How well do you understand your audiogram? Even for people who have lived with hearing loss for decades, it can be tricky to decipher. Xs and Ox signify your left and right ears. The high sounds are on the right side of the graph and the low sounds are to the left. Quiet is at the top and loud is at the bottom. Our audiologists try to explain it to us at each appointment, but because of the complexity, we often come away with a limited understanding that boils down to one thing: the degree of hearing loss we have. Yet, even that can be misleading since our hearing loss can vary widely across the frequency spectrum.
What if there was a better way? Jay Alan Zimmerman, a deaf musician and composer, believes he has created one. He calls it the Hearing Visualizer and it has three primary goals.
- Making the audiogram a picture of the hearing you do have, rather than how much your hearing deviates from “normal”
- Creating a more intuitive and user friendly format that helps people better understand the state of their hearing
- Allowing people to see how various hearing technologies could impact their potential field of hearing
Current Audiogram Framework Focuses on Loss Rather than Facts
The current audiogram format has been in use for over a century. It is likely overdue for an update. Jay describes the current audiogram as “not a picture of hearing, but a picture of loss.” From our very first visit to the audiologist, we spend time talking about what we can’t do rather than what we can. This may contribute to the stigma that often surrounds hearing loss.
Jay wants to update the language we use to describe hearing. Changing the audiogram may be the first step in doing so. “We understand seeing better because we use clear factual terms that describe the ability you have. In hearing we are still using sad ambiguous terms to describe the ability you don’t have,” Jay says. In vision, if you see near things better, you are called near-sighted. If you see better at distance, you are far-sighted. If at 20 feet, you can see what the average person sees at 20 feet, your vision is labeled 20/20.
Jay would like to use similar terms when describing hearing. If you need to be close to a certain sound to hear it, you would be deemed “near-hearing” for that tone. If you can hear it at distance, you would be “far-hearing.”
Hearing Visualizer Turns the Audiogram on its Head
The Hearing Visualizer takes the typical audiogram and turns it on its head, putting the person in the center and adjusting three main aspects of the standard audiogram format.
1. High pitches reside at the top of the page
Pitches are no longer shown across the bottom, but are arranged more logically, with high pitches at the top of the page and low pitches towards the bottom. In other words, high pitches are high and low pitches are low. The tones in speech are shown at mouth level.
2. Your right and left ear results are in their proper place
No longer two lines on a page, the hearing in your right and left ears form a hearing field that surrounds the central figure. The bottom scale is in decibels with louder sounds closer to the center. This depiction gives you an intuitive sense of loudness since we all know instinctively that sounds get louder as they move closer.
3. Your hearing field includes all tones
Because the audiogram was created with the invention of the telephone, it depicts only those tones needed to transmit speech over copper wire. It omits the highest and lowest tones, including the entire lower half of the piano. The Hearing Visualizer expands the spectrum of tones to include both very low and very high tones. This gives us a fuller sense of what we can hear that is less focused on speech.
The Hearing Field for Typical Hearing Looks Like this
Below we show the Hearing Visualizer for a person with typical hearing. The full range of sounds is shown up and down the page. The piano on the side gives you a sense of the tone depicted. How loud something needs to be in order for you to hear it (measured in decibels) runs across the bottom. The hearing field surrounds the central figure.
A person’s hearing field would be stored electronically so that it can be layered with information from various hearing technologies. What would this hearing aid do for my ability to hear speech tones? How would these headphones help me to understand conversation better on the phone? With the Hearing Visualizer, you can see your hearing field expand or contract under each scenario, giving you the power to make better technological decisions for your particular hearing.
To learn more about the Hearing Visualizer, watch Jay’s captioned video.
Readers, would you like to see a new format for the audiogram?