An Old(er) HoH Learns a New Trick!

Gael Hannan
March 15, 2023

Note: “HoH” is a term that some people with hearing loss use occasionally to describe themselves – usually to other HoHs. It’s an acronym for ‘hard of hearing’, a term that ‘hearing people’ (how HoHs describe people without hearing loss) tend to understand. Sort of, sometimes.

(Are you still with me?)

I’ve had hearing loss my entire life. I became a hearing health advocate and a writer/speaker on hearing loss issues, so forgive me for believing that I’ve got an above average grasp on what it means to live with communication challenges. I’ve experienced the barriers and learned how to kick them down. I had, perhaps, become smug about my expertise at being a HoH.

Then, a recent aha moment made me realize there’s always new stuff to learn about, to try out, and to accept and adopt.

I can listen to books. Me – Gael Hannan, the Happy HoH who depends heavily on visual cues, can listen to books and podcasts. What a game changer!

A few years ago, before receiving my right-side cochlear implant (CI), and before smartphones had evolved to their life-sustaining platform, I never listened to podcasts or audiobooks. My hearing loss had progressed to the point that, even with telecoils, using the phone was a challenge. Perhaps I had become too dependent on text communication.

The CI has given me more high frequency sounds, sometimes to the point of being too high and too frequent, but easily adjustable by fiddling with settings on my smartphone remote. Speech from all sources became clearer and richer.

But when people recommended a podcast, I would internally shudder at the thought of trying to hear something without any visual cues. Sound coming through my ears and nothing in front of my eyes? No way, I can’t do that!

Change started last summer when I got a CI sound processor upgrade, which meant getting a new hearing aid on the same electronic platform. The result was a dynamic duo of improved hearing devices that gave me delicious, clear sound on phone calls, and direct sound when watching TV (through a special streamer) using my computer.

But it was only recently that I realized – I can now listen to podcasts and audiobooks! On walks and in waiting rooms. What finally sparked this delayed discovery? My own book coauthored with Shari Eberts, Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss, has just been released as an audiobook. I downloaded it from Audible to my phone, excited to hear the sound of our creation being narrated by award-winning voice actor Robin Siegerman.

It was a thrill to hear her low-voiced interpretation, suitable for most people with hearing loss. Even so, I missed a few words here and there. Which led me to the next step, an activity that I had let lapse a year or so into my life with a CI: I could listen and read at the same time! This is a wonderful aural rehab exercise, especially when listening with just the CI. This exercise helps train our brain to improve its interpretation of sound through our electronic device.

I’m keen now to do this with other books, although it means getting the Audible book and a text-version. But it’s worth it; this practice pays off in better speech comprehension. If you’re in the US and use, Whispersync offers a reduced price for an Audible book when you buy the eBook (Kindle) at the same time.

While my preference is to read print books – I read quickly and I love the silence – this new ability to listen to books is a gamechanger, a new trick for this old HoH, that expands my ability to enjoy the creativity of other writers and podcasters.

  1. Fantastic.. and the irony that your first audiobook is one that you co-authored!!

    Congrats all over again!

  2. I think in most public libraries one could–via their electronic service–borrow an audible version of a title, and then also borrow a hard copy in print. Worth a try–and free.

  3. It’s pretty amazing what a person with severe/profound hearing loss can hear and understand when using technology. Back in the early 2000s, Mark Ross PhD, whom I knew through HLAA, encourage me to listen to audio books with hearing aid telecoils & a neckloop prior to having my CI surgery. I had been fitted with only one hearing aid years before this time. Dr. Ross also encouraged me to beg, borrow or steal a hearing aid with a telecoil to wear on the ear that had been unaided for so long. I used a neckloop to bring the sound direct to those 2 hearing aids. A year after I practiced listening to many audiobooks , which were available at our local library, I had CI surgery. That pre implant rehab made a huge difference. I chose to have the CI done on that ear that had been unaided to the point of having sensory deprivation and the results were amazing. I’m still bimodal with compatible devices; hearing aid and CI processor. It’s amazing to realize how that kind of rehab mattered. Sharing my personal experience to encourage others to consider the many options that can make such a positive difference.

  4. That is super! I have been hard-of-hearing all of my life, also (severe loss). I read articles about people getting a cochlear implant and wish I would have been able to get one (or two) when I was a child! I am 71 now and not so sure I want to tackle it at this stage.

    1. GO for it! I have a friend in her 70s got one, incredible difference…. and recently read about someone of 92 being implanted. It is so worth it. I have Med-El Rondo2 myself (implanted 2014) , but there are others out there. If it’s only for fear of the operation, do it. It is practically a routine op nowadays.

  5. hi Gael, I also discovered this ability, but it drove me crazy listening without captions, as I was over-listening in order to hear each word one-at-a-time, and promptly forgot what each combined sentence said. I also can’t justify the cost of an audio and written version of a book, so my solution is to use the free live caption feature of my phone (or chrome book), to read a podcast while also listening through my bone conduction headset. The live caption feature makes almost all audio have quality captions. Have you tried this?

  6. I started listening to audiobooks when I got my first CI – and haven’t stopped since! The library now has audiobooks to download, even the newest best sellers. So don’t even ask how many books I’ve listened to over the years. Totally amazing. And there is a feature on the “Libby” app to adjust the speed of the speaker. Sometimes I slow it down just a notch to make it more comfortable to listen to.

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