By David H. Kirkwood
One of the most exciting recent developments in the hearing care field is the growing use of induction loops in both public and private spaces. As Dr. David Myers, probably America’s most prominent advocate for hearing loops, wrote on this blog several month ago:
“The animating vision behind the Loop America campaign is nothing short of doubling hearing instrument functionality, by enabling them to serve an important second function as customized, wireless loudspeakers.”
It’s hard to think of anything more beneficial for people who wear hearing aids, for those who fit them, and for those who manufacture them, than a technology that so greatly increases the utility of hearing aids. The more ways that hearing aids can help them, the more satisfied users will be. And the more satisfied users are, the more likely their friends and family will be to get help for their hearing loss.
Just imagine if you or a patient or a friend who wears hearing aids could attend services in almost any local church or synagogue, enjoy a concert or a lecture in an auditorium in your area, take a guided tour of a historic building, or board a flight out of your regional airport and be confident that the speaker or musicians or public address system would be easily and clearly audible.
That requires no imagination at all if you live in or around Holland, Michigan. There, Dr. Myers, a hard-of-hearing psychology professor at Hope College, and those who have rallied behind his cause, have persuaded the owners and operators of a great many public facilities to install loops. As a result, when people with telecoil-equipped hearing aids—which means virtually everyone fitted with hearing aids in that part of Michigan area—go to looped facilities, they receive clear, customized sound from inside their ears.
Looping initiatives are also moving forward in other pockets of this country, from Manhattan to Sarasota, FL, and from Chicago to California’s Silicon Valley.
Even if hearing aid users don’t get out of the house much, they can still benefit from loops. If the room where they watch television is looped, they can enjoy watching TV without turning the volume up so high their family can’t stand to watch it with them. Bill Diles, an audiologist in California, has installed more than 1800 home loops and he reports that patient satisfaction has markedly improved.
Looping is beginning to make its mark on the national level. Last year, the American Academy of Audiology and the Hearing Loss Association of America launched “Get in the Hearing Loop,” a collaborative public education campaign. Their goal was to enlighten and excite hearing aid users, as well as audiologists and other professionals who dispense hearing aids, about the benefits of telecoils and hearing loops.
That effort helped generate very positive coverage of this technology in national media, including The New York Times, National Public Radio, AARP News, and Scientific American.
In talking about his “avocational passion,” to “loop America,” Dave Myers says, “We are now approaching a cultural tipping point.” I think he’s right. However, there is still a long way to go before hearing aid wearers in this country enjoy anything like the access that they have in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia, where people expect public venues to be looped.
One issue here is that there are still relatively few areas of the country with enough looped facilities to raise public consciousness of this technology’s enormous potential. If people don’t know what they are missing, they won’t ask for it.
That’s why it is so important that those consumer advocates and hearing professionals who do recognize how much looping technology can do for people with hearing loss take up the cause.
SKEPTICISM ABOUT TELECOILS
There’s another issue that I’ve encountered in speaking with practitioners about hearing loops. I was surprised when two of the best-informed audiologists I know expressed reservations about the value of loop systems for many people, especially those with moderate losses who tend to wear open-fitting BTEs that amplify primarily high frequencies.
Both reported that their patients with less severe losses were often dissatisfied when they tried using their telecoil with the telephones. They didn’t like the sound quality, and they found it difficult to hold the phone in a position that allowed them to get what little benefit was available. Needless to say, this experience didn’t make either their patients or the audiologists positive about trying telecoils with loops—even if they had occasion to do so.
Juliette Sterkens acknowledged that the use of telecoils with telephones can be problematical, often because there’s an acoustic mismatch between phones and telecoils. However, she said, that’s not the case with loops, which have a frequency response up to 5000 Hz and work well with any type of hearing aid that has a properly placed telecoil.
As for the doubters, she said, “Audiologists who don’t believe that hearing loops are good for users have never been in a looped room with users.”
With all due respect to those who are skeptical about hearing loops, I find the testimony of the real experts compelling. By the “real experts,” I mean the hearing aid wearers I’ve talked to and traded e-mails with and read about. To a person, they say how their experiences with hearing loops have opened up new opportunities they had never enjoyed with hearing aids alone.
HEAR FOR YOURSELF
To hear out how much difference a loop can make for a hearing aid user, here are two links to videotapes.
The first, Looped Subway Station, courtesy of the Hearing Access Project, demonstrates what someone asking for directions at a New York City Subway information booth hears when not using and then using the loop, which is one of hundreds installed in the world’s largest subway system.
For a recording by Juliette Sterkens revealing what a church service sounds like with and without the heasring loop, go to Trinity Episcopal Church.
LET’S MOVE AHEAD
What can you do to advance the campaign to loop America? A good start is for everyone who buys or dispenses hearing aids to make sure they come with a t-coil. Now that t-coils have become smaller, the great majority of hearing aid styles can accommodate them, so you don’t have to sacrifice cosmetics for added hearing benefit.
And if you want to take the next step and help make your community more accessible to hearing aid users, then follow the lead of consumers such as Dave Myers in Michigan and Janice Schacter Lintz in New York and audiologists such as Juliette Sterkens of Oshkosh, WI, and Linda Remensnyder in the Chicago area and others too numerous to name.
There is an enormous amount of information available online about hearing loops and how to advocate for them in your community. Among the sites I recommend are, in no special order: Hearing loop.org, AAA Get More from Hearing Aids, Loop Wisconsin, Audiology Today, a classic article from Dr. Mark Ross, an excellent piece from Audiology Online, and HLAA brochure.