I’m not in Kansas anymore. I can say that because a couple of weeks ago, I was in Kansas for the first time. So, now I belong to the club of We’re-Not-in-Kansas-Anymore-People. (I don’t have a Toto, so I use the royal ‘we’.)
But while I was there, magic happened. The Lied Center, the performing arts venue at the gorgeous University of Kansas, has celebrated its 25th anniversary by installing a comprehensive looping system. I had the honor of delivering the inaugural presentation in the newly accessible theater.
From now on, Lied Center audience members with telecoil-equipped hearing aids and cochlear implants can, with a flick of a switch or a tap of a button, hear the sound of every voice and musical instrument made on stage right in their devices, anywhere they choose to sit. The system closes the gap between speaker and listener; rather than riding on sound waves across the distance to a hearing aid’s receiver, the sound is transmitted directly through looping technology. Eliminating background noise, the sound presents itself with such clarity, it feels as if you’re thinking these sounds. Telecoils and induction loops restore the intimacy of sound and speech and music that many of us have lost along with our hearing. And this, in my opinion, is as magical as going somewhere over the rainbow.
Juliette Sterkens, an audiologist and one of the world’s foremost looping advocates, provides more information on the Loop Wisconsin site about how looping systems work with telecoils in hearing aids and sound processors. And it was thanks to the expertise of the amazing Ms. Sterkens, the equally-amazing Richard McKinley, whose company, Contacta, installs looping systems around the continent, and strong lobbying from the local hearing loss community, that the Lied Center has joined the ranks of fully accessible theatrical venues.
For my presentation, the crew installed a separate, temporary loop on the stage, so that as a performer with hearing loss, I could switch to telecoil and hear my own voice clearly. Musicians use a different system to get the same result, which is to hear themselves over the loud noise of the other musicians and a screaming crowd. If you can’t hear yourself, you won’t say the words or sing the way you’re supposed to.
There was no screaming crowd or background noise the night I presented, just me alone on the stage, talking. Somebody coughed a couple of times, I think. But it was full-on access: in addition to the loop system, there was an English-ASL interpreter and real-time captioning (CART) provided remotely by a captioner, who apparently wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Isn’t technology simply magically mind-blowing? The only reason for an audience member not be engaged, to fall asleep, was if I bored them unconsciousness.
A few days ago, in my home community of Sidney, British Columbia, I attended a town hall by our Member of Parliament, Elizabeth May, the only elected representative of Canada’s Green Party, which is committed to a better environment and social justice but is just a bit behind on accessibility. I had called ahead and asked if captioning was provided. A moment of silence, and then, “I’ll transfer you to Daniel.”
Daniel advised that captioning hadn’t been planned, but rather than launch into my usual speech about why it should be, I said, “OK, I have a transmitter device that Elizabeth May can wear, which will bring her voice right into my ear.” Heading off another silence, I added, “It’s not a recording device; just something that means the difference of my attending the town all or not.”
Elizabeth was pleased to wear my GNResound MiniMic2 transmitter, which has an 82-foot reach on Bluetooth wireless technology and which brought Ms. May’s voice directly into my hearing aid (via my cellphone acting as a streamer) and my sound processor (via my CI remote control). That night, I saw a many hearing aids at the Town Hall, and I knew that the amplification system wasn’t enough for some of them to hear well, and they bluffed their way through the event without making their needs known. This makes me crazy.
I made a point, at the Q & A, to ask how things were going at the Federal level regarding Canada’s Accessibility for People with Disabilities Act, which would make access mandatory in meetings such as this for people with hearing loss. In her answer about how things were moving along, Ms. May also said that no one had ever asked her for accommodation for their hearing loss – this was the first time she had over worn a transmitter.
This is shocking but not surprising to me – so many people still don’t realize that they have a right to ask for accommodation. Some people don’t want to be a bother, but countless others simply don’t know about the simple magic of telecoils and looping.
If you have hearing aids that don’t have telecoils – ask your audiologist about it. If you’re told, “Oh that’s old technology”, just say, “Well, it’s new to me and Gael Hannan said to tell you that I should have it!”
Loop image: criticalthinkers.com (now defunct)