Thanks to its personalized sound, easy convenience, inconspicuousness, and universal applicability (from home TV rooms to cathedrals), hard of hearing people are most likely to use assistive listening that is hearing aid compatible. With portable receivers for those who don’t yet have hearing aids with telecoils, today’s hearing aid compatible technology (loop systems) can serve everyone. Moreover, it can serve anyone anywhere, including transient venues such as ticket windows or airports—where checking out FM or infrared portable listening aids is impractical. Small wonder that loop systems are becoming omnipresent in Britain and Scandinavia.
For optimal effectiveness, loop systems require hearing aids with telecoils, and, vice-versa, telecoil-equipped hearing aids need loop systems to be fully functional. In Britain, where hearing aids distributed by the National Health Service come with telecoils, loop systems are being installed in public venues wherever sound is communicated to listeners. The spread of loop systems, in turn, motivates people to acquire hearing aids that also serve as personalized in-the-ear loudspeakers.
So how might America become similarly supportive of people with hearing loss?
Step one has already been taken: Equip telephones to broadcast to telecoils. Since 1989, newly manufactured landline phones have been telecoil compatible. The net effect is that most office and home telephones enhance listening by broadcasting directly to telecoils. In 2003, the FCC required digital wireless phone companies and service providers to make telecoil-compatible phones available effective 2005 and beyond.
Step two is also accomplished: Let another country demonstrate the success of a national loop initiative. The progressive countries of northern Europe are paving the way. “Here [in Denmark] we can just install a good loop system in a theater or a church building or any meeting room (and we do—our churches are almost 100% covered now), and ask hard of hearing people to switch to the T-position,” reports the Rev. Jan Gronborg Eriksen, president of Churchear. Likewise, in Britain, most churches, cathedrals, and auditoriums are now looped and virtually all hearing aids distributed by the National Health Service are loop compatible.
Step three is well underway: Loop a demonstration community. Aided by local corporate and foundation support and a publicly announced initiative, Holland-Zeeland, Michigan, has become a model looped community. Dozens of churches, schools, businesses, and public venues have become looped (see list). The initiative also spread elsewhere in West Michigan, including Grand Rapids.
Knowing that telecoils will henceforth facilitate hearing in most of the community’s major facilities, audiologists and hearing specialists supported the initiative as they provided the next generation of hearing aids. Information on specific strategies for publicizing and funding this model initiative is available here.
Step four is to extend the initiative to a national level, home by home, church by church, auditorium by auditorium, community by community. If any individual church or community will install and publicize its loop system, its people will then be motivated to get telecoils and they, in turn, will spread the word.
With support from The Hearing Loss Association of America and The American Academy of Audiology (DOC), from a national service organization (PDF), from new efforts to manufacture and market loop equipment, and from various articles, there is accelerating momentum toward a future in which hearing aids and cochlear implants can become customized, wireless loudspeakers.
If you have media contacts, creative ideas, and good wishes, or if we could answer your questions, please do contact us. You also can help by spreading the word, such as by pointing people (hard of hearing friends, church building committees, local hearing specialists, newspapers, etc.) to hearingloop.org.