warren Esterbrooks, provides professional education, training and consultative services for professionals around the world in the fields of Auditory-Verbal Therapy, Auditory Rehabilitation, and Auditory Learning who work with children, teens and adults who are deaf or hard of hearing and their families.

And now for your listening enjoyment, here is a sample of my band covering Stuck in the Middle With You.  Click Here.

10 New Years Resolutions for People with Hearing Loss


Here we go again…its that time of year where we make all sorts of cliche New Years resolutions.  We all make the typical “lose weight” “exercise more” types.  Those are permanently affixed to every year’s list of resolutions for me.

As a person with significant hearing loss, there are some things which we can do that will make our lives more enjoyable.  So here are some suggestions for New Years Resolutions.

  1. Develop and Enjoy a Hobby.  As people with hearing loss, our communication challenges affect us in so many ways.  Its easy to let this dominate our lives.  So this is why I put this one at the top of the list of resolutions, because I feel it critical to develop and nurture our entire person.  For me, I have taken up Archery.  I love how archery calms me.  In addition, It requires much practice and skill, so it challenges me.  And it completely takes my mind off my hearing loss.
  2. Learn to use a new Communication Device.  Have you tried captioning on your TV?  Have you tried an FM system?  Do you use your different programs on your hearing aid?  This year, make it a goal to pick a device and learn to use it well.
  3. Learn a New Communication Technique.  There are all sorts of behavioral ways we can learn to communicate better.  Technology is only part of the story.  Ask yourself questions such as “Do I always make sure I sit with the light behind me so I can see other people’s faces better for lip-reading?”, or “Do I use a specific clarification rather than just saying what or pardon me?”.  Pick just one technique and try to apply this as much as you can.
  4. Take Action. This involves learning to be assertive, but not aggressive.  I need to work on being a bit more assertive.  For example, when I sit in a restaurant, sometimes I do not pick the best seat.  The best seat would be one in which I can see as many faces as possible and where the background noise is behind me.  All I need to do is just say to my dinner party “Do you mind if I sit there?  It would help me communicate better.”
  5. Learn to Accept Things.  Even with all the best technology and communication techniques, there are certain situations that may still be too challenging.  For example, even though I may go out to a bar with friends, I cannot hear all the communication from all the people in my group.  With the use of my FM system, I can, however, have conversations with one person at a time.  Therefore I have learned to accept this limitation.  I wish I could hear all the jokes zipping around me, but I can’t.
  6. Develop Calmness.  Again, another one I need to work on.  I am getting better, but sometimes I do get frustrated by my limitations.  Normally, this drive I have to not let this hearing loss limit me is a good thing.  It has driven me to become an audiologist, and learn to use all sorts of technologies and strategies to communicate better.  But sometimes, we might hit a brick wall.  I can get worked up by this and boil inside and its not healthy.  This year, when I get that feeling, I will try to draw upon the calmness I am learning from Archery. (See how this all ties in together?)
  7. Teach a Loved One Communication Strategies.  Communication is a two way street.  I would say that perhaps unlike other disabilities, hearing loss always affects your love ones.  Talking always involves at least one other person and as such, requires changes from communication partners.  So take some time to teach one “significant other” some techniques.  For example, my niece is likely the fastest talking teenager on planet earth.  It is incredible how many words per minute she can say.  I have worked on getting her to slow down when talking with me. Interestingly, she is now working as a waitress saving money for University next year and she has found that she does her job better when she slows down her speech for her customers.  Win win!!
  8. Plan a Dinner with Good Communication Techniques.  This one is a fun project.  Scout out a restaurant that is low noise and has good lighting.  Pick out a table that also fits these two criteria.  Pick out a seat that allows you to see everyone and where your back is towards the background noise.  Decide the number of people in the dinner party that you comfortably can communicate with.  Think about the communication devices you will be using, such as an FM system.  Think about the request for clarification techniques you will employ. And then make a reservation and enjoy!
  9. Read.  For the majority of us, our sense of vision is just fine.  Our eyes are an unimpaired portal to information.  The more we read, the more we keep in touch with the world around us.  Topics become more familiar, which assists greatly in lip-reading and hearing.
  10. Take Time for Family.  Here’s another one for me.  I get so wrapped up in dealing with my own hearing loss issues, that I sometimes do not see how things are with my family.  Be sensitive to how your hearing loss affects your other family members.  Be thankful for the things they are already doing to help you.  Also, your family members have things happening to them, both good and bad.  Make sure we take time to listen to them, rejoice in their successes, and help them with their challenges.  Its not always just about us.

Hearing during the Holidays.


The Holiday Season is now upon us.  There are work Holiday parties, Christmas parties in the neighborhood, Christmas or Hanukkah family dinners, you name it.  And they all have a couple of things in common:

  • It is noisy
  • Alcohol is usually served
  • The main activity is talking and listening.

These functions are not easy for people with hearing loss.  We function best in quiet settings and smaller groups where there is no competing noise.  Moreover we need to concentrate harder to communicate, so remaining sober and unintoxicated is a must.

You don't want to be like this guy.

Given that you will be going to places in which there is a high noise level, you need equipment and strategies on how to communicate in this environment.

So here is the Stelma Survival Christmas Guide for People with Hearing Loss.

