by Chelle George
One of the cool things about working at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center is I get to try out new products. They have a great demo room with a lot of technology and I get to play with it along the way to familiarize myself with it. Another great thing about working there is I run across some great people too. A few months ago someone called our information number and left a message wanting to learn more about financial aid for those wanting hearing aids.
I was forced to call him. Even with CaptionCall I am not comfortable on the phone because I’m never sure how good the captions will be and I often interrupt people when they are talking thinking they are done. During the awkward phone (the captions weren’t the best), I found out he works at a local hearing aid manufacturer. I didn’t know we had one in the city. He’s a marketing guy for ClearFlex, a new hearing aid being introduced through Harris hearing aids. He knew people who needed financial help in obtaining hearing aids and I’m always willing to help however I can. I gave him my email at the end of the phone call and shared our financial resources with him.
Through a number of emails, I learned more about their hearing aids. They don’t use a middle man (an audiologist) so their hearing aids go straight to the client. They come with a tablet so people can program their own hearing aids. There’s the typical beeping hearing test to take through the hearing aids from the tablet to form the basis of the hearing program. Or they can program an audiogram into it. Did I want to try it? You bet! Especially since about this time I was sick of my Siemens.
He sent me his website and I watched their video at www.clearflex.com which had no captions at the time. I could follow the speaker as long he faced the camera but as soon as he turned away I started to lose words so I emailed the marketing guy telling him captions would be good. His response was, “It’s on YouTube, they have automatic captions already.” It was hard not to laugh because only the hard of hearing know how bad YouTube captions are so I told him, “YouTube is notorious for bad captions, try it yourself.” If he wanted he could watch ‘Caption Fail’ videos on YouTube for fun. The next day he said, “You’re right. We’re going to work on that.” They have and it’s now properly captioned.
He came in a week or so later to let me take the hearing test right off the tablet and when I pulled out my own audiogram, it was pretty much right on. He had only domes for me to use with the receiver in the ear (RIC) aids and domes and I don’t get along we found out with the Siemens. The feedback was horrible so he took me into the adjustment part of the tablet to play with that and I did until the feedback was minimal. It was great to play with the programming. They have 5 categories to play with: volume, tinny sound, background, compression and feedback management. I smile at the “tinny sound” name. That’s something everyone who wears hearing aids can understand.
A co-worker came in while I was playing with it all and expressed interest in the product. She had just given back the Siemens she tried out (same hearing aid as mine) because they couldn’t make a good enough ear mold to control the feedback. She had work to do so I filled her in later.
I had questions. How long have they been making these hearing aids. About 4 months then, 6 months now. Do they have a warranty? Yes, a 3 year warranty. How expensive are they? Half of normal hearing aids because they don’t use the middle man so about $2200 for two hearing aids. Yes, they are worldwide and can sell all over. How does it work for people who aren’t technology inclined? They can program an audiogram into the hearing aids before shipping. They have people watch the video and the person will either say, “Yes, I can do that or no I can’t.” How many programs does it store? There’s currently 3 program memories. They come with a t-coil but a person needs to request it be turned on. Ear impressions? They would have to made at a clinic/ENT who would send them to ClearFlex. ClearFlex pays $75 for ear impressions/molds. The finished product is usually shipped in 2-3 weeks (sometimes less).
He went back to the office and wanted to see if he could let me and my co-worker have a trial run with the hearing aids. After that it took him forever to pin me down for a time to come back as I was off getting married and I needed to coordinate with my co-worker too. A few weeks ago we able to get together and this time he brought the CEO of the company in with him! How cool is that? This guy knows his hearing aids. He told us about all the work he’s done prior to these hearing aids having worked within in the industry for years with an impressive background in the component parts themselves. He knew our current hearing aids by looking at the brand and model and right away he knew we had to have custom made molds to be able to hear with the ClearFlex. They brought only domes with them. (My co-worker has a severe hearing loss while I have a mild to profound sensorineural hearing loss.) We tried the hearing aids anyway, eager to play with the tablet. Unfortunately neither of us could hear well, as he predicted, so he made an appointment with us the following week to get ear impressions and have ear molds made.
This little experiment didn’t dampen our enthusiasm as we had so much troubles already with the Siemens we expect adjustments and special fittings. They showed up the following week, took the impressions and sometime after the holidays we will get to try them.
I see many advantages to these hearing aids and I can’t see audiologists happy about this product either. I’d love to be able to play with my own programming when needed instead of making an appointment with the audiologist and waiting. People with some computer know how would probably like being able to fiddle with their programs getting it to their liking. If they are new to hearing aids, they can sit and tweak for hours as long as they have patience for that and they can tweak them in all possible settings. Maybe less hearing aids would end up in drawers? We know how we like the world to sound and sometimes it’s hard to describe them to our audiologists.There are some advantages here. Maybe it excites me because I have some know how. The disadvantages I see is it could intimidate people who don’t like messing with technology. Some newbies to hearing aids might feel lost but I think the basic descriptions such as “tinny sound” might make it easy. They hope to get rid of the connecting wires from the aids to the tablet (only used for programming) soon with bluetooth in the hearing aids. That’s a drawback for people who don’t have the dexterity to plug the tiny wires in.It’s not for everyone, to each his own. One person might appreciate this kind of thing while another would rather let someone else deal with it for them. I’m excited to give it a go and I will write about it afterwards.