Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Oticon Streamer and Motorola CLP1040 Radio

Communication at work has always been something important to me, whether it be being able to talk on the phone to call my coworkers or just being able to hear them in a crowded, noisy room. Today I want to talk about a new communication device we have at work and how I am able to use it. Hopefully my experience can assist other Bluetooth hearing aid wearers.

Vocera and Motorola CLP1040
Me with the Vocera (left) and Motorola CLP1040 (right)
I work in a public library, which is not huge, but is rather spread-out and very busy. People are not always by their phones when they need to be reached and it can be hard to track someone down physically, especially if we are busy.  We  started off with a solution to this problem called Vocera, which is marketed at the healthcare field. The Vocera is like a walkie-talkie, but you can call people directly rather than contacting everyone on the same channel. Someone standing next to you could hear both sides of the conversation.

Recently my library decided to switch to Motorola CLP1040 radios. These are more like walkie talkies where your voice is heard by everyone on the same channel. They utilize the main device as well as a paired Bluetooth headset. This means someone will only hear one side of the conversation, as the wearer hears others through the headset.

It also meant I was going to have to come up with a solution, because I can't wear a Bluetooth headset. Or rather, I'm already wearing a Bluetooth headset (my hearing aids), and I don't want to give them up!

Oticon Streamer
Me with my Streamer device.
That is where the Streamer came into play. My hearing aids, manufactured by Oticon, can pair with the Streamer device, allowing me to hear phone calls and music through my hearing aids.

However, getting the Streamer to work with the new radio was not as easy as I was expecting. I expected it to pair as easily as the Streamer pairs with a cellphone, but that was not the case. For awhile it looked as though the devices were never going to connect.

The IT department and myself looked at several options, including physically connecting the Streamer and the radio via an audio cable (which did not work), getting another device like a portable speaker phone, or a special cable.

Eventually, though, we were able to get it to work. It required taking the Streamer and the radio far away from me (and my hearing aids), and pressing a lot of buttons on both devices. When they were returned to me, everything was properly paired, and I could hear what I needed to hear from the walkie talkie.

When in "phone call mode" with the Streamer, there are two settings. One mutes the audio surrounding the wearer to allow them to focus on the phone conversation. The other is supposed to leave all audio at the same volume so that you can monitor your surroundings as well as the phone call. (I'd just like to take a moment to be amazed at technology. Not only can I get phone calls streamed directly into my ears, I can selectively mute what I'd rather not listen to. How cool is that?)

I experienced some trouble using the latter setting. In a library setting, assisting patrons, I needed to be able to hear them as well as the walkie talkie if someone started speaking. Even on the setting where nothing should be muted, everything seemed too quiet and I experienced some difficulty hearing patrons. Not to mention, I felt fairly disconcerted, as all of the surrounding noise I was used to was very quiet. I took a look at the Streamer manual and experimented a little with the volume buttons. Turning the Streamer off and on again appeared to do the trick. Hopefully, I don't have to fumble with it too often at the public desk.

I think this whole project is still a work in progress and it remains to be seen how well it will work when everyone is using the walkie talkies (right now, we are still testing everything out). However, I am really glad that I am able to use the same thing as everyone else, just with one added accessory.


  1. Excellent, Megan. I hope it all works out.

  2. I have had somewhat similar problems with the Phonak ComPilot. The ComPilot can support up to 8 Bluetooth devices. I now have it paired to my iPad and iMac.

    I found I could not pair the ComPilot with the iPad if the iMac was active, or even when in sleep mode. It was generating Bluetooth signals (up to 33 feet) that caused the iPad to ignore a new pairing process initiated from the ComPilot. After I did a shutdown of the iMac, the pairing process between the ComPilot and the iPad was successful.

    There are other situations where I have encountered ComPilot problems. For example, the ComPilot has its own power management, and will power down after 15 seconds of audio inactivity. That works fine with a phone call, but not necessarily with a screen reader. It takes 2 seconds for Bluetooth to power back up after detecting renewed audio activity.

    To resolve this problem with the VoiceOver screen reader, I created a GarageBand sound track 14 seconds in length. The sound track contains a single note – the highest key on a grand piano. Then, I put that new sound track within an iTunes playlist in OS X, or a Music App playlist in iOS – and selected an option to repeat that sound track indefinitely until it was paused. Thus, the piano key would sound every 14 seconds, telling ComPilot that there was active audio activity going on within the ComPilot 15 seconds time limit.

    The VoiceOver screen reader can play music in the background. Any text-to-speech activity will override the sound track being played in iTunes on the Mac or the Music App on the iPad. The synthetic voice remains clear and understandable. Thus, a VoiceOver user could pause for more than 15 seconds without the irritation of a ComPilot power down and power up cycle and that 2 second delay.

    There is a difference between VoiceOver on the iMac and the iPad. VoiceOver originated on OS X and was ported to iOS. On the iPad, VoiceOver has the capability to tell a Bluetooth device to remain active during a VoiceOver session. I don't know the specific mechanism, but the command is probably communicated via the Bluetooth 2.1 protocol.

    On the iPad, I often leave VoiceOver on before I lock the iPad screen. That means that VoiceOver will be active when I unlock the screen, and VoiceOver will assist me when I enter the passcode to unlock the screen. However, while using the iPad – I must later turn off VolceOver and then turn it back on in order to initiate a new VoiceOver session to prevent subsequent ComPilot power downs and power ups. That way, I don't have to use the special track within a playlist that was mentioned above.

    On the iMac, the OS X VoiceOver does not have the same capability to prevent ComPilot power downs and power up during a VoiceOver session. This is probably related to the fact that OS X machines assume that Bluetooth devices paired to them do not have their own power management. It is a flaw that Apple needs to fix. So, first, I start the iTunes playlist containing the 14 seconds sound track before I switch on the ComPilot to interact with the iMac. This technique provides for smooth Bluetooth communications between the ComPilot and an OS X machine.

    A nice feature of both OS X and iOS is that when I switch off the ComPilot, the specialized sound track in the playlist will be paused automatically.


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