Hearing Loops

My first hearing loop experience was at the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) convention in Rhode Island last year. At my first workshop, one of the coordinators announced that each workshop was looped so be sure to turn on our T-coils. Excited to try this technology I’ve only heard about, I turned mine on. It took less than five minutes to be totally amazed. I heard so well, I felt like a hearing person for the first time in years, watching the speaker instead of the CART screen. The clarity through the loop was a hundred times better than using an FM system. As a bonus, I heard through my hearing aids alone instead of borrowed earphones or neck loop wondering where they were last and were they cleaned and sanitized? This time I simply pushed a button on my hearing aid and I heard. Why wasn’t there more of this available in America?

I had to find a way to share this technology however I could at home. I wanted other people to experience it and know the difference too. On our local Walk4Hearing committee we had Kristin who works with Listen Technologies. In the past, they supported our Walk with assistive listening devices but I knew they were getting into hearing loops too. Could we loop our Kick Off party for the Walk? Yes, she was willing to set that up for us and even better, she could probably set up a portion of our stage area at our Walk in the park too.

The Kick Off party was small but those of us who were there with hearing aids or cochlear implants, used out T-coil. We sat at our tables and heard the speakers. Listen Tech also looped our registration table making hearing above the noise a piece of cake. The day of our Walk, lots of people showed up and there were signs posted everywhere encouraging people to try the hearing loop. During our entertainment which happened to be a clown who told lots of jokes and stories, I looked around and saw people with hearing aids and CI’s laughing along with the rest of people. Later, speeches came through loud and clear making it a memorable Walk.

w4h Kristin

Kristen from Listen Tech pictured here with the ALD’s they handed out at the Walk4Hearing in Salt Lake City.

A few weeks ago, Listen Tech held a convention for their distributors. They invited some of us from the hearing loss community to come to their hearing loop workshop portion. Juliette Sterkens, AuD from Wisconsin spoke first and she gave the best presentation on hearing loss I’ve heard. She talked about who is losing their hearing and why. She explained audiograms. She talked about high frequency hearing loss (the most common type) and what’s it like; how we hear vowels better than consonants and how our mind struggles to fill in the missing pieces.

Giving a visual example, on the screen appeared the sentence, “She saw oars bobbing.” Beneath it was missing letters. Take away the original sentence, she filled in the gaps and it became “She saw cars fueling.” She also ran audio recordings to show exactly what hearing aids pick up in churches, court rooms and restaurants. Then she played a recording of what it sounded like through a loop. The difference is astounding. The hearies in there were beginning to understand our world a whole lot better. (You got to share the link above with hearing family and friends.)

She went on to explain that hearing aids work best within a four foot range picking up the closest and loudest sounds like coughing, papers rustling, babies crying. The speaker twenty feet away is lost in the noise that surrounds the hearing aid user, unless using the loop. The loop brings the speaker right to the ears and cutting out surrounding noise.

Five of us who were hard of hearing sat in the back of the workshop at a looped table where it was impossible to lip read… and we all heard every word Juliette said without the benefit of CART. Normally in this kind of situation, I have to arrive early and make the presenter aware of my hearing loss. I ask them to wear my FM system and face me as much as possible because I use lip reading too. I stake out my position up front and in the center where I still very much struggle to hear. After two hours, I’m exhausted mentally and physically. Here, Juliette talked for almost two hours and I felt no fatigue at all.

Our view of Juliette from the back of the room.

Our view of Juliette from the back of the room.

Our looped table.

Our looped table.

The incredible loop set up at the conference let me hear audience participation as well for the first time in many, many moons. Every chair had a wireless microphone. To ask questions or add comments to the discussion, we each had to turn the mic on which also fed into the loop system. To top it off, a screen at the front of the room had each microphone listed in a diagram. The seating was assigned so anytime someone turned their microphone on, their spot in the room was highlighted red on the chart and their name listed to the left of the diagram. What a fabulous system, incredibly inclusive, for anyone with or without hearing loss.

The microphones in front of each seat.

The microphones in front of each seat.

The chart showing who was talking and where.

The chart showing who was talking and where.  This isn’t the best of pictures but hopefully you get the idea. 

The first half of the seminar was about hearing loss. The second half was the technology side of hearing loops and were invited to stay. I’m not a techie but I’ll give it a go… A loop system consists of an audio source, a loop driver and wiring. Cables or loops are laid around the room according to size and specifications creating a magnetic field which hearing T-coils pick up. It brings sound direct to the ear eliminating audio distance. There are various choices of loop drivers and different ways to layout the wires according to the needs.

As I understand it, past looping systems, which started in the 70’s, had lots of problems which turned off both the users and the people who bought them. Today’s technology has improved by leaps and bounds. Qualified installers are able to get beyond the biggest problems which are over spill and metal interference. Over spill happens when one loop system spills over into another looped room but this can be eliminated with different wiring and layouts. I didn’t understand how they get around metal interference but they do with various techniques. They showed us 6 different layouts and discussed common pitfalls and fixes. All I know is the loop systems I’ve experienced in this last year have delivered terrific sound.

Hearing loops are my favorite way to hear. There’s other technology out there with bluetooth being touted as the next big thing. I have a bluetooth device that connects my hearing aids to my phone. It drains the battery on my hearing aids, the bluetooth device itself and my phone super fast. It’s handy but it comes with a price. Using my t-coil doesn’t drain my hearing aid batteries any faster than normal so I keep them longer.

When you see this sign:

 telecoil ALD sign

Turn on the t-coil in your hearing aid and give it a try. (Signs are required by the ADA.) Many tourist sites and tours in Europe are looped and it’s gaining popularity here in the USA. Recently the New York subway system was looped in certain places and a taxi company in NY will be looping their cabs soon. Quiet a few churches are getting loops here too as well some colleges, auditoriums and senior centers. Many people are getting their living rooms looped for a higher quality television sound too. How about some places we’d like to see looped: drive thru speakers, bank windows, theaters and meeting rooms. It’s a world of possibilities.

