Getting into the Hearing Loop

August 8, 2011 in Education & Outreach, Technology
By Cheryl Heppner, 8/8/11

The 2nd International Hearing Loop Conference, a joint project of the Hearing Loss Association of America and the American Academy of Audiology, kicked off with a breakfast on Sunday June 19, 2011.  The keynote speaker, David, Myers, Ph.D, is a social psychologist at Hope College and the author of 17 books, including A Quiet World: Living with Hearing Loss.  He is known for his leadership in the expansion of hearing loop installation and its use throughout the U.S, and for the creation of hearingloop.org.  He has written 30 articles that advocate for assistive listening through technology that is directly hearing aid compatible.

Benefits of Telecoils

The number of hearing aids equipped with telecoils – often called “t-coil” for short– continues to grow, and cochlear implant users are also finding telecoils useful. One advantage is that telecoil use requires no battery power from the hearing aid.  Another is that telecoils are unobtrusive, unlike wearing a headphone or headset to amplify sound.

“My mother would not be caught dead in church looking like a World War II aviator,” David said with a grin.

David likes to use the microphone (M) and telecoil (T) settings on his hearing aids to watch television, and he also likes to use the live micropone so he can hear his wife speak or a phone ringing.  He finds telecoils very useful for places like banks and airports where it is impractical to have to carry special equipment to hear announcements.

Pros and Cons of Telecoils

The telecoil’s convenience and ease of use are among the reasons that the use of loops has spread throughout the UK, Scandinavia, and more recently parts of the U.S.  Other assistive listening devices are all too often in closets catching dust. 

One drawback of loop systems is that there can be installment issues that cause interference and spillover. Professional installers can identify and avoid these problems..

People will often say that a loop system costs too much, especially when the loop installation is a large one requiring multiple amplifiers.  But the long term cost to purchase and maintain the system has dropped, and fewer receivers are needed to use this kind of listening system.

David recalled that his church had an old listening system that no one used. Now 10 individuals are making use of a loop system installed in the church.  This sort of use brings down the cost per user.

David’s Advocacy for Hearing Loops

David started his push for loop systems in his own area.  In Holland and Zealand, Michigan, with a combined population of 100,000 people, he wanted to see how loops could be installed on a large scale.

The response has been terrific.  Nine years later, nearly every church, senior center, and school has a hearing loop and loops are installed in some bus venues as well. Some businesses installed loops and people have reported that the ability to use the loop influences where they do business.

Spreading the magic of hearing loops has been rewarding for David.  He remembers the looks of wonder on the faces of hearing aid users the first time they experienced using a loop in church.  Walking through the airport at Grand Rapids, where sound reverberates all around, is now far more pleasant to those using telecoils, with the broadcasting of announcements going directly to their hearing aids.  Now Michigan basketball fans in the Arena with its 12,000 seats will be easier to follow for telecoil users with the installation of a loop system.

Pushing for the Power of the Telecoil

Recalling the 1st Hearing Loop Conference, held in Fall 2009 in Switzerland, David noted that Sergei Kochkin of the Better Hearing Institute established a goal for the inclusion of a miniaturized wireless receiver – meaning a telecoil – in every hearing aid for the next decade.

If all the estimated 36 million people in the U.S. with hearing loss had access to the power of the telecoil, David believes it could diminish the stigma of hearing loss.  He advocates public support for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement to cover the cost of the telecoil. 

In addition to Michigan, other areas of the country now have campaigns to promote the use of loop systems. These include Wisconsin, Arizona, New Mexico, Silicon Valley, New York City, Rochester, and Florida.  Thanks to the efforts of individuals in these areas, we are now seeing the application of loops in New York taxis and at Amtrak ticket windows.  There are chair pad loops that can also be of assistance to drivers.

Yahoo now has a Loops and Telecoils group for those who are interested in learning more and working to advance the use of loops.

Hearing Loop Conference