WASHINGTON, DC–“One small sentence in a code book of thousands but one giant leap for people with hearing loss.” That was how Juliëtte Sterkens, AuD, hearing loop advocate for the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), assessed an action taken by an ICC/ANSI committee on July 17.
That “small sentence” approved by the ICC/ANSI (International Code Council/American National Standards Institute) A117.1 Consensus Committee on Accessible and Useable Buildings and Facilities is an addition to the current International Building Code (IBC). It states that when a hearing loop is installed it shall meet the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) 60118-4 induction hearing loop standard.
Prior to the committee meeting, advocates for hearing loops had collected dozens of letters of support for the IEC looping standard. Sterkens brought them to the meeting and also spoke to the committee urging it to approve the standard.
WHY THE STANDARD MATTERS
Why is this addition to the IBC so significant? Well, even though the International Building Code (IBC) lacks the force of law, it is extremely important because most local and state governments in the U.S—and also many global markets–follow the IBC. And, when referenced in local, state, or federal legislation, its requirements become the minimum requirement for construction.
The standard endorsed by the A117.1 Consensus Committee specifies the allowable magnetic background noise, the maximum field strength of the signals, and the frequency response of the magnetic field in an induction loop. The levels it sets for hearing loop performance are tied to the requirements for telecoil performance in hearing aids, which will appear shortly in a new edition of the standard IEC 60118-0.
While this may sound very dry and technical, establishing a recognized standard for hearing loops will have real-life benefits for the growing number of people who use telecoil-equipped hearing aids and cochlear implants to take advantage of loops. Compliance with this standard means a hearing aid user can walk into Westminster Abbey in London, The Gerald Ford Airport in Grand Rapids in Michigan, or the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton Wisconsin and hear the sound directly, clearly, and at a comfortable level in their hearing aid via their telecoil.
Currently, in the absence of accepted standards, untrained loop installers are not held accountable for improperly installed systems theaters, auditoriums, houses of worship, and other public spaces, thus reducing their potential value to people with hearing loss.
The revised A117.1 ANSI standard will not be formally adopted until the end of 2014. When that occurs, the IBC code will be more stringent than the existing ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards for hearing loops.
But even before the revised standard is officially approved and states begin to require adherence to it, A117.1 will have a lot of influence. That’s because hearing loop installers and consumer advocates will be able to point to the new standard and direct architects, designers, construction companies and building inspectors to follow comply with it.