Are You In The Loop? How hearing loops can make churches, theaters, and other gathering places more accessible

Information courtesy of First Presbyterian Church, Loop Fort Wayne, HearCare Audiology, Fox Valley Hearing Loop, and HearingLoop.org

Fifth Freedom staff attended a hearing loop demonstration and information night at First Presbyterian Church in Fort Wayne. The church’s seniors and other members with hearing impairments came out to experience this new feature that had been added to their sanctuary. What they found was a simple device that would transform the way they experience services.

While hearing aids are a great blessing to many people, they do have shortcomings. People who use hearing aids can have trouble understanding someone who is speaking to them from far away, when there is a lot of background noise, or in large rooms with echoes. Hearing loops solve these shortcomings by broadcasting sound directly to a user’s hearing aids.

A hearing loop is essentially a kind of broadcast antenna. A wire runs around a room and emits a magnetic field. This magnetic field can be picked up by telecoils in hearing aids. A telecoil or T-coil is a copper wire that functions as a receiver. T-coils come installed in about 65% of hearing aids sold today. For people without T-coils, there are headsets that can pick up the hearing loop’s signal.

Hearing loops can be useful anywhere there is sound being broadcast – in a church, in a theater, at the movies, or even in your TV room at home. They can be installed behind wood trim or under the carpet, making them completely invisible. The sound is only broadcast to people who want to hear it, so it does not impact other users’ experience. Best of all, unlike FM headsets, hearing loops work directly with the hearing aid, making the sound customized to each individual user.

However, the experience isn’t perfect. At First Presbyterian, one senior compared the experience to positioning a radio antenna. If he held his head up straight, he could hear every word perfectly, but if he bowed his head during a prayer, the sound quality diminished.

Assistive listening systems like hearing loops, infrared, and FM systems are required in some public spaces. According to the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, “in each assembly area where audible communication is integral to the use of the space, an assistive listening system shall be provided. EXCEPTION: Other than in courtrooms, assistive listening systems shall not be required where audio amplification is not provided.” Assembly areas include classrooms, lecture halls, courtrooms, theaters, movie theaters, and other areas.

If this issue is important to you, there are a variety of ways you might want to help spread the word about hearing loops. If there is new construction in your area, like a church or theater or other public space where amplified sound will be used, you may wish to contact someone in charge and ask what is being done for attendees with hearing loss. Hearing loop installation is much easier before construction is completed. You may also wish to spread the word in a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, senior pages, or church bulletin. If you find a hearing loop in your area, you might also tell your friends who use hearing aids to go try the loop and support that business.

For more information, check out the resources here:

Doug Schmidt
Executive Director
The Fifth Freedom Network

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