Considerations Regarding OTC Hearing Aids When One is Blind or Has Low Vision

Considerations Regarding OTC Hearing Aids When One is Blind or Has Low Vision


Have you heard the buzz about over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids?  With a growing number of older adults experiencing hearing loss in addition to vision loss, are these types of aids viable options?  Join Carol Hamer and Scott Davert from Helen Keller as we discuss appropriateness, accessibility, and information to help those working with individuals who are blind or have low vision understand the pros and cons of OTC hearing aids for this population. 



Jennifer Ottowitz: Welcome to OIB-TAC’s monthly webinars, where our presenters share valuable information and helpful resources to support professionals working with older adults who are blind or vision impaired. Let’s check out this month’s webinar. 

Jennifer Ottowitz: Hello and welcome to our monthly webinar, Considerations
Regarding OTC Hearing Aids When One is Blind or Has Low Vision. I'm Jennifer Ottowitz, Older Blind Specialist with OIB-TAC, and I'm very pleased to have with me today from Helen Keller, Carol Hamer, and Scott Davert. Hello and welcome to both of you.

Scott Davert: Well, thank you. You are only welcoming us because you haven't seen our presentation yet. Carol, would you agree?

Carol Hamer: Hi, Scott. Hi, Jennifer. I don't know. This could be interesting. We'll see.

Jennifer Ottowitz: It's going to be very interesting, and we're going to dive right in, and I'm just going to have you both tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience with hearing aids, whether they're OTC or otherwise. And so, Carol, we'll start with you.

Carol Hamer: Okay. I have been working at Helen Keller as an audiologist since 2002. I became an audiologist in 1986. When I became an audiologist, hearing aids were at a different point than they are now, and the technological advancement has really been very exciting to be a part of.

So, I work at Helen Keller, and I would say that for me it's been my most fulfilling role as an audiologist because we don't have the time constraints of an office. And so I really get to spend time getting to know our participants, understanding what their hearing needs are, and addressing the special considerations that they have because of the fact that they are blind or have low vision. And that's a little bit about my professional history.

Jennifer Ottowitz: Thank you so much. Scott, how about you?

Scott Davert: Right now, I am the lead research and training specialist at HKNC, which doesn't qualify me as an audiologist. That's Carol. I've been wearing hearing aids, though, since the calendar year had a one in front of it if that tells you anything, instead of a two.

So, I've been around a while. I think 1993 or something like that was when I got my first set of hearing aids. And that's kind of the perspective I come at this from. Not entirely because I do have some knowledge of my own, certainly nothing like what Carol has, but what I bring to the table, supposedly, is the experience of wearing hearing aids as a blind, hard-of-hearing person.

I've been blind my whole life and am now dealing with hearing loss. And so you were asking about experiences with hearing aids, and I kind of have to echo what Carol says, you know, it's become a lot more of a technology thing than it was even from when I started back in the 90s, you know, we didn't have hearing aids that connected to cell phones like iPhones because neither technology existed at that time.

So, now that I've made myself officially sound old, that's kind of an introduction.

Jennifer Ottowitz: Well, thank you. I'm so happy that both of you are here and we've got a broad perspective to take advantage of. So, Scott, we'll start with you. Just to talk a little bit about what are some of the benefits for wearing hearing aids in general, even for people that may have a mild or moderate hearing loss.

Scott Davert: Sure. So, when I first started on the road of hearing aids, I had what was considered a mild loss, and at first, it really drove me nuts getting them, you know, but because everything was a little too loud. I had to turn things down and then turn them back up. But, what I noticed right away was that, yes, it was tiring, and I had to get used to the change, but that I was able to follow conversations a lot better, you know, with a mild hearing loss and some amplification, for a while, it really helped me out.

You know, it also made it so that, let's say, I'm listening to the radio or watching TV with somebody else, and they don't have a hearing impairment, they may not want to have that volume cranked up all the way like I did. So, having hearing aids also gave me the ability to gain some of my inclusion in society.

Because, you know, the hearing loss wasn't as much of a struggle once I got used to the hearing aids.

