By Stephen O. Frazier
For a significant portion of the hearing aid wearing public, the introduction of over-the-counter hearing aids became a non-event. Why – because none of the devices being stocked by the Walmarts and Walgreens of the world contained what is, to those hearing aid users, a “must have” feature – telecoils.
Telecoils are the antennas that receive the sound transmitted by an electromagnetic field created by a hearing loop in a theatre, place of worship or other, as the ADA terms them, “place of assembly.”
Hearing loop/telecoil systems are the only assistive listening technology currently available that will connect wirelessly and directly to hearing aids, negating the nuisance of borrowing a receiver or some other device to make a connection.
The telecoil in a hearing aids connects to the loop’s signal by the simple touch of a button. If kept in the mic/telecoil position it connects simply by entering a “looped” room.
Hearing Device Users Want Telecoils
Most hearing aids and cochlear implant processors have (or can be ordered with) telecoils and a survey done by the Committee for Communication Access in New Mexico found that 85% of experienced hearing aid wearers had and regularly used telecoils in their hearing aids.
The Hearing Loss Association of America, in a survey, had similar findings. Hearing loops and telecoils are, by far, the preferred assistive listening technology of fabled “educated consumers” and their absence can kill the sale of hearing aids to those consumers.
When the Food and Drug Administration sought comments on the proposed rules for a new class of medical grade hearing aids that could be sold over the counter, a substantial number of those comments called for the inclusion of telecoils in all OTC devices. Those businesses making (or considering to make) OTC hearing aids had to be aware of those comments if they were reviewing them for guidance as to the attributes people want to have available in their hearing aids. They also had to be aware of the ongoing hearing loop/telecoil awareness and advocacy campaigns in the nation that have fostered the looping of literally tens of thousands of theaters, places of worship, legislative chambers, meeting halls, convention centers and other places of assembly plus probably an even larger number of home TV rooms.
If they were intent on providing the most functionality for the fewest bucks, they would have included telecoils in their behind-the-ear devices.
Did those manufacturers listen and learn? Apparently not. Two sellers of such devices, Otofonix and MD Hearing Aid, had made one model each of their hearing aids (sold online at the time) with telecoils but they discontinued them.
Lexie Hearing, another online seller of medical grade hearing aids, offered them in one model but, when it came time to sell them over the counter in retail stores, those stores opted not to carry that model – the Lexie Lumen – but, instead, to offer it only online. The product buyers for those stores had also apparently not studied the comments to the FDA by prospective OTC buyers.
Telecoils relegated to prescription devices only?
Eighty percent of people with hearing loss qualify for OTC hearing aids but for those who insist on having telecoils in them, they’re still relegated to the mercies or benefits of licensed hearing care providers.
In light of the $3,000 top end currently charged for OTC hearing aids in stores like Best Buy, the $1,399 price for their Kirkland brand telecoil equipped behind the ear hearing aids appears to position Costco as the potential first choice for hearing aid buyers who insist on telecoils at a price that won’t break the bank. That they get the services of a live, licensed hearing care provider, Bluetooth® connectivity and other bells and whistles such as optional remote controls, remote mics and a TV listening kit is just frosting on the cake.
From the size of their operations nationwide, Miracle Ear and Beltone are two large chain hearing aid retailers who might also consider following the Costco example if OTC hearing aids begin eating into their business. Beltone already put their toe in the OTC budget priced hearing help water by announcing that they will stock and sell the $800.00 Jabra Enhance Plus OTC hearing aids at participating Beltone locations nationwide and online with no appointment necessary. That, however, does not resolve the conundrum of wider telecoil availability.
About the Author
Stephen O. Frazier is a freelance writer and the former New Mexico HLAA Chapter Coordinator. He was trained by HLAA as a hearing loss support specialist, maintains the Loop New Mexico initiative, co-chairs the Committee for Communication Access in New Mexico, and was one of the founding members of the national HLAA Get in the Hearing Loop Task Force. His articles have run in many publications including the audio/visual magazine Sound & Communications, Advance for Audiologists, the Christian Science Monitor, Church Executive, Hearing Review, Hearing Health and many others. Those articles can be read at www.sofnabq.com
Thank you Steve. I have profound hearing loss and currently have Phonak BTE’s with telecoil and Bluetooth. Our church has a loop and it has been such a blessing! I try to keep up with latest technology and have noticed that Bluetooth has made great strides in promoting public venue low energy bluetooth systems. Just for curiosity sake I went to church when no one was there and put my iPhone on the pulpit and was able to hear it no matter where I was standing or sitting in church! Are we far away from having this available at a cheaper cost than installing hearing loops? Just thought I’d ask. Thanks for the article!
Scott – Thanks for your support of loops and telecoils, they are still the first choice for “educated consumers” for assistive listening. Based on my reading, my estimate is that we’ll see the new Bluetooth Auracast in ear buds, loudspeakers, TVs, smartphones and other consumer electronics within the next year or so but it will be longer before it’s in hearing aids to such a degree that the installation of an Auracast assistive listening system could be justified in theaters, places of worship etc. At that point I envision the Auracast systems being put in to run in tandem with existing loops, FMs etc. and it could be up to 10 years before the old systems could be turned off.
