PUBLISHED: 1:50 PM on Wednesday, January 10, 2007
A clear signal
Technology, devices help Juneau woman with day-to-day

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Gabrielle Bishop with her son Caden.
The doorbell, a smoke alarm or a child crying - sounds that alert people to their surroundings. Most people rely on such sounds each day. However Gabrielle Bishop cannot always do so.

Bishop, 25, began having severe hearing loss when she was 16 because of a genetic bone disease, which affects her sight, hearing and even the ability to float in water.

"My mom has it and grandma too. I'm the oldest of seven and I'm the only one to get it," Bishop said.

Bishop said she knew she had a problem but tried to get along without the use of hearing aids.

"I never wore them because it was embarrassing. I didn't want to admit it because it makes you stand out and different," Bishop said.

"A guy I worked with finally told me that other people we worked with thought I was stupid because they would tell me something and since I didn't hear them I would do something else. I realized I needed to get over being embarrassed."

Bishop said she began wearing hearing aids in 1999 and found that she needed a new pair several years later because her original set was breaking.

In 2005 Bishop went for a consultation at Northland Audiology, where she initially had been treated for her hearing loss. With the help of Denali Kid Care, Bishop was able to get a new pair of hearing aids. What she didn't expect was more help with aids for her hearing.

"It was totally an answered prayer," Bishop said. "My hearing had really gone down, and I couldn't hear high pitches anymore at all."

Bishop's audiologist at Northland Audiology, Dr. Russ Terrill, said Bishop was a prime candidate to use some of the hearing technology now offered.

"The important thing is finding her needs and working with technology and make that fit her needs," Terrill said.

Bishop is now using an FM wireless device, which uses a remote and receivers to deliver sound directly into her hearing aid.

"Gaby is unable to understand conversational speech without her hearing aids. When she's in a crowded room or a car, it can be very hard to hear because you the sounds get muffled. The wireless device makes it as if she is always next to the person speaking and helps to single out a voice," Bishop said.

Bishop said she uses the FM device for her cell phone, to watch movies at home and when speaking to friends.

"It's just like having headphones on," Bishop said. "It's a very nifty little thing.

Bishop said it's sometimes a challenge to hear her 14-month-old son Caden when he is in a different room or at night when not wearing her hearing aids. Her husband Chris is currently on military deployment in the Middle East.

"I feel safe for the most part, but there's still part of me that worries. He was my pair of ears, especially at night," Bishop said. "It's something I've learned to deal with, but I do fear of missing news about my husband because I didn't someone at the door. It's a little bit scary."

Nancy Rongstad of Northland Audiology, along with Terrill, are working with Bishop to set up her Douglas home with devices that will alert her. Bishop said possibilities include a strobe light for the smoke detector and a piece that shakes the bed when the phone is ringing.

"She already has enough stresses in life with being a mom and having her husband away," Rongstad said. "The technology advancements move pretty fast and she was a great candidate to demonstrate these things, and she jumped right into that."

Bishop said she is grateful to Rongstad and Terrill for helping her find ways to be more independent.

"Now it doesn't bother me to tell people to speak up or that I can't understand them," Bishop said. "I even have pink hearing aids now. I thought I should just have some fun with it."

Rongstad said trying new things in the hearing arena takes work but is usually worth the pay-off.

"She's not trying to hide her hearing loss, and she advocates real well for herself," Rongstad said. "It's a good feeling to know we can help her with stuff. It's one of the rewards of helping people, and she's a great example of that."