Jennifer Ottowitz: Thank you. Appreciate that. Carol, any additional things to add about benefits of hearing aids from your perspective?

Carol Hamer: You know, the point that you just brought up, Scott, regarding inclusion. We can't overstate how important that is.

We are all, we like to think of ourselves, or at least some of us like to think of ourselves as independent. But really, as human beings, we are all dependent upon one another for something or other. And when you are dependent on someone, you kind of feel included with them. But the inclusion goes beyond that.

It's being comfortable in your everyday situations. And when a person has a hearing loss that is not recognized, they might just think that you know, I'm not comfortable in groups anymore. It's just not for me. And they might start excluding themselves from activities that they really enjoy, that they were really engaged in.

And so, when you have a hearing loss, and you don't recognize it and treat it, it can be a spiraling effect of negativity. And can even lead to depression. It is really important for our mental health and emotional well-being. If we use our hearing, if we are not someone who relies on sign language, we want that hearing to be optimal.

Especially if you're somebody who has low vision or no vision.

Jennifer Ottowitz: You're so right. We often talk about social isolation for people with vision loss, and it sounds like it's definitely even more so when you have hearing loss of any kind. And when you put the two together, it just compounds it. So, thank you both for sharing about that.

And Scott, I would imagine too, it sounds like your confidence may be increased too, in those social situations where things maybe were a little harder to keep track of.

Scott Davert: Sure. I mean, when you have a mild hearing loss, well, even if you have a profound hearing loss, which I now do, you know, when you're cut off from things, you also don't always necessarily realize everything that you're cut off from until you get it back.

So, you know, you might be just doing your best to kind of make it through, and you may end up being someone who once loved social situations and now hates them, you know, because of that hearing loss. And then you throw vision loss on top of it and that's what a lot of people with hearing impairment would use to offset the loss, right?

So, like a lot of people will lip read if they have, you know, good vision, but poor hearing, or, you know, they can follow a sound in their environment because they're able to see it. Well, yeah. As an individual with no vision. That's a little challenging. So, you know, the main thing is that it is doable with some work and putting in that work and that effort really pays off because.

You know, you're able to reconnect with your friends and family and that could be not only in person, by the way, it could also be on Zoom or on, you know, another conferencing platform, or maybe just over the phone, you know, not having that kind of contact, it's really isolating for a lot of people.

And I agree with you a hundred percent. It can certainly lead to depression. I know, even at my young age, as I started to struggle more and more to maintain my relationships with friends and family, not having the appropriate hearing amplification really contributed to my mental health struggle significantly.

Jennifer Ottowitz: Well, it sounds like hearing aids are definitely an optional tool to help combat that. So I know that nowadays, the buzz seems to be about over-the-counter or OTC hearing aids. You see a lot of commercials on TV and other advertisements. But Carol, we'll start with you. What exactly are OTC hearing aids, and how is the market expanding?

Carol Hamer: So over-the-counter hearing aids are hearing aids that a person can purchase on their own without the intervention of an audiologist or hearing aid specialist. If a person is seen by an audiologist, they receive what are called now prescribed hearing aids. Over-the-counter hearing aids are meant for individuals who have mild to moderate hearing loss.

Now, when a person suspects they have a hearing loss, most people will not think, oh, I think I have a mild or moderate hearing loss. They'll just be aware, hopefully, that they're missing information. And everybody has a different perspective as to what sounds normal, and I use the word normal just loosely because we're all used to things sounding a certain way.

My voice sounds a certain way to people. The color red looks a certain way to me. Somebody else might perceive it a little differently. The same is true with sounds. So, over-the-counter hearing aids are meant to be purchased by the consumer and used on their own to manage their hearing loss.

In a nutshell, that's what over-the-counter hearing aids are.

Jennifer Ottowitz: Okay. And do you know, off the top of your head or from your experience, are they covered by insurance or Medicare? Typically at this point.

