Frankly, we never did until one industrious 16-year-old came across our radar last March. Zello has always strived to be fully blind-accessible, and we have many users who are visually impaired and use Zello with VoiceOver. Our Support team often helps visually impaired users, but when Linn Ayers contacted Support in March, she was wondering how to use Zello with her son's hearing aid. We had no experience with hearing aids and didn't know how to answer her question. We asked for more information to try to help but, luckily for us, her son Bryan had already figured it out. That's when we first heard of this amazing young man's story, and we wanted to share it so that others could benefit.
Bryan's story began 16 years ago when he was born in Mobile, Alabama. He and his twin, Andrew, were the pride and joy of their parents, Linn and David Ayers. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until around age 2, when Andrew started talking but Bryan did not. Bryan seemed to ignore his parents and did not respond to verbal cues like Andrew did. After seeing multiple doctors and specialists, Bryan was diagnosed as being severely hearing impaired. Bryan was immediately fitted with hearing aids and started regular speech therapy. Today, as a result of this early intervention, Bryan's hearing impairment is not readily apparent to most people. Bryan speaks normally, and his hearing is near-normal with the help of some pretty high-tech hearing aids.
The hearing aid Bryan uses is the model Oticon OPN2, a small over-the-ear model which uses Bluetooth technology to pair to his iPhone 5. Using a special app with the hearing aid, Bryan can listen to music or other audio. He can also use Zello, which is something we were not aware of. After pairing the hearing aid to his phone, Bryan could install Zello and then simply pick the hearing aid as the remote device to use from the Zello app. By using Zello with the hearing aid, Bryan can talk and listen to others remotely while also listening to his surroundings - this was crucial to his volunteering efforts at the SouthSounds Music Festival held in Mobile last April.
David Ayers had been involved in music festivals for years. This year, Bryan volunteered to help out backstage, alongside his dad. Other volunteers on the loading team were already using Zello for communications. They could use an earpiece in one ear for Zello and hear their surroundings with the other ear. This would not work for Bryan, as he needed the hearing aid to hear his surroundings.
The crew suggested Bryan try Zello out and see if it was compatible with his hearing aid. Fortunately, the Oticon hearing aid and Zello worked perfectly together. Bryan could talk and listen to fellow team mates while still hearing what was going on around him. Bryan's dad was so impressed, he started to get his colleagues at work to use Zello. Here's a shot of Bryan working backstage with Zello:
Bryan is a very busy young man and nothing slows him down. He continues to excel at school, has an engineering internship, and participates in a number of extra-curricular activities where perfect hearing is usually a prerequisite. He is in the high school jazz band and is also the drummer in a 4-piece rock band named Stereo Dogs. The band plays gigs around Mobile and has a new music video and CD available on their website. Check them out and support this very talented group of teens!
In addition to supporting the Opticon hearing aid, Zello has tested and certified many accessories for high-noise and hands-free use. We are constantly adding vendors and devices to this list. If you would like to suggest an accessory to add, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you are developing an accessory to run with Zello, read our guidelines here.