Hearing Hell

cone of silence

“How can I help you today?” said the very nice audiologist to Clinic O’s cookiebite bad penny. I had turned up this time in a last ditch bid to see if there was anything that could be done to reduce the overwhelming amount of amplified background noise which is currently rattling my cochleas, and my nerves, in the architecturally stunning new learning spaces at the Institute of Artistic Endeavour.

“Can I show you some pictures of where I work”, I pleaded, “then what I’m asking might make more sense. When I say I’m a lecturer, people assume I stand in a lecture theatre talking all day, but I actually spend most of my time listening; doing one to one tutorials and large and small group discussions in the studio with a group of 50 on average. I’ve only got a mild loss; it’s always been tricky because of the environment, but now that we’ve moved to open plan for the entire department it’s impossible. I don’t know what to do…if I take the hearing aids out, the noise is vastly reduced, but then I can’t make out what the students are saying in normal conversation. I can hear fine in quiet spaces, but I’m rendered deaf in here… ” I pulled out my iPad to show the photos of my studio on an open mezzanine above the main studios.

“Oh dear, I see what you mean, you haven’t got a hope with hearing aids in there”, said the very nice audiologist. “It’s all hard concrete surfaces and glass, and with all the noise coming up from below, and in the sides from the refectory, and 120 people in the space all doing different activities, no hearing aids would cope well with that. I doubt there’s much I can do, but let’s take a look at your settings, there might be some small adjustments that can be made. You never know.”

A few mouseclicks later, and the disappointing news came that all the noise reduction features were already activated. It seemed there wasn’t much room for manoeuvre. The very nice audiologist explained that a lot of background noise inhabits the same frequencies of the cookie bite zone where the amplification is required, therefore reduce the background noise, and you reduce the amplification on voices at the same time. Catch 22, hearing aid style. Can’t hear with ’em, can’t hear without ’em.

Nonetheless, she did some adjustments on the standalone speech in noise programme for me to try, leaving the speech in noise settings on the automatic programme unchanged, so that I wouldn’t be any worse off if the tweaks didn’t work.

They didn’t. Cone of Silence it is, then…

4 Responses to “Hearing Hell”

  1. 1 weatherwitch February 3, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Hi Moira,

    I have to say I feel your pain…as a fellow cookie biter with hearing aids, your workspace sounds like the worst place ever. I spend about two hours a week in a location like that for dancing lessons, and there’s only ever the instructor talking and not students babbling in the background.

    I’m exhausted just after two hours, I have no idea how you can spend multiple hours a day every week in a place like that. I’d go insane! The ceilings are probably extra high as well and there’s corners and nooks for the sound to bounce around in, ugh….

    Been trying to think of a solution for you, and the only thing I can come up with is building your own loop system. A classmate of mine had this during uni – she had a microphone that she’d give the lecturer to hang around his neck, and it connected straight into her hearing aids.

    There’s no reason why you couldn’t do this with students in one on one tutorials, or even in lectures they could pass around the microphone. Sure, it would be a bit of a hassle and possibly slow things down, but probably not any more than you saying “EH?” and asking the student to repeat their question.

    My googling skills came up with this:



    I think this could seriously solve all (or most of) your problems. You could maybe even get uni to pay for it under disability laws or something? =)

  2. 2 moiradancer February 6, 2014 at 8:00 am

    Hi Weatherwitch, really appreciate the moral support, I think I may not be far off going insane! The plight of the hearing aided cookiebiter is a rather lonely one, so just knowing that someone else understands the problem brings a bit of relief.

    Thanks for those links, I’m keen to find out whether there’s anything technological which could ease the strain in certain situations. As the NHS has suggested, being locked in a lipreading death stare in one to ones for several hours a day may well ultimately turn out to be my only option, but I’d at least like to try some other solutions before resigning myself (and the students) to that fate. If they don’t work, I’m no worse off.

    Time to make some enquiries, thank you for giving me the impetus to pursue this, I’ve been feeling rather beleaguered 😦 Will keep you posted!

  3. 3 Rose Rodent (@RoseRodent) June 12, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    I have to say in this kind of environment I have given up trying to hear with Ears Direct and I use a Phonak FM system to pipe their voices directly into my earholes. It’s quite a sophisticated set-up where the main speaker wears one microphone and there’s a passaround mic which works with it. People find it hard to understand why I appear able to understand them fine in a quiet corridor one to one and then need so very much help as soon as I enter a big room where I’m trying to take notes whilst people talk from behind me into a general space whilst all shuffling their own papers, but I could be the rest of my life explaining. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean, the addition of a third person to a conversation and I just sit back and let it wash over me.

    • 4 moiradancer June 13, 2014 at 11:43 am

      Think I’ve pretty much given up on amplified Ears Direct too. I had a Room 101 teaching experience recently when I took part in a workshop which involved chatting to 110 visiting overseas students in an open plan space. They were not only chatting (as requested by us) but shredding paper and building things (as requested by us). There were a few squeaky markers in there as well. I had to switch my aids off in order to avoid frightening the enthusiastic visitors with my pained grimace facial expression brought on by the din and feedback, but the grimace soon returned within the first 5 minutes of arthritically bending double over the tables in a failed attempt to decipher what anyone was saying.

      Fortunately they couldn’t understand a word of my accent either, and were too polite to say, so we all emerged with superficial dignity intact and a shared understanding of the difficulties of communicating in open-plan spaces. Albeit for different reasons…

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