The power of technology is truly remarkable. FM Listening Systems improve speech understanding in noisy situations. I’ve tried such systems before but today was amazed at just how valuable the technology can be in environments like this.
Teachers talk into a hand-held FM microphone, which transmits the sound of their voice directly to a deaf or hard of hearing child’s hearing aid. They enhance the quality of a speaker’s voice while blocking out background noise, relieving some of the stress that comes with having to concentrate so intently to hear.
At Thuan An and other schools, sounds reverberate in classrooms constructed of of tile, cement and other hard surface materials. Combine the poor acoustics with rattling fans overhead and hot days that require the opening of windows and doors , bringing in outside noise and, well, it makes it very hard to follow any conversation or teaching instruction. Especially if you have a hearing loss.
I was upstairs with Sharad at a parent consultation today. The rain was coming down in sheets outside, refreshing the humid air, yet pounding the tin roofs in a cacophonous waterfall. Sharad suggested that we try one of the FM systems he had brought along for our team to use in demonstrations. I put the receiver loop around my neck, adjusted my hearing aids, and waited for Sharad. When he began talking into the microphone from across the dimly lit room, I instantly knew that we have to find a way to get such systems to the children here.
The grating echoes of the voices bouncing against the cement walls and the din of the pouring rain suddenly all melted away. Sharad’s voice was crystal clear and sharp, as if he was standing right next to me. My interactions with FM systems in the US were nothing as dramatic as what I experienced in that noisy room today.
We took the system over to the young girl who was in the midst of her consultation and tried it out with her. She didn’t have the cognitive skills just yet to really register the difference in sound quality, but she definitely responded better and more easily to the listening session at hand.
FM systems – and even sound fields – are expensive and require extensive training to maintain. However, the impact of such technology on a child’s ability to overcome hearing loss and learn how to listen and develop language, in my mind, substantially outweigh any hurdles or challenges.