Carol Hamer: So, over the counter hearing aids are not covered at all. Most people are probably aware that hearing aid coverage in general insurance is not very good at covering hearing aids. And I believe that's a big problem. I don't think that hearing aids are a luxury. I think they are absolutely a necessity. And, so, without getting on a soapbox, I'll just say I wish that there was more coverage for insurance for hearing aids.

Scott Davert: Yeah, me too. That was one of the experiences I didn't go through with over the counter, but even prescription hearing aids a few years ago. I was living in a state that didn't really offer coverage.

In fact, the Department of Voc Rehab pretty much told me they just don't cover them. So, you know, my insurance didn't cover them either. So, I had to save up and pay out of pocket, which with over-the-counter hearing aids, and I'm not an expert in that area, but it would make sense if those wouldn't be covered only.

It's like, you know over-the-counter medications, you know, these are the same thing versus prescription medications. You know, over-the-counter insurance isn't going to cover the prescription. They may or may not. That's usually the way I break it down. Carol, would you say that's accurate?

Carol Hamer: That sounds accurate to me, Scott. Yes,

Jennifer Ottowitz: That's a great way of thinking of it. And my assumption would be then that the cost comparatively speaking to prescription hearing aids would hopefully be less. Is that usually the case than a prescribed hearing aid?

Carol Hamer: This is Carol speaking. Yes, the over the counter can be several thousand dollars less than prescribed hearing aids. I'd like to talk about hearing aids in general for a minute and just say that each hearing aid company has their line of products, and hearing aid companies are kind of like car companies because you can get a very basic model or you can get all the bells and whistles.

And my feeling is that for individuals who have no vision or low vision, the best technology is what we always want because, with that better technology, you get better noise handling. And for any person, regardless of whether you have hearing loss or vision loss, hearing and understanding and processing speech in the presence of noise, especially when that noise is other people speaking is much more difficult.

So the technology and better hearing aids will handle those situations better also for individuals who use their hearing for mobility purposes. You know, we have to take that into consideration as well, and that person would want the best sound picture of their environment, and better hearing aid technology can provide a better soundscape view of what's going on around the individual.

Jennifer Ottowitz: So the good news is there are options, right? To help meet your needs. And it's important to think about your specific needs. Especially as someone who has vision loss in addition to hearing loss. And the thing about having lots of options is sometimes they can be very confusing too, right?

To know which one to pick and things like that. And I would assume that even with OTC hearing aids, there are some different options available in terms of what they can do, or if they have buttons or pair to a phone, all kinds of things like that. Is that the case?

Carol Hamer: This is Carol. Yes, there, there are many different options.

And just to review what some of those options are. So now, most hearing aids these days have Bluetooth built into them. And what that means is, just the way people have been using earbuds and AirPods for years to stream their phone calls, you can do the same thing now with your hearing aids. And when you're listening in that manner, when the sound does not have to travel through the air, it can be a more consistent signal.

Assuming you have a good connection and it can also be easier to listen to because it is right there as sound travels through the air, it loses its strength and its potency. And so, the signal diminishes by the time it reaches your eardrum.

Jennifer Ottowitz: Good to know, though, that you wouldn't have to keep taking them in and putting your earbuds or ear pods in and switching them out, you know, options that that technology exists. That's really cool. So, yeah, I would think that if you are considering OTC options, just being aware of some of the different things you're looking for. Again, with the different types of hearing aids like you said, from a basic model to the Cadillac, exploring.

Carol Hamer: The other thing to be aware of regarding over-the-counter hearing aids and technology is that, you know, many people are comfortable using their cell phone for a lot of different purposes, and they have lots of different apps on their phones.

Many of the over-the-counter hearing aids will rely on an app to control them. So, it's really important that people try and do some research as to, is this hearing aid, can I use it on its own, or must I connect it with my cell phone? For many older individuals, they don't want that option. They just want to be able to control the hearing aid by touching the hearing aid and increasing the volume or decreasing the volume or with a simple remote control for the hearing aid.

So knowing how the hearing aid functions on its own without any app would be very important for individuals to make sure that they can handle what they're purchasing.

