Most individuals who use hearing aids or cochlear implants will tell you that while their devices can be extremely helpful in hearing one or several speakers at close range, they can be less successful at deciphering what’s being said over an airport’s public address system, in a large chapel during a church service or even at a ticket-seller’s window.
“Hearing Loops” are changing that, by making most hearing aids and cochlear implants also function as customized wireless loudspeakers. Loops transmit sound clearly and directly into the hearing device, with zero background noise.
Consumer advocates are working with the Hearing Loss Association of America and the American Academy of Audiology to let more people know about hearing loops and have more loops installed in public places around the country.
Widespread in the United Kingdom
These aids for the hard of hearing have been used in the United Kingdom for more than a decade. Mandated there by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, you’ll find hearing loops in churches, auditoriums, the service windows of banks and post offices and even the back seats of taxicabs.
How they work
Hearing Loops are technically known as “audio induction loop systems” or “audio-frequency induction loops”. They consist of a loop of cable around a designated area, usually a room or a building. The cable generates a magnetic field detected by a telecoil, a tiny pickup coil used in the majority of hearing aids made after 2009, and nearly all new cochlear implants.
Why they are popular
Hearing loops allow the sound source, whether it’s a theater performance or the words a bank teller speaks at the service window, to be transmitted to the hearing-impaired listener without the background noise, reverberation or static. This YouTube video created by hearing loop advocate and audiologist Juliette Sterkens, lets you hear the dramatic difference a hearing loop makes.
Better than neck loops
Users also find hearing loops more simple, convenient and customized than the older type of assisted listening device known as the “neck loop.” These are most often found in large public spaces such as theaters, sporting arenas and concert halls. There are several drawbacks to these FM or infrared receiver/headset units. You have to find where in the venue they are being issued, check one out and wear the eye-catching (and not in a good way) device around your neck. Aside from the social stigma, some uses complain the sound quality that neck loops provide is not as good as the sound from hearing loops. Understandably, relatively few people with hearing loss use neck loops.
Where you can find hearing loops
Hearing loops are often found in high-traffic public buildings and major airports (for public announcements), concert halls, ticket kiosks, auditoriums and places of worship. Individuals can also have hearing loops installed in their homes.
For much more information, visit the nonprofit informational website www.hearingloop.org. In the “Let’s Loop America” portion of the website, you’ll also find the objectives and strategies used to make the Holland-Zeeland area of Michigan (near Grand Rapids) a model looped community.
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