Advocacy increases the availability of loop systems
If you have hearing aids or cochlear implants, you probably struggle to hear in public places. Going to the theater, the airport or even a busy doctor’s office can be a frustrating experience due to the ambient noise that interferes with hearing clarity.
You may have noticed some venues have installed induction loop systems, an inexpensive fix with the potential to help millions of people hear more clearly. Those that have had the opportunity to take advantage of this technology say it is life changing. Unfortunately, loop systems aren’t as widely used as they should be, although that may be changing due to increased advocacy in recent years.
How loops work
A hearing loop is basically a loop of insulated copper wire that encircles a space. Using a venue’s P.A. or other audio system, the wire generates a magnetic field throughout the looped space which is then transferred directly to a wearer's hearing aids or cochlear implants with no inconvenient headphones necessary. The only requirement is a T-coil inside the hearing aid or cochlear implant processor. A user simply presses a button for instant connection to the venue’s sound system.
Loop systems have multiple advantages:
- Allow people to use their own hearing technology which has already been customized for their individual level of hearing loss
- Provide clear, direct sound without use of an extra device
- Can work with any audio device such as a P.A. system, TV, radio, smartphone or tablet
- Provide flexibility to allow wearers to move around as necessary
- Allow users to manage their hearing needs independently
- Improves signal to noise ratio by eliminating background noise
- Allow users to join group activities discreetly
- Doesn’t require the use of common headphones
- No cost to the user
As a matter of fact, other than the installation necessary and a relatively minor cost involved for the venue, loop systems have practically no downside. Which begs the question, why aren’t they installed in more public places? In Europe, loop technology has been in use for more than 70 years, so why is the United States so behind the curve? The answer, at least until recently, lay in available hearing aid technology. What prevented widespread use of loop systems in this country was that until about 10 years ago, not enough of the hearing aids sold were equipped with the telecoil necessary to interface with the loop system technology. All that has changed, as currently more than two-thirds of new hearing aid models and all new cochlear implant processors now come with telecoils.
Driving change for people with hearing loss
Advocacy for hearing loop systems received a national push in June 2010, when the Hearing Loss Association of America and the American Academy of Audiology teamed up for a successful year-long public education campaign called “Get in the Hearing Loop” designed to bring awareness to and increase the use of induction loops across the country. The campaign not only served to bring awareness to the public about the necessity and benefits of the technology, but involved hearing healthcare professionals in getting information out to their patients about taking full advantage of the telecoil technology available to them.
Braille on elevator buttons and wheelchair ramps are now commonplace, the hope is that loop systems will follow suit. Certainly, laws need to be changed to bring hearing technology up to date with measures in place for other disabilities. But in the meantime, advocating for hearing accessible technology is important both at a national and local level in order to help improve the lives of those with hearing loss, allow them to live more independently and be fully engaged in their communities. Accessible communication such as loop systems would allow those with hearing loss the same opportunities as the rest of the community when it comes to entertainment, community involvement, employment, healthcare and education.
The good news is that across the country, awareness of loop technology is increasing, and communities are responding by installing the systems in both public and private venues. Michigan and New York are leading the charge, with hundreds of loop systems installed just in the past five years. The advocacy efforts of a vocal few have led to spaces such as movie theaters, concert halls, churches, conference rooms, banks, airports, train stations, classrooms, sports stadiums, meeting rooms, universities and even taxis are becoming hearing accessible.
Pastor Barry Hunteman, of Hope Lutheran Church in the Villages, Florida, knows firsthand how helpful the technology is. After installing their first loop system during a renovation several years ago, he says the response from those attending services has been nothing but positive. “We’ve received wonderful feedback, even from people who are visiting from other churches who come to try it out, and then they want it for their church! It was well worth the investment. It is far easier for people to hear if they have hearing aids, especially in a big room.”
So what will it take to bring this technology to a venue near you? To put it simply, more widespread use requires advocacy and working with local public officials. Here are some steps you can take to get involved:
- Identify places in your community that you think would benefit from loop technology, such as libraries or assisted living facilities.
- Find a reputable loop installer to gather information about technology, costs and installation.
- Get involved with your local disability commission or planning commission and attend meetings to present your ideas.
- Build community awareness. Speak with local community organizations such the Elks Club or write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.
- Approach your local city council about funding.
Contact your local chapter of HLAA to find out about efforts to bring loop technology to your area, and what you can do to be part of the conversation.
If you have hearing loss and are in the market for new hearing aids, find a hearing healthcare professional near you and be sure to discuss loop technology and whether telecoil-equipped devices are appropriate for you. If you already have hearing aids and are not sure if they are equipped for use with loops, ask your provider for more information.