Why are loop systems the preferred assistive listening system?
Unlike alternative (FM or infrared) assistive listening systems which usually sit unused, loop systems:
Require (for those with T-coils) no pick up and remembering to return portable receiving units and headsets.
Require purchasing/maintaining/replacing fewer portable receiving units (for those without T-coils).
Use a universal magnetic signal, which works no matter the location or hearing instrument brand (FM systems operate on differing frequencies, requiring receivers for each venue).
Are inconspicuous: No need to display "I am hard of hearing!" Loop systems offer an easy and invisible solution to an invisible problem, thus are much more likely to be used.
Work in transient situations: They can serve the hard of hearing at ticket counters, teller windows, drive-through stations, airport gate areas, and train and subway stations--venues where other assistive listening systems are impractical.
Are hearing-aid compatible. There’s no need to juggle between hearing aids and headsets (for example, when shifting from sermon to singing during worship).
Preclude bothering others nearby with sounds leaking from headset. Sound broadcast through hearing aids is contained within one’s ear.
Afford flexible use: Can allow either direct listening or loop broadcast modes, or both.
Deliver personalized in-the-ear sound … customized by one’s own hearing aids to address one’s own hearing loss.
Are, for all these reasons, more likely to be used—and to be increasingly used, once installed (as people purchase future aids with T-coils). Loop systems can, thanks to portable receivers, serve everyone including all who are served by existing systems. But, given telecoils, they are much more likely to be used—and therefore to cost less, per user. Moreover, it is those who most need hearing assistance who are most likely to have telecoils.
Why the USA lags Europe
Loop systems are therefore becoming omnipresent in Northern Europe (where in some countries 90 percent of hearing aids have telecoils). For example, in Britain nearly all hearing aids provided by the National Health Service now come with telecoils, and most churches and cathedrals are now looped. In the next several years, all London taxis and all London Underground ticket windows will be looped. Britishers, but as yet few Americans, know about loop systems. That, we hope, is about to change … as caring communities seek to get hard of hearing persons in the loop!
So why does the USA lag Europe in making loop systems available? It's not because the technology is new. It isn't, though new refinements and careful engineering and installation now make it more possible to surmount possible problems such as electrical interference or magnetic energy-sucking metalwork. The main reason is that in the past only about 30 percent of hearing aid-wearing Americans have T-coils (the percentage is higher among those with severe hearing loss—the very people most in need of assistive listening). Happily, this percentage has risen, with telecoils now coming with some two-thirds of new hearing aid models and all new cochlear implants.
If you build it, they will come
With the spread of T-coil compatible telephones and T-coil miniaturization, the time is ripe to make loop systems the preferred assistive listening format. In the short run, those without T-coils can use portable induction loop receivers and headsets. In the long run, if we build it—if loop systems become widely installed—they will come. Audiologists will equip their patients with hearing aids that serve a dual purpose, as aids and as in-the-ear loudspeakers. And people with hearing loss—only one-fourth of whom currently have hearing aids in the United States—will have all the more reason to get hearing aids and to use them as miniature, personal loudspeakers in their homes, churches, theaters, and other public venues.
Before there were video rental outlets or any of us had VHS tapes, someone had the vision to create and sell VCRs. With the technology in place, VCR usage exploded. When WNBC broadcast the first commercial TV signal in 1941 it had few viewers. (Why would people already have TVs, given nothing to watch?) But the television entrepreneurs knew they had a cool technology, and that if they would build it, viewers would come.
So it can happen in America, if, church by church, theater by theater, community by community, caring people and institutions will lead by example.