They’ve done it even when it wasn’t true, so I’m afraid some hearing care professionals, on the introduction of Auracast in hearing aids, will tell clients “You don’t need telecoils, you’ll have Bluetooth..”
The problem will be that they’ll have very few opportunities to use the Auracast for assistive listening but hundreds of thousands for telecoils. For the time being, once Auracast is up and running for assistive listening, it’s my hope the hearing aid manufacturers will continue to offer telecoils for at least a decade also as it will probably still be the more user friendly of the two technologies.
Thanks for all this info on looping and t-coils. I’m a long-term user of hearing aids and now cochlear implants. I had the most amazing experience before the pandemic at the Rayburn Building in Washington DC, for a conference in one of their meeting rooms. I turned on my t-coil, and was absolutely astounded at the clarity of sound that I was hearing. I didn’t need the captioning that was being provided for me. I had a similar experience in Temple Emanuel in NYC – a large sanctuary, attending a major event with many speakers, musicians. I turned on my t-coil, and it was sound quality beyond my imagination.
So those two experiences made me an ardent looping advocate – and wanting to get more locations looped here in NJ. It was that good. The HLAA-NJ website http://www.hearingloss-nj.org has a looping page, and there is a list of locations in NJ that are looped. So far 37 locations have looped, and there are more in the works.
It’s demeaning and insulting to be told “just wait” a few years, or a decade, and perhaps something will come along. Meanwhile, you could be receiving great sound anywhere that is looped through a telecoil. I don’t use aids (yet) but I would want both telecoil and bluetooth. It’s like windshield wipers AND headlights — they are different and used for different things. Why is this so difficult to understand? And why don’t manufacturers and providers actually provide a technology that makes such a huge impact for their clients?
As a performance venue with hearing loops throughout, and well-advertised as hearing accessible, we are going to have very disappointed customers who purchase OTC aids without telecoils….
We have a loop at home for a telecoil. My wife cried when we put in that loop because she could suddenly HEAR what was playing on TV so much better than through the hearing aid alone. We go to plays at places that support telecoils. We avoid places that don’t support telecoils unless they also have captioning. Why would I want an OTC hearing aid that does NOT have a telecoil? It makes no sense.
As I sit in my family room listening to TV broadcast (thanks top my telecoils) through my in-the-ear speakers (aka hearing aids) I say amen, Steve Frazier! Telecoils double the functionality of my aids–enabling me also to hear, with a simple button push, clear sound at my place of worship, in lectures on my campus, and even gate announcements at my (Grand Rapids) airport. Given that the telecoil would be virtually a no-cost addition to the new OTC aids, hopefully more brands will add them . . . and, by so doing, boost the national consumer advocacy for more and more hearing loops (see http://www.hearingloop.org and https://www.hearingloss.org/programs-events/get-hearing-loop/).
Why no telecoils? Because consumers do not know what they are missing and the companies that provide the OTC devices are focused on the gizmo and not on helping people live better lives with hearing loss or helping them hear in the places where hearing aids are unable to deliver. Articles like this one do raise the issue, and draw attention to the need for more OTC hearing aids with telecoils So thank you for writing it.
Too often telecoils are promoted only for venues that have induction loops. When audiologists say there aren’t enough places that are looped to bother promoting telecoils. AN IMPORTANT USE IS BEING OVERLOOKED. Most venues provide assistive listening devices (ALDs), probably because that’s the least expensive way to meet ADA requirements. ALDs are connected to the ears by ear buds or headphones. Neither of these work well with hearing aids. If your hearing aids have telecoils you can get the best sound by using a neck loop instead of ear buds or headphones, and get the sound right in your hearing aids. The neck loop is also more comfortable and less conspicuous than ear buds or headphones as well as not requiring you to remove your hearing aids. If the venue doesn’t provide them you can bring your own. I have no idea why so few advocates of telecoils promote their use with neck loops.
Thank you Carol. I’m a big fan of neckloops as they can make any FM or IR assitive listening system (ALS) telecoil compatible simply by replacing the earphones on the receiver with a neckloop. Far too few people know about neckloops and far too many hearing loop advocates fail to tell people about them.
Since 2012, any new or significantly upgraded ALS must offer users the option of a neckloop in place of earphones. Neckoops also work in situations where a room loop can’t such as talking hands free on a cell or landline phone, listening to a personal CD player or connected to the receiver of a personal FM system to hear better in meetings, when dining out etc. Any hearing aids large enough to contain a telecoil that don’t have them severely limit their functionality. As a hearing loss support specialist I always counsel people to demand telecoils and, if they are told, “You don’t need them, you have Bluetooth®” I tell them to ask , “How Bluetooth is going to help me hear in church or a musical theater production?”
I have a severe (left ear) to profound (right ear) hearing loss, and use a hearing aid and cochlear implant — both with tcoils. I have looped a television. The quality of sound thru the loop is amazing. I have had occasion to advise/mentor people new to hearing loss, and asking about hearing aids. Significant in the advice I’ve provided is insist on a tcoil, and on its activation.