Stupid stuff  happens in 2017, but it was alive and well five years ago, too, when Hearing Views editor David Kirkwood reported in on March 14, 2012.

 

By David H. Kirkwood

Anyone who spends as much time as I do scouring the web for hearing health-related news has to wade through an enormous mass of content. Some of it is interesting, accurate, timely, and useful to people who share our conviction here at this blog that hearing health matters. For the most part, I select items that fall into this category to report on at Hearing News Watch.

However, for every substantive news item I find, I reject a dozen online offerings that are not. Many of these serve only to promote whoever posted them. Others are of no interest to anyone beyond the poster and his immediate family. Quite a few seem highly questionable, and a whole lot are silly, absurd, or downright stupid.

If you’ll indulge me, this week I’m going to focus on this last area–stupid stuff online. After all, no matter how stupid some stories are, they may provide a “teachable moment.”

 

SHADES OF MIKE TYSON

 

That’s not true of all junk news. For example, can anything really be learned from the story of a 34-year-old assistant coach of a grade school team in a Springfield, MA, boys basketball league? The coach, whose team lost, was charged this week with biting off part of the ear of the opposing coach after the game. Talk about bad losers! If you missed the story on the March 12 Good Morning, America, you can see it  online–but I don’t recommend it.

 

HAZARDOUS HEARING AIDS

 

It may have gone unnoticed by the U.S. media, but the absurd behavior of a soccer official in South Yorkshire, England, has generated stories in half a dozen newspapers in the UK over the past couple of weeks.

For reasons that made sense only to him, Gary Mellor, who was refereeing a match between amateur teams from two local pubs, ordered 23-year-old Craig Beech, a player with the Masons Arms team, to remove his hearing aids. Why? Because they could be a hazard, Mellior said.

Beech, who has used hearing aids since age 4, pointed out that he had worn them in 120 soccer matches over the past six years without incident. But the ref was unmoved. He said that Beech would have to either take them out or leave the game.

Playing without them would be dangerous, Beech protested, since he would be unable to hear the referee’s whistle and might bang into an opposition player not realizing that play had been stopped. To their credit, Beech’s teammates refused to continue the match without him, and so it ended midway through the first half.

As readers are all too well aware, there continues to be stigma attached to hearing loss and hearing aids. But this episode suggests that the ignorance and groundless fears about them may be even greater than we had realized. It also points out that providers and consumers of hearing healthcare still have their work cut out to win general public understanding and acceptance of this common disability and the various ways it can be addressed.

 

CHILDREN WITH HEARING LOSS GET LEFT BEHIND

 

The last regrettable development that I want to comment on did not start stupidly. Quite the opposite.

West Virginia seemed poised to become the 20th state to pass legislation requiring health insurance companies doing business in the state to cover hearing aids for children.

Making sure that every family can afford the hearing help their child needs is smart for a lot of reasons. For one thing, providing a mainstream education to a child who can hear with hearing aids is much less expensive for the state than educating him or her in a school for the deaf. What’s more, when that child becomes an adult, he or she will be better prepared to succeed in the workplace because of having heard from an early age and having functioned in a mainstream environment.

While insurance companies initially fought this type of legislation, now they seem to have accepted it. Fortunately, the percentage of children who need hearing aids is quite small, so the financial impact on insurers is not very significant.

Certainly the hearing aid measure seemed like a good idea to West Virginia legislators. The Senate passed its bill 33-0, and the House of Delegates version passed 100-0.

That’s when the stupidity began. The Senate bill required children to see a physician before they getting hearing aids. The House bill said the children could see a physician or a licensed audiologist. A House-Senate conference committee met to try to resolve the differences between the two bills.

Unfortunately, that proved impossible. An MD in the Senate said that requiring children to be seen by a doctor was necessary to protect their safety. The House judiciary chairman said that the House bill was better because it would make it easier for children to get hearing aids. He also charged that the Senate bill was designed specifically to provide revenues for physicians. Because no compromise was reached, both bills died on March 11, the final day of the 2012 legislative session.

There is nothing especially unusual about this episode. In the hearing care field, turf battles among audiologists, hearing instrument specialists, and physicians often get in the way of the public’s hearing health.

