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June 12, 2003

New hearing device rings true for firm

From: Rocky Mountain News, CO - Jun 12, 2003

By Jeff Smith, Rocky Mountain News

A disability rights advocate on Wednesday launched a new technology that proponents say will enable those with mild to severe hearing loss to communicate more easily on the telephone.

Jo Waldron said the device, which measures about one-eighth of the size of the head of a pushpin, amplifies speech and increases the clarity.

Waldron co-developed the technology with audiologist Dr. Joan Burleigh, and the two have formed Fort Collins-based Able Planet Inc. to market the patent-pending technology.

The new device fits in standard telephones or hands-free headsets used with cell phones, cordless phones, computers, compact disc players and the like.

"I've never been on a mission for special privileges (for those with hearing loss), just a mission for the same opportunities," Waldron, Able Planet's chief executive, said at a news conference on the steps of the state Capitol.

A Hyatt Corp. executive said the hotel chain has installed the technology in almost 300 telephones at Hyatt hotels in downtown Denver, the Tech Center and Beaver Creek and has committed to putting the device in new guest-room telephones in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.

"This is a superior technology" to the current hearing-aid coil in hotel telephones, Tom Riegelman, Hyatt's vice president of engineering, said after the news conference.

Riegelman said the device has been tested and is being installed for Hyatt by Teledex, a California-based supplier of communication products for the hospitality industry.

The technology also will be available to consumers for $65.95 in a standard telephone or $34.95 in a hands-free earphone.

Waldron said a study found participants with hearing loss could differentiate 81.6 percent of common words using the new technology, compared with 52.6 percent using traditional hearing aid-compatible technology.

The device is being manufactured by a Minneapolis- based company, Waldron said.

Waldron was born deaf and has won awards for her disability advocacy, including the President's Trophy from President Rea-gan.

Jennifer Fidrych, a Colorado State University student who suffers from hearing loss, said she was surprised at how well the technology worked.

Previously, she would miss parts of a telephone conversation. With the device, "I could understand every word. I didn't have to say, 'What?' all the time," Fidrych said.

Waldron said the device's benefits range from talking to friends without guessing what they're saying to being able to use the telephone in case of an emergency.

"I can even order room service - that's a biggie," joked Waldron, who stayed at the Hyatt this week.

2003 © The E.W. Scripps Co.