  1. If you have a mild loss of hearing, you must use a hearing aid with a good Directional Microphone.  As I discussed in a previous blog entry, these microphones will pick up the person talking in front of you and reduce the noise behind you.
  2. Due to the high noise level of these functions, people with moderate, moderate-severe, severe, or profound  losses of hearing will definitely require an FM system attached to the hearing device (hearing aid or cochlear implant).
  3. You need to set your FM system microphone to the SuperZoom position for maximum noise reduction.
  4. If it is a cocktail party type of event, you will be standing and talking.  So you will place the FM transmitter in your left hand and your refreshing beverage in your right hand.
  5. When conversing, you will point the transmitter at the person you wish to communicate with.  We call this the Reporter Style of using an FM system.  Also make sure you hold the transmitter correctly.  See this video clip for more details.
  6. Remember to use Specific Requests for Clarification if you misunderstand.  For example instead of “what?”, say “Can you repeat the last part you said?”.  See my earlier blog entry on “What’s Wrong with Saying What
  7. Try to position yourself in areas with lower noise.  So if the music is blasting in the living room, move to the kitchen or dining room where these is less noise.
  8. Try to position yourself in areas with better lighting.  Again, if the living room is dark, stay in the kitchen where there is better lighting.
  9. Keep your alcohol consumption to a minimum.  It takes a lot of concentration for us people with hearing loss to communicate and alcohol gets in the way.  Not to mention drinking and driving is illegal.  I typically drink Gin and Tonics, but I alternate with mineral water and lime.  That way nobody bugs me about not having a drink in my hand.

If anyone else has some strategies that they use for coping with Holiday Parties, I would love to hear from you.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Strategies for Communicating in Restaurants


Dining plays in an important role in many cultures.  I think we can all agree that we do not eat simply to nourish our bodies.  It is the human connection that seems to be the most important part of dining.  We propose marriage, celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, close business deals, and simply connect with friends and family while dining.

Unfortunately, many people with hearing loss cannot enjoy the social benefits of dining due to their reduced ability to communicate in this noisy environment.  Indeed, many simply accept that they will only be there to consume the food and not much else.  Others simply choose to eliminate this social activity from their lives altogether.  This is very sad.

There are solutions, however.  These will depend partly on your degree of hearing loss, and partly on how noisy the restaurant is.  In the chart below I list the possible solutions for the various environments for different hearing loss levels.  Note that I am assuming that you have a hearing aid.  The last line is suggestions for CI users.

Degree of Hearing Loss Cafe(SNR @ 5 – 0) Restaurant (SNR @ 0 to -5) Bar (SNR @-10) 
Mild Hearing Aid with Directional Microphones Hearing Aid with Directional Microphones FM system in Zoom
Moderate Hearing Aid with Directional Microphones Either FM system in Zoom or hearing aid directional mic FM system in Zoom.
Moderate-Severe Either FM system in Zoom or hearing aid directional mic FM System in Zoom FM system in SuperZoom
Severe FM system in Zoom FM system in Zoom or SuperZoom FM system in SuperZoom
Profound FM system in Zoom FM System in SuperZoom FM system in SuperZoom
Cochlear Implant Directional mic on CI or FM system in Zoom Directional mic on CI or FM system in Zoom FM system in SuperZoom

So what are these microphone positions I am referring to?  Well, on the SmartLink and ZoomLink there are three different microphones.  The Omni mic is at the bottom and it picks up sound in all directions.  I never use this position in a noisy restaurant.  The middle microphone is called the Zoom position.  This picks up sound from the front, but not from behind.  The top microphone is referred to as the SuperZoom position.  This is a beam forming microphone that only picks up sound directly in front, but not from the sides or behind.

The SuperZoom and the Zoom microphones are the most effective in noisy environments like a restaurant

The trick to getting the most out of your directional microphone or FM system is getting the correct seat. You want to have the noise that you don’t want to hear BEHIND you.  A lot of people make the mistake of getting a table in the corner and having the person with hearing loss sit in the corner facing the entire restaurant.  This is the WRONG seat.  You want the background noise in your back.  This way your directional microphones, either on the hearing aid or the FM system, cancel out this noise and only pick up the person in front.

So here are the steps I take when going our for dinner.

  1. Try to find restaurants that are already quieter.  Choose restaurants that don’t blast music during dinner.
  2. Ask for a table in a quiet section of the restaurant if possible.
  3. Seat yourself with your back towards the background noise.  The waiter will try to seat you in the corner with your back to the wall.  He means well, but ignore him and seat yourself correctly.
  4. If you are a small group, seat the other people in front of you.  Ideally you should see the people you wish to hear in front of you and that’s it.  This way your microphones are only picking up those you wish to hear.  I then place my FM system on the table about half a meter away from the people I want to hear.
  5. If you are a larger dinner party, this presents a challenge.  You will still seat yourself as I described.  But your microphones will not always be pointing at the person who is talking.  You need to move your microphone towards the person you wish to converse with.

A couple more points to consider.

  1. If I am having dinner with just one other person, I may get his person to wear the transmitter.  But I do so after the waiter finishes blabbing about all the specials and takes my order.  (Some of these waiters seem to love the sound of their own voice because they talk way too much.  Hint to waiters: Less talk and better service = bigger tip from me).
  2. The FM microphones work best when they are as close to the talker as possible.  So place the transmitter on the table no more than half a meter away.
  3. When the waiter brings the food, grab your microphone off the table, then reposition it.
  4. When having Sushi, keep the microphone away from your Soya Sauce.  I have killed a few transmitters from spills.
  5. In large dinner parties, you will still miss out on some conversation because the microphone is only pointing at one or two people at a time.  Yes, this is still a limitation.  But you can either sit at home and sulk, or you can still be partially engaged.