By David H. Kirkwood
WASHINGTON, DC—Following ancient custom, the United States Supreme Court will begin its next term on the first Monday in October. However, when the nine justices hear their first case on October 6, there will be something new in the courtroom that will assist hearing aid wearers present in following the proceedings: a hearing loop system, installed this summer.
The new induction listening system, which is in addition to the High Court’s existing FM and infra-red listening devices, transmits sound through an electromagnetic signal that can be picked up by the telecoil of a hearing aid or cochlear implant.
Who will take advantage of the hearing loop? According to Kathy Arberg, the Supreme Court’s public information officer, the new system is intended for use by court visitors. But, she added, it will also be available to attorneys appearing before the court.
Will any of the justices be availing themselves of the hearing loop. Arberg did not say, a reticence in keeping with the tradition of the justices to keep their personal lives private. However, given that the average age of the nine current justices is 68.4 years and that four are over 75, it’s a good bet that some of them are—or, at least, should be—wearing hearing aids. So, they too will take advantage of the new system.
IT TOOK PERSUASION
The looping installation at the Supreme Court didn’t just happen; it was the product of active advocacy. Last December, Richard Williams, a retired attorney who serves on the board of the Sarasota, Florida, chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), contacted the management of the Supreme Court, urging that a hearing loop be installed.
Williams was well qualified to make the case. For one thing, he wears a cochlear implant plus a hearing aid for a sudden hearing loss. Also, he has appeared before the Supreme Court as a lawyer, so he knows first-hand the difficulty of hearing in that courtroom.
Pamela Talkin, the Marshal of the Supreme Court, wrote to Williams this June, telling him that the court would get a loop system over the summer. She thanked him for his initiative, and added, “Your suggestion will benefit countless visitors to the Court.”
The Sarasota HLAA Chapter has been an effective advocate for this technology for some time. More than 100 venues in Sarasota are looped, including, all 13 live performance facilities.
A GROWING TREND
The installation in the Supreme Court building marks a new high point for the burgeoning hearing loop movement in the U.S. However, that courtroom is only one of a number of high-profile facilities that have recently begun providing this accommodation for people with hearing loss. And, as in the case of the Sarasota HLAA and the court, these installations are almost always the result of the efforts of looping advocates.
One such champion for the cause is Janice S. Lintz. A Manhattan attorney, she gave up her practice when her daughter was diagnosed with a hearing loss at age 2, and decided to devote her formidable advocacy skills toward making the world more accessible for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
To that end she founded the Hearing Access Program in 2002. Based in New York, the program has managed to convince dozens of public and private organizations to install hearing loops. These include looping all New York City subway station ticket booths, the American Museum of Natural History, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Botanical Garden, and Yankee Stadium, plus numerous theaters, government agencies, and businesses.
Recently, the Hearing Access Program worked with the Pentagon to have an induction loop installed at the much-visited Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York Harbor.
The reach of the Hearing Access Program extends far beyond New York, and Lintz has worked with well over 100 corporations, government agencies, museums, theaters, etc. globally. Recently, in response to its efforts, the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis and the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh added induction loops to their exhibits, and Marriott’s Hotels Renaissance Arlington Capital View and Residence Inn in Arlington, VA, looped its check-in counter.
When Lintz discovered on family vacations that America’s national parks had no accommodations for people, like her daughter, with hearing loss, she launched a campaign to have assistive technology installed. She testified before Congress and later conducted training seminars on the issue and helped write the guidelines for effective access at national parks.
MOVEMENT IS GROWING
Highly visible loop installations like the one at the Supreme Court are helping the looping movement build a level of awareness that may someday make the technology as prevalent in the U.S. as it already is in parts of Europe. That’s the vision of David Myers, PhD, a psychology professor at Hope College in Holland, MI, with a severe hearing loss, who launched the Let’s Loop America campaign after discovering its benefits on a trip to Scotland.
Thanks largely to his efforts, more than 432 hearing loops have been installed in the part of Michigan surrounding Holland, including at the 12,200-seat Breslin Center basketball arena at Michigan State University.
In Wisconsin, where Jüliette Sterkens, AuD, took up the looping cause, there have been about 400 installations in churches, libraries, performing arts centers, and other locations. A number of audiology practices in the state have installed loop systems in their office waiting room, so hearing aid patients and their families see how helpful they can be.
Recently, Sterkens gave up her private audiology practice in Oshkosh to become national hearing loop advocate for HLAA. She notes that other initiatives are catching hold in Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.
BUILDING A CRITICAL MASS
When Dave Myers, Janice Lintz, and other pioneers first started promoting hearing loops in this country, they faced a Catch 22 situation. Because very few facilities were looped, hearing aid wearers and their audiologists and dispensers were unaware of the potential benefit that telecoils in their hearing aids could provide. Even if they got t-coils to use on the phone, they were not mindful of what more they might be able to do.
Meanwhile, when advocates tried to persuade theaters, churches, and other public venues to install hearing loops, the managers of these facilities would say why bother, since very few people would take advantage of them.
However, as the number of looped facilities continues to grow and more and more hearing aid and cochlear implant wearers have benefited from looping, public consciousness is rising. Highly visible loop installations like the one at the Supreme Court are also helping move toward creating the critical mass that will be required to fully achieve the Let’s Loop America mission.