Jennifer Ottowitz: Absolutely. Great. Think about that when we're looking at options. And that brings me right into my next question. I'll start with you, Scott, because you're, you're our technology guy in the group, in addition to your personal lived experience. I would imagine, I'm just going to go out on a limb and say, well, are all these apps that control the OTC hearing aids accessible with features like VoiceOver or TalkBack, the programs that would make a cell phone accessible to someone with vision loss?

Scott Davert: They, this is Scott. As a general rule, they are not fully accessible. And unfortunately, there's nothing that I can say that will necessarily be accurate in another six months about these apps because we have so many different manufacturers who are constantly making updates to their products, sometimes improving accessibility and other times going the opposite direction.

But I think, in saying that, I'm not trying to pass the buck and say, well, I just don't know, but that is the truth. I don't know. It'll be coming six months down the road. But what I want to emphasize is that in a lot of these situations, whether you're working with over-the-counter hearing aids or with an audiologist, you get a trial.

So it's not like on day one, you have to make an absolute decision that this is what you're going to go with, you know, and a lot of places. Depending on circumstance will either allow you a couple of different trials or maybe the only, you know, depending on what they offer, they may offer you a trial for maybe two different models that they manufacture or something like that.

And that's when you would have to put it through its paces to really decide, okay, can I work with this? Can I not work with this? And like I said, unfortunately, because of the nature of technology and how often it updates I really can't sit here and say, well, you know, this app works great, but this other one doesn't because, you know, we're recording this in the spring. I guarantee you that by fall, that will have changed.

Jennifer Ottowitz: Well, and you touched on something that the idea that trial periods, I would imagine it's really important when you're looking at options to look at return policies that the, you know, whatever option you're looking at has, because you don't want to purchase something and just be stuck with it.

Right. So would you both agree that's an important factor to consider? Especially if you are unsure exactly which model would work best. I know sometimes they also will refer you to a hearing test that may be online. And it's kind of the same thing I would imagine, Scott, that you said with the apps, right?

Accessibility may not be there today in terms of screen readers or voiceover talkback, but who knows in the future, right?

Scott Davert: Right. And, you know, the other thing is, too, because I know a lot of, at least, the majority of the Consumers I work with use iOS and the iPhone and the iPad. So, you know, there are different levels of accessibility built into Apple.

The device itself, meaning your iPhone, that can be used if those functions are enabled by the manufacturer. There's a special mode called Made for iPhone, and you're able to actually do a lot of the things that you would want to do with those kinds of hearing aids through your iPhone. But like you were saying, Jennifer, not everybody wants to mess around with that.

You know, some people just give me the buttons on my hearing aids. I don't want to mess around with the other stuff. And you still have those options, I think, right Carol?

Carol Hamer: This is Carol. Whenever, I'm working with someone to fit them with hearing aids. I make sure that if they do not want to use the app on their phone that they have as much control as they can just using the buttons on the hearing aids.

And they, you know, usually these days it's not just on and off. A button can do more than one function. It can be volume. It can change programs. So we just want to make sure that the hearing aid is accessible to the individual, as basic as that sounds. That's really quite important. Another aspect of individuals who are aging is their dexterity.

And so that's why I brought up the use of a simple hearing aid remote control because it is a very simple device that is easy to hold and it's easy to push the button to make it louder or softer or get rid of the noise. Sometimes things get complicated, and when they get complicated, people might become frustrated, and when they become frustrated, that's when their hearing aids end up sitting in a drawer.

Scott Davert: You know, and then the other thing to consider speaking of dexterity and, you know, different people have different actual abilities, right? So, I do not prefer rechargeable hearing aids at all. I don't like the fact that they may not charge, and I may not have a ready-to-go solution for that.

So I tend to use hearing aids that run off batteries that you use, and then you're done with them. Now, for someone with dexterity or other kinds of issues, you know, they may not want a hearing aid like that because these batteries are small. And so that's another aspect of this whole puzzle, and it is a puzzle, is rechargeable versus disposable batteries, you know, for some people they may prefer rechargeable, you know, you just put your hearing aids in a case and you're done for the night and you'll know it'll be there tomorrow. And that's good enough for you. But for control freaks like me, I prefer I prefer my batteries to be, you know, reusable at any given point.

