As I'm blind and partially deaf in both ears, I rely on hearing aids to get around. One day I was chatting to my audiologist, Louis Pappas, when we began discussing the history of hearing aids. What he said helped me appreciate how much hearing technology has advanced over the years.
Deafness and Pedro Ponce
Prior to the 16th century, deafness was very misunderstood. People who could not hear were deemed to have other disabilities. Those with hearing problems were often discriminated against by society.
In the 16th century a Spanish monk named Pedro Ponce found that having a hearing impairment did not affect a person's intellectual capacity. Around 1530, he taught the Deaf children of the Spanish nobility maths and how to read, write and speak. He used oral teaching methods.
The first innovative hearing aids were in the 17th century. In 1670, Sir Samuel Moreland invented a large speaking trumpet that was made of glass. It was 81 cm long. The speaking end was just over 5 cm and the listening end was 28 cm in diameter.
His next model was made of brass. It was 1.4 metres long. The third trumpet he invented was made of copper and 4.9 metres long.
Clarvox Lorgnette trumpets were designed and worn in the early 1800s. They consisted of a pair of eye glasses and a light ear trumpet made of artificial tortoise shell. The earpiece hung down from one side of the glasses, and was darker in colour to make it less noticeable when wearing darker clothing.
In the 1850s the London Dome was developed. This device was smaller and made of thin metal. It came in various sizes, catering to different levels of hearing loss.
Alexander Graham Bell
In 1874 the inventor Alexander Graham Bell developed a device to help Deaf people communicate. Interestingly, his wife and mother were deaf and he also taught Deaf students. Bell transformed human speech into electrical impulses, making it visible to those who were hearing impaired. A carbon microphone was used to electrically amplify sound.
Electric hearing aids
In 1901 the first electric hearing aids came on the market. These hearing devices were powered by a large battery that was placed on a desk. Sound was transmitted from a bulky carbon microphone to a small receiver and finally to the ear through headphones.
The invention of transistors in the 1950s marked a turning point in hearing aid technology. Transistors consist of one switch that has two settings, on and off. When grouped together, they enabled the deaf person to hear a wider range of audible signals.
Late 20th century
Hearing technology advanced rapidly from the mid-20th century. Aids became miniaturised in size, fitting inconspicuously into the ear canal of the deaf person. Today these devices are digitally operated.
In my time
Throughout my life, I've noticed a significant improvement in hearing technology. When I was at school, my hearing aids struggled to provide clear sound in noisy environments. My aids also whistled more. I remember sitting in class once when a teacher asked,
Who's that whistling? We all laughed when we realised it was one of my hearing aids.
Today my hearing aids are smaller, lighter, provide a much better quality of sound and rarely whistle. Modern hearing technology has provided me with a better and much safer quality of life. I am now more confident socialising and participating in group discussions. I feel very fortunate to live in today's era.