Assistive Technology Guide for Students and Families – Part II
As children return to the classroom, many times the excitement of the new year is quickly replaced with the frustration and anxiety of not being able to easily hear and participate in class. Regardless of whether your child is using hearing aids already, they may have a difficult time comprehending the information due to the location of their seat, the sounds of other students, and the frequency of the voices they are straining to hear.
Personal amplification devices can very easily be integrated into the classroom and can provide added amplification (in addition to other important adjustments such as tone control) that may offer a tremendous improvement on your child’s experience in the classroom. When exploring this option, there are two product categories that you’ll likely encounter: personal listening devices and FM systems. While there are several differences, ultimately there is only one important difference – the sound source being amplified.
A personal sound amplifier is a handheld device that amplifies the sounds in your environment. This includes the speech of the teacher at the front of the class, as well as the sounds of the other students and any other classroom sounds. For students who are having a difficult time acclimating because they are not feeling included due to difficulty hearing, this may be the perfect solution. This device is also a free-standing product, most of which include a lanyard, so that helps to decrease the chance of loss and is easily carried from class to class.
An FM System provides an additional amount of flexibility by incorporating both a transmitter and a receiver. In most cases, the transmitter will be kept with the teacher or at the front of the classroom, and your child will keep the receiver. The sound is transmitted directly to the receiver that your child has in his/her possession. This allows your child to focus on the sounds that he/she needs to hear and eliminates much of the background noise that can be a distraction. If your child’s classroom is large, particularly noisy, if your child is sensitive to environmental sounds, or is on the autism spectrum, this likely is the better option.
Regardless of whether you choose a personal amplifier or an FM System, both will provide the flexibility of using headphones/earbuds of your choice with the 3.5mm plug if hearing aids are not being used. If your child does currently use hearing aids and they are t-coil equipped, then you may use a neckloop and the sound will go directly into your child’s hearing aid. There are no firm pros or cons to either option, however, if your child’s hearing aids are not meeting their needs outside of their classroom, then a neckloop might not be a suitable solution. Additionally, by utilizing headphones instead of hearing aids, you can block out other distractions more easily.
One factor that parents are always concerned about but is rarely discussed is the investment. At ADCO we don’t shy away from this subject – it is our goal to help you and your family find solutions that meet your needs. This includes your financial needs as well. While most assistive devices are usually affordable, personal listening devices can be more of an investment. However, these devices also offer the longest warranties to help protect your investment. As you explore the solutions in this category, I strongly encourage you to call our team and allow us the opportunity to talk through different solutions for you – many times there is an affordable option that will work perfectly for you.
There are three devices that we sell most often in this category, and offer the greatest amount of flexibility for your student.
Option 1: Pocketalker 2.0 (Personal Sound Amplifier)
Why we love it: The Pocketalker 2.0 just looks cool, and often times that can help with encouraging your student to actually use the device. It also has very few buttons/switches/knobs – reducing the likelihood of the amplifier becoming another oh-so-popular “fidget.” This system offers outstanding sound quality and amplification, and is usually our go-to for personal amplifiers for users of any age.
Pros: VERY easy to use, exceptional sound quality, offers flexibility with headphones (included), earbuds (included), or a neckloop (option accessory). You can also purchase a separate charging kit to eliminate the need for disposable batteries.
Cons: For noisy classrooms, or larger classrooms where the teacher is further away from your student, this amplifier may pick up more of the classroom sounds than the voice of the instructor.
Option 2: PFM PRO or PFM PRO RCH (FM System)
Why we love it: This is the most user-friendly FM System on the market, is expandable, affordable compared to most other FM Systems, and is extremely versatile. This system can be used with headphones, earbuds, neckloops and even a variety of microphone options for the transmitter (this can be extremely helpful for the teacher).
Pros: Extremely reliable system with excellent sound quality. The PFM PRO RCH offers the added option for recharging as opposed to using disposable batteries. For schools/facilities purchasing this product directly, additional receivers may be added, providing a solution for multiple students simultaneously.
Cons: This system may be cost prohibitive for some families, although it carries a strong warranty and is made by an extremely reputable manufacturer (meaning it will last a long time and you will appreciate your investment for a long time).
Option 3: Maxi Pro (Personal Amplifier)
Why we love it: The Maxi Pro is a multi-tasking solution that can be integrated into other environments to solve problems that your student may be having outside the classroom. We generally recommend this as an option for older students.
Pros: This system can connect to your mobile phone or tablet, allowing you to amplify sounds from any portable device. Additionally, if your student struggles to hear the TV at home (or is in a classroom where the TV is utilized on a regular basis), this system has an optional TV Streamer accessory that will allow you to use it as a TV amplifier. This system will work with headphones (included), earbuds (optional) or a neckloop optional). This system is also completely rechargeable – no added accessories needed.
Cons: This system has several buttons that may be a distraction for younger students. Since we recommend this for middle school and older though, this often is not a concern.
Finding assistive technology that addresses your students needs can be a challenge, especially with so many options available. If you find that you are struggling to narrow down your search, please call our team for assistance. We work with families every day who are looking for answers and our skilled product experts will gladly help you to put together a solution that works for you
About the author: Abby Armijo is the President and Owner of ADCO Hearing Products. She has been actively involved in the education and advocacy of assistive technology for parents and has worked closely with many organizations to ensure families receive the support and information they need to make informed decisions for their children.