But that's a personal preference. I'm sure, Carol, you can adjust to that, too, that, you know, some people just aren't comfortable with the charging while other people just don't like handling the batteries. And so, neither is a wrong answer, but it's certainly something to consider.

Jennifer Ottowitz: And Scott, you are reading my mind because that is exactly what I was going to bring up the idea of batteries and handling them and rechargeable versus battery options.

So, there are both on the market, even with OTC hearing aids. So that's a good thing. Any other important factors related to limitations or appropriateness of OTC hearing aids that would be important for anyone who is blind or has low vision that might be thinking about or pursuing these OTC options?

Carol Hamer: Well, in general, I do, I think I would be remiss if I didn't state that there are certain people, regardless of their vision status, who should not use OTC hearing aids. And so, I just want to run down that list. The OTC hearing aids are meant for people individuals over 18 years old. If a person has any ear deformity, if their outer ear is missing, if it's misshaped, if there's something that is not quite the norm, they should not use an OTC hearing aid because there's a good possibility that.

Inside, there are also issues with the anatomy of the ear that the person might not even be aware of. If a person has an ear that is draining or is painful or frequently has fluid coming out of it, that person should not use over-the-counter hearing aids. Anybody who thinks their ears might be plugged up with wax should go to their physician and have their ears cleaned because, believe it or not, a lot of wax can cause hearing loss.

And people who have an asymmetric hearing loss where one ear is very different than the other, or if somebody experiences dizziness or vertigo, or if they have tinnitus, which is ringing in the ears, and that ringing changes. Those individuals should really be checked by an audiologist before they move forward because using hearing aids can be a detriment in those situations and there are other options, other types of hearing aids that would be more appropriate for individuals that experience those issues.

And one other factor that I think is very important that I'm not sure people realize is that our ears don't just help us with hearing. They're also really important as part of our ability to maintain our balance. And for individuals who have no vision or low vision, balance can be impacted, as we know. So, these are really important considerations, just to be aware of, about the limitations of who should not use over the counter hearing aids.

Jennifer Ottowitz: And thank you so much for sharing because those are definitely important. And I believe you touched on this earlier as well, the idea that OTC hearing aids really are designed for people with that mild to moderate loss, right?

If you have a severe or profound loss, you would not even want to start with these, right? Just go straight to looking at the prescription hearing aid options. Is that safe to say?

Carol Hamer: That is absolutely safe to say, but I don't think people will, you know, if a mild hearing loss or somebody who has always had hearing that is within normal limits. A mild hearing loss, they might just be missing little bits of conversation. A moderate hearing loss, they'll miss a little bit more. But if you're really having big gaps in what you're hearing throughout the day.

If you're, you know, constantly asking for clarification than it could be best, it would be best to be seen by a professional. We, you know, when we're not feeling well, regardless of what it is, we think the experience is unique to us sometimes. But having that professional to talk to, to help you understand what you can benefit from with hearing aids and what strategies you might use, that's when having a professional involved can really help you sort things out.

Jennifer Ottowitz: And Carol, is it safe to say too, that even if a person decides to get OTC hearing aids, that does not mean that they could not contact an audiologist to then pursue prescription hearing aids, or just to talk about their, your health, their hearing things like that, that it doesn't stop them in any way they can still reach out and go that route to correct?

Carol Hamer: Yes, that's a really good point. And my biggest concern, I'm happy. Anything that helps people obtain hearing aids. That, I know, is a good thing, but again, I'm just concerned if somebody gets them and then they start having an issue and then they think, well, this is just how hearing aids are, they're not for me, when in reality, the audiologist, when they're programming the hearing aids, there are really thousands of different adjustments that can be made.

And knowing, you know, how making an adjustment one way might mean you need to adjust this the other way, that's what audiologists go to school for, to learn about those things, so that they can help somebody who is, you know, struggling with, do I like these devices or do I just want to throw them away?

