** by Brenda Battat and Patricia Kricos
For 36 million Americans with hearing loss, communicating in public spaces can be hard. While hearing aids and cochlear implants help, there are still problems, for example, in understanding public address systems in terminals, when acoustics reverberate sound in houses of worship, and when the speaker is a long way off in auditoriums.
There is, however, an easy, cost-effective solution. A simple wire loop around an enclosed area, such as a theater or auditorium, enables people within the loop to hear clearly what is being delivered through the sound system as long as they have the necessary connector in their hearing aids a telecoil. The telecoil is a way to seamlessly connect to sound through the hearing loop without having to contend with annoying background noise and without the need to check out headsets or receivers.
The hearing loop system doubles the function of hearing aids and cochlear implants with the flip of a switch. A hearing loop transfers microphone or TV sound signals to hearing aids and cochlear implants with a built-in tiny "telecoil" receiver through magnetic energy from the wire loop around the area in which the listener is situated.
Relatively few Americans with hearing loss, however, have experienced the truly startling benefits of this technology. That's because few buildings and public spaces are "looped" in this nation. In England and much of Scandinavia, by contrast, hearing loop systems are common.
We urge city planners, builders, and architects to plan for and install hearing loops in buildings and homes to assist the growing population of those living with hearing loss.
It's not expensive. You can put one in your TV room for $100 to $300 if you do the work yourself. You can also loop your car inexpensively. Professional installation in an average-sized auditorium or worship space costs much more but most churches can install a hearing loop for the cost of one set of high-end hearing aids.
At the same time, hearing professionals must educate patients about telecoils so they can connect with available hearing loops. Three states, Arizona, Florida and New York, require them to do this. But most hard-of-hearing Americans know little or nothing about it. That's why the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) and the American Academy of Audiology have launched a collaborative educational effort called "Get in the Hearing Loop."
There are grassroots initiatives too. The Hearing Charities of America through its parent organization, Sertoma, which has more than 500 chapters around the nation, is dedicating 2010 to helping local communities promote and assist in installing looping technology in public buildings and facilities. HLAA has a nationwide network of chapters too, and many of them loop their monthly meetings.
People who have experienced "looped sound" give it glowing recommendations. One California audiologist, after looping the home TV rooms of 1,500 patients, documented a huge increase in patient satisfaction not only with TV listening but also with their hearing aids.
In the past, one barrier to hearing loops was that not all hearing aids had the telecoil setting required to use them. Today, however, telecoils are included in 62 percent of hearing aids fittings. We surveyed members of the Hearing Loss Association of America and found the number to be 85 percent. So the issue is not hearing aids. The real concern is creating looped spaces in America.
If you are hard of hearing, ask the houses of worship and civic organizations to which you belong about installing hearing loop technology. Learn more from your local audiologist. Speak to your city council. Link up with a chapter of HLAA. Better hearing is within reach of nearly every hard-of-hearing American. Most just don't know it yet.
** Brenda Battat is the executive director of Hearing Loss Association of America. Patricia Kricos is president-elect of the American Academy of Audiology.