And, in Washington, the repeated failure of Congress to reach bipartisan agreements on the crucial issues of the day has resulted in constant gridlock and unprecedented levels of public disapproval.

Still, considering how much sense this West Virginia bill made and given that both houses of the legislature overwhelmingly supported the basic goal of covering hearing aids for the state’s children, it is as sad as it is stupid that children with hearing loss were once again left behind.

This post, originally published January 4, 2012, reminds readers that hearing problems and solutions are more nuanced than simply “making things louder” or even making sounds clearer.  The message is well worth repeating in today’s market as PSAPs gain prominence and Hearables offer more auditory and non-auditory features.

By Sarinne Fox

Sarinne Fox

 

Most people who consult an audiologist do so because they are having trouble hearing. They seek a diagnosis, advice, and, ultimately, technology that will enable them to hear more sound, more clearly.

At the same time, there is a large group of people who are looking for ways to reduce the sound they hear. Either they are exposed to loud sounds that threaten to harm their hearing, or they must deal with noise that is stressful and annoying–noise such as barking dogs or the din of construction work. They desperately seek ways to reduce or eliminate the noise at the source, or block it out in some way, or mitigate its effects.

On the surface, it would seem that the goals of these two groups are polar opposites of each other. Simplistically put, one group wants to hear more sound; the other wants to hear less. The first group invests in sound-amplifying devices, the second group in sound-blocking devices.

 

DIFFERENT PROBLEMS, COMMON GOALS

 

However, if we take a more discerning view, we can see that these two groups of people actually have quite similar goals. Once we differentiate between sounds that are wanted and sounds that are unwanted (“noise”), we can see that both groups are pursuing ways to gain better control over what they hear and what they don’t. Both seek to be able to hear more of the useful, wanted sound, and, at the same time, hear less of the unwanted sound.

The hearing aids used by the first group don’t amplify all sound indiscriminately; they are tuned to amplify sounds selectively based on their frequency or the direction of their source. They can even identify and reduce background noises that interfere with the desired sounds. And the devices and techniques used by the second group that give them the greatest satisfaction are those that eliminate or filter out the noise, while allowing desired sounds to be heard.

For both groups, the objective is to increase the ratio of wanted sound to (unwanted) noise. This objective reveals a genuine commonality between the two groups. Is that the end of the analysis? I believe we can go further.

 

PRESERVING HUMAN CONNECTIONS

 

There is a deeper sense in which the two groups share a common goal. One of the tragedies of hearing loss, if untreated, is the feeling of separation from other people that it causes, since so much of our interpersonal communication, and hence our connection with each other, relies on our ability to hear. Similarly, among those troubled by excessive noise, much of their suffering stems from the social barriers that noise creates between people.

This is both a primary and a secondary effect: As a primary effect, too much noise makes it nearly impossible to communicate with others using normal speech. When conversation is shouted, all nuance and subtlety are lost. As a secondary effect, the ongoing stress, irritation, and even aggression that noise induces can do lasting damage to our positive ties to other people, especially those we care about the most.

For both groups, then, groups that seemed so different at first, there is an underlying goal motivating each to find solutions to the distinct problems they face. And this goal is one that is fundamental to our very humanity: to maintain and strengthen positive connections with other people.

When we offer ways to amplify sound that is meaningful, and ways to reduce noise that is unwanted, we are enabling people to remain in healthy connection with their fellow human beings. That’s a worthy purpose indeed!

 

Sarinne Fox is an engineer by profession and a performing musician by avocation. “Through music,” she says, “I enjoy sharing with others the joys of good sound.” Through her web site, NoiseHelp.com, she adds, “I aim to help people deal with ‘bad sound’ in their lives.”

Her interest in noise arises in part from an abnormal sensitivity to certain sound frequencies that she developed after “a thoughtless moment around firecrackers” in her youth. From her research into the subject, she has concluded that noise is a serious cause of stress for many people, one that usually goes unrecognized. Thus, she believes, “Every little bit we can do to reduce noise eliminates some of that stress, making more room for life’s joys and pleasures. I want to make it easier for the next person who is facing any kind of noise problem to find the right solution.”