Scott Davert: Well, I think, you know, again, to sort of come back to the analogy earlier, you know, if you have, say, I don't know, a minor ache or pain, you might go to the store and get Ibuprofen or any other anti-inflammatory that's over the counter, right? But if you have more serious pain, I don't know, let's say you broke your arm, you know, you probably want to go get medical assistance for that.

And you're probably going to need a larger amount of treatment than just, you know, some sort of, thing to help treat pain. You actually have to get more training. And that's not to say our treatment. I'm sorry. And that's not to say that, hearing aids are a pain like that, but it's an analogy. You know, it's like the more serious the situation, the more serious attention needs to be paid to it.

And the more likely you should consult professionals that have gone to school and learn these things.

Jennifer Ottowitz: Thank you. Well, I want to move on to talking about the lived experience. And so, Scott, I'm going to start with you on this one. It's just the idea of moving from natural hearing to assisted hearing.

You mentioned this earlier, kind of the, when you first started wearing your hearing aids, how there was an adjustment period and how it's important. For professionals, anyone working with anyone who is moving to using assisted hearing to be aware of that and, and some of the implications of that. But definitely, for the person who was wearing hearing aids, there's a bit of an adjustment, right?

Scott Davert: Oh, yeah. And when you factor in the visual impairment, regardless of what it is, that's also a factor, you know, because obviously when your vision goes down, you're hearing becomes more refined if you have it, because then you can utilize it, you know, for things like crossing intersections, for example, you know, all these kinds of different things that you would fall back to your hearing on with no vision.

So, you know, it's a bit more of an adjustment, I think, for someone who has low or no vision, not only because of the sound difference and the fact that you're so dependent on that sound but also, depending on the situation, you may lose some of your directional hearing. So let's say, for example, right, if you plug your left ear and you have no sound coming through your left ear, you have everything coming out of your right ear.

Everything sounds like it's on your right, even if your brain knows it isn't. You know, intellectually, and that's sometimes a factor when you start wearing hearing aids, especially in the beginning, because, you know, they may not be balanced with your hearing correctly, or depending on your hearing loss, you may just not have that directional hearing that you can use.

So that's when you start looking at, you know, compensatory ways to offset that. But, you know, it's not undoable. It's not manageable. But it does take a bit of effort. And it's not like, anything in life. You know, they say, oh, you can just do this and go, you know, it's like getting a new pair of glasses.

And I've been totally blind my whole life. But it's similar thing from what I hear from low vision, folks, you have to make adjustments to those glasses, right? You have to. Your vision is not going to be the same through glasses as it is through just whatever your eye is able to, render. So, you know, in that sense, it's just as much of a psychological adjustment as it is functional.

Jennifer Ottowitz: I've heard stories of people all of a sudden hearing sounds that they never heard before, like a turn signal in the car or even just something is amplified, or it sounds different where running water might sound like a frying pan, you know, something sizzling in a frying pan, or all of a sudden somebody slides a can across the table and it's really this loud sound that they've never heard before and everything.

So, I mentioned it. Yeah. Just kind of getting used to what it is I am hearing now that I didn't see me for as well was where is that coming from and how do I orient to it.

Scott Davert: Not only that, but it's also, you know. Yeah. Just making that adjustment. It may be a sound that you've been able to recognize in the past, but now it sounds a little different. Yeah. You know, same idea, you know. So yeah. And it's also, I think worth noting too, depending on the OTC provider, you go with, it'll vary. But, you know, audiologists are able to filter sounds out or to help you enhance sounds that you're not hearing.

Possibly. So, you know, and that goes into a whole other, topic that we don't have time to get to. But, you know, as a low vision or blind person, our ideological needs are dramatically different than someone who is, has full vision. So, you know, and it's okay to ask people, hey, what was that noise?

I still do that, even to this day, with certain sounds that I haven't heard. Or they sound different for whatever reason. It's like, what is that? You know, and the other thing you can do is, and this only works to some extent, but it does, if, let's say you are unfamiliar with a sound, you want to learn what it sounds like with your hearing aids.

