Nationwide survey asks consumers how they like hearing loops

Anyone who has used a hearing loop system with their hearing aid or cochlear implant is invited to click here to take part in a survey being conducted by the Hearing Loss Association of America to assess consumers’ experiences with loops.

 

By David H. Kirkwood

Unknown-2Over the past decade, the Let’s Loop America movement has gone from a glint in the eye of Dave Myers, a professor of social psychology at Hope College in Holland, MI (and a hearing aid user), to a full-fledged national movement.

Thanks to Myers and other advocates, including Janice Schacter Lintz, Bill Diles, Juliette Sterkens, Linda Remensnyder, Mary Caccavo, and many others, Americans’ public awareness of the benefits that an audio frequency induction loop system offers people with hearing loss is steadily growing. A hearing loop is basically a cable installed around the perimeter of a room or other designated area. It generates a magnetic field that can be picked up by the telecoil of a hearing aid or cochlear implant being worn by anyone inside the loop.

Today, hearing loops are making thousands of public facilities, including theaters and auditoriums, libraries and houses of worship, airports and subway stations, more communicatively accessible to people with hearing loss.  And in many private homes, loops allow hearing aid wearers to enjoy television without having to raise the volume so high that it drives the rest of their family out of the room.

Organizations have begun to climb on the looping bandwagon, including the American Academy of Audiology and the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), which four years ago joined forces to start “Get in the Hearing Loop,” a public education campaign. Sertoma, a national service organization, is working to introduce hearing loops to the 540 communities where it has chapters.

 

SPREADING THE WORD

Although Let’s Loop America has made substantial progress, for every church or town hall or theater with a looping system, there are probably hundred without one. And while in a few areas of the country—western Michigan, New York City, parts of Wisconsin, Sarasota, FL, and Rochester, NY, to name a few—local residents are starting to expect facilities to be looped, there are many more locations where the technology is virtually unknown.

images-1That’s why advocates are focusing on spreading the word about hearing loops. Playing a lead role in this effort is Juliette Sterkens, AuD, who stepped away from her audiology practice in Oshkosh, WI, to devote herself to her duties as HLAA’s official loop advocate. In that role, she travels the country speaking with consumers, audiologists, and managers of public facilities about how hearing loops can help them, their patients, and their businesses.

In a January 6 interview with this blog, Sterkens talked about what she finds as she goes around the country as an ambassador for hearing loops.

In communities where loops have been installed in a number of public facilities, a critical mass of people who appreciate their value develops. That has a spiraling effect. For example, someone who enjoys going to church again because now she can hear the minister via her hearing aid telecoil will tell friends and neighbors about it, and some of them will urge their church to get a looping system.

Or, if one theater in town gets a looping system and begins to attract more patrons who wear hearing aids, managers of other theaters and similar facilities in the area may follow suit.

However, in areas where looped facilities are few and far between, making the case for them is much more difficult. Sterkens is especially frustrated that in such areas even her professional colleagues often fail to recognize the value of hearing loops and the importance of equipping their patients’ hearing aids with telecoils.

“A lot of audiologists are missing the boat on this,” she says. “If they only knew how much happier their patients would be with their hearing aids if they were able to use them with hearing loops, they would rush to support us.”

However, if audiologists or hearing aid dispensers are practicing in an area without looped public facilities, they are unlikely to hear patients expressing their enthusiasm for loops.

In other words, advocates for hearing loops face a conundrum. In places where loops are catching on, consumers with hearing aids like them and ask for more. But in a community without loops, it’s difficult to build public support and enthusiasm for something that few people have experience with.

 

WHAT DO CONSUMERS SAY?

To address this conundrum Sterkens and HLAA came up with the idea of conducting a national survey asking consumers about their experience with hearing loops. While looping advocates report seeing lots of anecdotal evidence of the popularity of the technology among hearing aid wearers, no one has ever systematically asked consumers about their actual feelings. Sterkens hopes that the findings of the HLAA survey will help her achieve her mission of increasing the use of hearing loops across America.

However, while the intent behind the survey is clearly to promote hearing loops, the design of the survey is impartial. Anyone who has used a loop is invited to take the survey and the questions it asks do not steer respondents in one direction or another.

Some of the questions ask for facts: Where did you use a hearing loop? In what type of facility? With a hearing aid or a cochlear implant or both?

Others ask about how well the loop worked: On a scale of 1 (I heard  nothing) to 10 (I heard every word), “how well did you hear in the above venue using your hearing devices in the telecoil or hearing loop setting?” On the same scale, “how well did you hear in the above venue using your hearing devices only (no telecoil)?

Survey participants are also asked to respond on a scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree” to statements such as “The hearing loop increased the overall satisfaction with my hearing devices.” And “I am more likely to visit places that feature a hearing loop.”

The survey also invites people to make written comments on their hearing loop experience.

Once the data are all in and have been analyzed, Sterkens says she plans to publish the findings in a variety of hearing health publications.

Readers are invited to take the survey from now through January 31, 2014. To do so click here.