Design

Don’t let unsafe use of tech and toys ruin your children’s hearing

Photo credit: Dark Dwarf licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Don’t let unsafe use of tech and toys ruin your children’s hearing. That’s the message the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association is sending to parents this holiday season. This article from a New Jersey radio station features ASHA’s associate director, audiologist Paul Farrell, who warns that loud noise from toys and headphones can cause hearing loss, which in turn affects academic, social, and economic success for the rest of the child’s life.

That’s why protecting a child’s hearing is so important.

Parents and grandparents should heed Mr. Farrell’s warning. After all, a child’s ears have to last her or him an entire lifetime.

And I’ll add a warning to the advice Farrell gives: Headphones advertised as “safe for hearing” using 85 decibels as a volume limit are not safe for hearing. The World Health Organization recommends only one hour at 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA)* to prevent hearing loss.

The 85 dBA standard is derived from occupational hearing regulations and doesn’t protect all exposed workers from hearing loss. It’s not meant as an exposure level for the general public, much less children.

I think you will agree that a noise exposure standard that won’t protect factory workers or heavy equipment operators is far too loud for a child’s delicate ears. So this holiday season, avoid tech and toys that play loud sound and give your kids the gift of continued good hearing.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech. A-weighted decibel readings are approximately 5-7 decibels lower than unweighted measurements.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Engineers on noise pollution

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

You might wonder whtether engineers are interested in America’s noise problem? According to Interesting Engineering, the answer is yes—and they can help you.

When you’re ready to address a noise problem in your city, town, townhouse, house, or apartment complex, these are the kinds of people you should call. In America, there are three engineering societies whose members specialize in noise control and acoustics:

  1. The National Council of Acoustical Consultants (NCAC),
  2. The Institute of Noise Control Engineering (INCE), and
  3. The Acoustical Society of America (ASA), the premier international scientific and research society in this field, which publishes the world’s leading peer-reviewed journal in Acoustical Science, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Venture money surges into hearing health treatments

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I’ve been watching Dr. Charles Liberman’s company, Frequency Therapeutics, for several years. He’s the physician-researcher who runs Harvard’s Lauer Tinnitus Research Center in Boston and who has published papers starting in 2009 about “hidden hearing loss,” papers that broke open the Congressional log-jam that prevented significant funding going into hearing disorders. His company has raised an eye-popping $228 million in venture capital–that’s a LOT for an early-stage company–and now they’ve gotten approval from the Food and Drug Administration to fast-track trials of their first product.

But Frequency Therapeutics isn’t the only company in this space. I recently saw information at an investor conference showing that another half dozen companies have also raised significant amounts of venture capital for hearing-disorder treatments. Collectively, they’ve raised over a quarter of a billion dollars! That’s extraordinary progress for a long overlooked sector where nothing seemed to happen for decades and where the only treatment option for decades were extraordinarily expensive hearing aids from a handful of powerful companies charging inflated prices no one could afford.

Now there’s an active market and venture capitalists are diving in! That is a real sign of progress!

Thanks are due to the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology that in 2016 published a report on the noise-induced hearing loss market, and to the National Academy of Medicine report on hearing loss in America that issued a few months later. Those two reports also led to the bi-partisan Warren-Grassley OTC Hearing Aid Act that President Trump signed into law in 2018 and that goes in to effect in January 2020. That act, in turn, has created a surge of investment in personal sound amplification products, or PSAPs, which are high-tech ‘hearing aids’ you’ll soon be able to buy from your local drug store for 1/10th the price of conventional hearing aids.

Change is here!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Starting January, help comes to the hard of hearing at your local drug store

Photo credit: Kateweb licensed under CC BY 2.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This New York Times article is a wake-up call to all Americans with hearing loss: Starting January 2020, and for 1/10th the price of conventional–and ugly–hearing aids, you can buy “hearing assistive devices” at your local drug store or directly online. The innovation economy has finally come to the hidebound hearing aid industry!

And we can thank a genuinely bi-partisan team in Congress for making this happen. Charles Grassley, Republican from Iowa, and Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts, teamed up in late 2016 to write the “Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act,” pushed it through both houses of Congress, and in 2017 convinced President Trump to sign it.

Thank you Senators Grassley and Warren!

What this Act does is tell the FDA to keep its regulatory hands off of a new class of hearing-assistive devices called “personal sound amplification products,” or PSAPs. PSAPs are miniaturized, multi-featured wireless high-tech in-ear devices that do lots of things conventional hearing aids don’t do, and all for about 1/10th the price of conventional hearing aids.

Maybe deregulation works after all!  In this case, it’s good-old-fashioned bi-partisanship that got the deal done.

So if you or a loved one really need hearing aids but haven’t been able or willing to spend the $5,000 to $10,000 the hearing aid cartel has been charging, now’s your chance to tune into the world of sounds you or they have been missing. Check it out!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

A call for quiet fireworks

As Guy Fawkes day approaches ushering in bonfire season in the UK, a Bradford city councillor has called for the council to consider making a law to restrict loud fireworks displays and require quiet ones.