So, what you might do is pull it up on YouTube and listen to it with the understanding that you're consulting the internet for something. And that's always dangerous, as we've learned a zillion times over but, you know, that's another thing that you can do. Carol, I wonder what other practical things you can think of.

Carol Hamer: You know, I just think asking lots of questions about what is that I just heard, really is invaluable because people don't realize that when you're listening through hearing aids, it takes a lot more effort. Although it's not like listening through a cochlear implant, it is a device. It is not your natural hearing. And so, it can take time to get adjusted.

And over time you hope to build up your tolerance so that really you can be using the hearing aids throughout the day. Because it's much better to have that auditory input even if you're home alone. Just to hear the sounds in your house, just to get used to wearing hearing aids is very much part of the procedure, is getting accustomed to them, getting used to them.

And for individuals who do have low vision or no vision, yes, there are specific needs. And hearing aids, in general, are meant to focus on speech. But as Scott was saying, you know, you need your hearing aids to be able to effectively cross the screen. And so, working with an audiologist, the audiologist can give you a specific program.

If you are having trouble hearing the traffic, you know, you can see perhaps a program dedicated to hearing traffic would be beneficial to you. Maybe you won't be able to hear the traffic surges, but the only way to know for sure is to try something different and try a program that allows the noise in, rather than filtering it all out as hearing aids like to do in general.

Jennifer Ottowitz: Well, and you make a good point about, again, just the idea of, the fact that adjusting to hearing aids, it can be tiring. And so until you build up that tolerance, and that's really important for those who are new to assisted hearing, wearing, hearing aids, but also to the professionals who may be working with, just to remember that and keep that in mind that mental energy, is going to get, you know, depleted a little sooner, physical energy, mental energy, because it's from both a visual standpoint and a hearing standpoint, very important.

Well, I know we're getting close to being out of time. And I do have to say, first of all, that this topic, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as you can tell, there's so much more that we could and I think should, you know, be talking about in terms of hearing aids and the implications. I'm hoping this is just the beginning of several conversations about the topic.

And I do, greatly want to thank Scott and Carol for all your insights and input. I know that we are going to have a couple of resources on the OIB-TAC website in addition to the recording of this webinar, but right now, I want to give you both a chance to just share any final comments or thoughts that you might have that you'd like to share for people about the use of OTC hearing aids, and in particular. So, ladies first, we'll go with Carol.

Carol Hamer: Thanks, Jennifer. Well, it really is a very exciting time for hearing aids because there is new technology coming out called Aura Cast, and it's a few years away. But what it's going to do, it's going to allow, announcements that are being made to be broadcast directly to people's hearing aids.

They are still working on all the fine-tuning details but this really will help level the playing field in terms of getting information to those with hearing loss in a more timely manner. It will work off of Bluetooth, and I think it will be very exciting. The other minor point, but the not really minor point, that I'd like to make is two each hearing aid company has its own accessories that work with its hearing aids.

Because when a person has vision loss as well as hearing loss, they can have trouble even under good listening conditions. So maybe they need an external microphone for their communication partner to wear so those accessories can be very useful. And finally, the last point I want to make is once you do get hearing aids, you really want to be careful not to lose them. And there are retention devices that are very inexpensive that can save you from a lot of headaches.

Jennifer Ottowitz: Thank you. As someone who just lost one of her OTC hearing aids, I really appreciate knowing that. So, thank you. And Scott, how about you?

Scott Davert: Well, I'm still trying to find my sanity, so if you happen to locate it, please let me know. And, to be sure. Yes. I mean, there's a lot of things that I could say. I think one of the most important things to remember going forward is that your first experience might not be a perfect one. I mean, it's like anything else you try, right? Like you try a certain demographic of food from a specific part of the world, and you try one of those one dish from it.

And you may be like this. I don't like this, you know, but if you're not still open to that specific kind of food, you might be missing out on something else to really enjoy. And I think not from an edible perspective. I don't think hearing aids taste very good, but I haven't ingested one. but I think that, from that, you know, you can say, look, that's also true of hearing aids.