At the end of the workshop with Juliette and Kristin in the back and middle of the row. That's me in the brown in the back row too.

At the end of the workshop with Juliette and Kristin in the back and middle of the row. That’s me in the brown in the back row too.

Here are some further links to check out:

http://hearingloop.org/ David Myer’s site

http://loopwisconsin.com/ a site Juliette Sterkens runs

Audio Induction Loop via wikipedia

http://www.hlaabq.com/LoopNM.html Loop New Mexico campaign

HLAA’s Get in the Hearing Loop

http://www.aldlocator.com/ Assistive Listening Device Locator

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17 responses to “Hearing Loops

  1. Excellent post! Excellent description! I feel the same way!

  2. Thanks. I like your website too! http://loopseattle.org/

  3. excellent article I will share with my patients as well as use it for advocacy here in New York, Carol Letzter, AuD

    • Thanks! I want many hard of hearing people to experience and use the loop. It makes such a big difference.

  4. Any chance you could comment on improvements, (if any) brought by using the IES Standard for Hearing Loops? It’s my understanding that use of the Standard in Europe was a big reason for the improvement in the systems over the past experience.

    Sharon Toji

    • I can’t answer the techie questions myself but I’ll ask someone one who can get back to you on this. 🙂

  5. The IEC Standard for installing hearing loops provides a standard for every installer to follow so that the loop’s signal will be evenly distributed in the looped area. It is also very important to remember that the hearing aids must be adjusted by the audiologist. The person’s hearing loss has to considered when adjusting the hearing device when set on t-coil – it is not so simple but when it works correctly – the loop is amazing!!

  6. Thank you for supplying additional information. I totally believe in my audiologist and him adjusting my hearing aids. That too makes a big difference in my hearing life.

  7. Yeah , that’s great. But why are you giving credit to Listen Tech? They are the company that has ignored loops for years and has provided you with the crappy FM systems everywhere you go?? There are plenty of other more experienced companies that have had your best interest in mind from the start. Listen has only gotten ino the looping business since they heard there was money to be made! If they really gave a damn about the hearing loss community they would have been using loops all along! I’m glad you have had a positive experience with the loop though and hope you continue to spread the word. It is a wonderful thing!!!

  8. Thanks, I will keep spreading the word as much as possible. Looping is awesome.
    I give credit to Listen Tech because it was their conference I was at. They also looped our Walk4Hearing Kick Off Party and the Walk itself without charging us. No one else has stepped forward here in Salt Lake for looping or volunteered in our committee meeting and cause like they have. They have been super generous towards us without demanding much in return. Sure they want to make money but don’t all looping companies want to make money? From what I’ve experienced with them, nothing has been crappy. Maybe we have been lucky over here.

  9. Chelle – Thank you for your continued support of Listen Technologies.
    Bob – I was disappointed when I read your comment. I believe we’ll all be much stronger if we can work together. I hope you’ll be open to the idea that Listen Technologies has supported the hearing loss community from the very beginning. Although the company didn’t introduce loop when it was founded, Listen Tech has continued to add technologies over its history. Listen now offers RF, IR and Loop. To be completely honest, I personally tried a loop system in the nineties and I was disappointed in what I heard. The system did not sound good, nor did it work throughout the venue I was in. The system sounded horrible. Listen Technologies truly believed that other technologies would help this community. What we’ve learned from our experience is that we were not alone in assuming that Loop didn’t work well. With time, effort and research we now understand that loop is simply a technology. Like all technologies, they need to be installed well to work for the user. The company has focused on building a certified network of qualified installers so when they do install a system, it will meet the IEC standards. Listen Technologies has spent a great deal of time, effort, and money educating on hearing loss and hearing loss prevention. Over its history Listen has helped this community with all of its technology as well as in it’s advocacy. Does it matter when Listen added a technology or can we all work to leverage the vast channel of qualified installers that Listen has all over North America as well as the fact that Listen Technologies has a large outreach to that can be leveraged to outreach to build awareness to this invisible disability? I would be very open to talking to you directly Bill to earn your trust and to show you that Listen is extremely passionate about changing the experience for this community when they walk into a venue. The company is passionate and we’d welcome you being with us rather than against us.

    • That’s been my experience here in Salt Lake, Listen Tech has been eager to help our hearing loss community, with their time and their equipment. We’re very grateful.

  10. Fabulous post, Chelle. I got new hearing aids earlier this year and they were equipped with telecoils. Being able to hear with my eyes shut was a fantastic experience. You described beautifully for “hearies” how remarkable the ability to hear well again is. Keep up the great work!

  11. Chelle,

    I had the good fortune of experiencing loops at college from 2003-2008 in the large auditorium classes. For a time, I was using interpreters or CART (CART was a little embarrassing for me, but I was generally okay with terps).

    The loop system is amazing. It was an incredible help and pleasure to not have to sit in the front row in the middle and know that everyone knew I was that HOH guy in class. T-coil is great for all of its uses – direct telephone connection rather than through the air, loops, etc.

    Glad you were able to also get in on this technology!

    MJ

    • How nice to have the loop in college! I tried some college in the mid 90’s and they couldn’t provide CART, never heard of the loop back then and they couldn’t even find me a note taker. Adds teacher with a heavy accent and completely unwilling to accommodate me in any form. Pure torture! So it’s nice to know things have changed.
      Thanks for writing in and sharing your experience. I’d like to see a lot more looping in life!

  12. Key though is that the microphones are required – not always practical in every situation, but great for when microphones are already part of the meeting or event planning.

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