We have written about quiet fireworks before, noting that noise is part of the design of traditional fireworks. But as Councillor Jeannette Sunderland asserts, “[t]he manufacture of fireworks has progressed and it is now possible to hold displays and events of quieter fireworks which can create ‘quieter’ displays, ‘low noise’ displays or silent displays which reduce the noise nuisance and impact on others in terms of acoustic stress.”

It’s not impossible to remove some noise from our lives without giving up things that people enjoy.  Fireworks are, primarily, a visual display.  While there are those who may love the noise that accompanies the brilliant display, by limiting it the experience can be enjoyed by many more people.

Then again, if we consider the overall impact of a fireworks display, maybe it’s time to move on to something a bit less destructive.

Apple Watch noise app test shows accuracy within 1%

Photo credit: This photo by Alex Binary has been dedicated into the public domain

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition, and Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to this tech reviewer, an independent test of the new noise app on the Apple iWatchmeasured noise with 1% of a professional sound level meter, i.e., it measured 88 decibels when the professional meter measured showed 88.9 decibels. That’s pretty darn good!

But you don’t need the noise app on he iWatch, or any of the available smart phone sound meter apps that are available, to tell is a sound is too loud.

The World Health Organization recommends only one hour at 85 dBA to prevent hearing loss. If the ambient noise is loud enough that you have to strain to speak or to understand the person you’re speaking with, it’s above 75 A-weighted decibels* (dBA) and your hearing is in danger.

Because if something sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

*A-weighting adjusts the sound measurement for the frequencies heard in human speech.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

What kind of sound should electric cars make to warn pedestrians?

Photo credit: Mike from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This interesting article in The New York Times discusses carmakers’ efforts to choose the sound their electric cars will make. Electric motors are quieter than internal combustion motors, and regulations in Europe and the U.S. require–or will require–electric and hybrid powered vehicles to make sounds that warn pedestrians of their approach, especially the visually impaired.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data show that hybrid electric vehicles were 35% more likely than standard cars to be involved in a pedestrian accident, and 57% more likely to be involved in an accident with a bicycle. Personally, I think the problem may be greater for distracted pedestrians who are talking or texting on their phones than it is for the visually impaired.

If vehicles can be required to make sound, they can also be required to be quieter. So the principle of regulations about vehicle noise would appear to be without controversy. And the same principle needs to be extended to vehicles, such as the muscle cars and Harley-Davidson motorcycles also mentioned in the article, that make too much noise.

Actually, there are existing federal regulations and regulations in many states about vehicle noise, but these are rarely if ever enforced—and that needs to change.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

The world’s most accessible museum?

Photo credit: David Samuel licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the New York Times describes the new Wellcome Museum in London, which was specifically designed to be accessible to those with visual, auditory, and mobility issues. The piece also mentions an exhibit at the Tate Museum that was inaccessible to those in wheelchairs because it had two steps at the entrance, and of a public monument to a century-old labor dispute that was also not accessible to those who couldn’t climb steps. The main idea is that those in the UK who design museums, art exhibits, and public monuments are now aware that these places, designed for the public, should be accessible to as many people as possible.

The same principle of universal access should apply to restaurant design and other public spaces. Ambient noise in restaurants makes it difficult if not impossible for those with hearing loss to understand speech. And designing restaurants and public spaces with a goal toward reducing noise levels will make it easier for everyone to converse with their dining companions, not just the hard of hearing.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

The cost of noise disruptions

Photo credit: Cadeau Maestro from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Katherine Martinko, Treehugger, writes about how “blocking out the noise of the world” can make us more productive and creative.

Do you remember the Microsoft study on productivity and the cost of noise disruptions? I certainly do. Microsoft and several other big tech companies convened a meeting several years ago to discuss how to measure the productivity of knowledge workers. All the experts were there, led by some people from MIT.

I remember because they awarded my partner and me a contract to do further research (our original work had been for Apple Computer) on this subject and we presented it at a Human Factors and Ergonomics Society conference later.

Here’s the point in a single quote from the above article:

After being interrupted, it takes about 25 minutes to get back to the task you were working on, according to a Microsoft study. It can take even longer to get to a ‘flow state,’ alternatively called ‘deep work.’ These terms refer to the concentrated frame of mind you’re in when immersed in a task and time just seems to fly. It’s also when you do your best work.

What more do we need to know? The relentless shift toward open landscape offices has been underway for decades—because it reduces the cost of corporate office space. Basically, take away walls and doors and even cubicles and you can reduce the space-per-person well below 200 sq ft., resulting in huge savings and greater “flexibility.” But in the end, many people now work in essentially raw, unfinished, factory-like spaces with concrete floors, temporary tables, and virtually no privacy—and that, we are told, is supposed to result in what they call “teamwork.”

We’ve written about the bane of open offices before, but the fact that Microsoft weighed in on the issue is significant. We agree with the author of the above piece that it’s important, if not essential, to find and hang onto your own “bliss station”—a place where distractions are removed and you’re at your most productive when you need to be.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.