You know, your first experience may not be the greatest. Mine wasn't, I think I had two pairs before I finally decided on one with my first time using them, so, you know. But don't give up. That's what you don't want to do is just be like, forget it. I'm done. You know? No, don't allow that.

You know, everyone is important in our society and communication. Is it right? It isn't a privilege. So use your right. Communicate. And you know, there are a lot of people here to help you figure it out.

Jennifer Ottowitz: Oh, thank you so much. I love, first of all, knowing that there are accessories to help. But then also just that honest reassurance that even if you don't have a perfect experience the first time, try again.

Keep open-minded, be open-minded, and keep investigating and exploring. And that there are options out there, a variety of options, whether they're OTC or prescription. There are hearing professionals like audiologists who can be of tremendous help. So, if you yourself are experiencing hearing loss, if you know of anyone, a loved one, or if you're a professional working with someone, share resources with them and let them know what's available.

And again, thank you so much, Scott and Carol, and we'll look forward to what's on the horizon, not only in hearing aid technology but also in technology in general to help those with hearing loss, in addition to vision loss. So, thank you all so much.

Carol Hamer: Thank you,

Scott Hamer: Thank you, Jennifer. Appreciate your time and allowing us to come on.

Jennifer Ottowitz: This has been OIB-TAC’s monthly webinar. Thanks for tuning in. Find recordings of our past webinars on our YouTube channel, and discover all of our many resources at O I B hyphen T A C dot O R G. That’s Like us on social media and share our resources with your colleagues and friends. Until next time. 

Funding statement: The Older Individuals who are Blind Technical Assistance Center (OIB-TAC) is a development of the National Research & Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision (NRTC) at Mississippi State University, focused on agencies serving older individuals who are blind. This grant, H177Z200001, is funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) under the U.S. Department of Education.  

Contact us: To contact the presenter, Steve Kelley, email You can also find him on For more information about OIB-TAC, please visit our website, Also, visit our other NRTC websites, and Visit NRTC on Facebook at and on X/Twitter at Our mailing address is P.O. Box 6189, 205 Morgan Avenue, Mississippi State, MS 39762. Our phone number is 662.352.2001. 


Information on OTC Hearing Aids from Hearing Loss Association of America

Review of OTC hearing Aids by HearingTracker

Resources from AARP related to hearing

Who Can I Turn to for Help with my Hearing Loss from NIDCD

Find an audiologist

A guide to financial resources for the purchase of hearing aids

A guide to contact information for the HKNC regional representatives from around the country

Now Hear This! Musings of a Blind Hearing Aid Wearer: Article by Jonathan Mosen  


PresentersHeadshot of Carol Hamer. Carol is smiling outside and is wearing a black tank top and long earrings.

Carol Hamer

Carol Hamer gained her audiology degree in 1986 but really started enjoying her role as an audiologist when she was hired by Helen Keller National Center in 2002. She enjoys working with deafblind individuals who use their residual hearing because they have unique challenges. The advances in hearing assistive technology over the past few years have made that work even more interesting and enjoyable. When Carol isn’t at work, you can find her with her family cooking, gardening, or exploring the natural world from flora and fauna to the stars above. 

Scott Davert

Scott Davert is the Lead Research and Training Specialist in the Technology, Research and Innovation Center, which is Headshot of Scott Davert. Scott is smiling and wearing a red shirt.housed in the Helen Keller National Center for DeafBlind Youths and Adults. In this role, Scott works with companies to create more accessible products for those who are DeafBlind, publishes reviews on devices that can benefit the DeafBlind community, runs a short-term training program for consumers, and trains professionals in the field both in and outside of the agency. He also publishes articles and reviews of technology. You can read the current list of articles published on the department's blog. 

Since 2011, Scott has also been a member of the Editorial staff of AppleVis, a community-driven website that aims to provide information and resources to individuals who are low vision, blind, or DeafBlind. He has been in the field of adaptive technology in various capacities for 13 years. 

His career encompasses his passion for technology and braille. “Braille and technology are two things that open so many doors for those who are DeafBlind. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to function in my daily life.”