Acts 2.8 begins, “And how hear we every man.............”. If you’re hard of hearing, wear hearing aids, and attend services at Christ United Methodist Church, chances are that how you’re hearing is through the church’s new audio loop, a technology installed there last year and now being installed or investigated by a number of other Albuquerque churches.
Othel Moore moved to Albuquerque five years ago and attends services at Christ United . She says that, for four of those years, she went to church for the fellowship but, “I never heard anything in the service.” She says of the loop system installed by the church last year, “It’s fantastic - I can hear everything going on.” She went on to observe that, “People don’t realize how frustrated we get when we can’t hear.”
For people with normal hearing, it’s hard to imagine that, for many Hard of Hearing (HoH) people, even if they’re wearing hearing aids and sounds would seem to be loud enough, they may not be able to actually understand what they’re hearing. Albuquerque audiologist Beth Hecox recently said in a published piece, “....when you have a hearing loss, even a very slight one, your ear and brain lose their ability to separate sounds.” The result is the complaint that many HoH people have - “I can hear you, I just can’t understand what the words are that you’re saying.”
The reason for this is that, for most HoH people, it’s the higher pitched sounds of consonants they can‘t hear. They can’t distinguish between “s” and “f” or “j” and “k” to give just two examples. “Day”, “say”, “gay” may all sound the same to them. “Sit is indistinguishable from “fit” They compensate for this by turning up the volume when watching TV, (often to a level that drives others from the room) and they still may not be able to understand all the words.
Background noise such as air conditioning, traffic noise, coughing, papers rustling - even the voices of others speaking in a room - can make it difficult, if not impossible, for a hard of hearing person to follow a conversation that others can hear with no difficulty. A Swedish study found that, for the average Hard of Hearing person, words or voices had to be 5 decibels louder in the presence of moderate background noise for them to understand the same number of words in a given sequence that people with normal hearing understood. If the background noise was other voices, the difference was 10 decibels. To put that in perspective, a 10 decibel increase in sound is perceived by the human ear as being twice as loud as the lower level.
Hearing aids, like eye glasses or medicine, are prescribed for a particular person’s needs. With today’s digital hearing aids, the audiologist or dispenser can “tune” them to provide more amplification in those sound ranges where a patient’s loss is greatest while not raising the level much in ranges where there’s little hearing loss. They don’t return hearing to normal but they dramatically improve the wearer’s ability to distinguish sounds and to understand what’s being said to him or her.
Hearing aids can only do so much, though, and in certain settings such as a church service, a theater, a city council meeting, they often don’t provide enough help for the wearer to follow the proceedings. One reason is that they are picking up all of the background sounds along with the proceedings so the HoH listener may still not really be able to understand what’s being said .
...........the only sounds being heard by the wearer
are those being transmitted from the audio loop.
An old but very effective technology known as an audio loop is the system of choice for most Hard of Hearing people. With such a system, all they have to do is flip a switch on their hearing aid and it will pick up the signal being emitted by an inconspicuous wire looping the room and plugged into an amplifier and microphones at the pulpit and elsewhere in the church. The sound they hear is “corrected” by their digital hearing aid to fit their particular hearing loss. When the hearing aids are in this mode, the microphones in the hearing aids are turned off so the only sounds being heard by the wearer are those being transmitted from the audio loop.
Churches can install various systems to help Hard of Hearing parishioners such as an FM or infrared system like those in the newer movie theaters and concert halls but they are not the most practical means of making the service accessible to many HoH parishioners. Such systems require a supply of headsets that have to be distributed to those with hearing loss and then collected at the end of the service. The headsets must be cleaned and repaired and they also have the effect of making their wearers feel self conscious. Also, the sound coming from them is not corrected for that individual’s hearing loss.
Loop systems are relatively inexpensive to purchase and install and require little or no maintenance. A few headsets can be purchased to be available to those HoH individuals who don’t have hearing aids or whose aids do not have a t-switch but the need for this equipment is minimized. Installation of the loop simply requires stringing a small insulated wire around the perimeter of a room usually under the carpeting or hidden under the mop board. An alternative, for rooms with a suspended ceiling, is to string it on top of the ceiling tiles where is also not visible. The wire is then hooked to a small amplifier that will send a signal through it, creating an electromagnetic field that hearing aids will pick up when they are turned to the telecoil function. The system can be wired into an existing PA or can have its own microphone.
The Albuquerque Chapter of Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH) uses a loop system for their meetings. Often, for first time visitors to these meetings, it is their first experience in using a loop and they are amazed at how much better they can hear the proceedings when they switch their hearing aids from their normal setting to the t-switch setting.
This SHHH group has begun an initiative entitled “Loop New Mexico.“ They hope to raise awareness of audio loop technology among churches, governmental bodies and other groups where this technology can be used. They point out that, in Great Britain, almost all such facilities are looped and, in addition, train stations, airports and other places where it is important for people to hear announcements or proceeding, have audio loops and signage to alert the HoH of its presence.
The group can arrange for an on-site demonstration of a loop and provide written material explaining the technology and the ease with which a loop system can be installed in an existing facility. They can also provide a list of resources for the equipment. For questions, or to request a demonstration, call Jim Ogle at 899-6514 or email him at email@example.com.
As the adoption of audio loop technology spreads in Albuquerque, SHHH has a web site (www.abqshhh.homestead.com) where they plan to post a list of “looped” facilities in the city. They currently have a fact sheet on audio loops posted there that people can print and give to the decision makers at their church, senior center or other location where they would like to see this technology adopted.
For those Hard of Hearing individuals who do not have hearing aids (or who's hearing aids do not have a telecoil) this, or similar symbols, are used to alert people to the availability of headsets that will pick up the signal from a loop system.
It could also indicate the availability of infra red headsets that have a neck loop to translate the infra red signal to an electromagnetic signal that can then be accessed with the telecoil on hearing aids.
The symbols above or to the right, along with a number of other disability symbols can be downloaded from the web site of the Graphic Artists Guild.
(below) is used to call attention to systems that transmit amplified sound via hearing aids, headsets or other devices. They include infrared, loop and FM systems. Portable systems may be available from the same audiovisual equipment suppliers that service conferences and meetings.
Versions of this symbol are used by the Hearing Loss Association of America, the Loop America movement and others to indicate a looped facility where hearing aids or cochlear implants equipped with a telecoil can be be set to the T-switch setting to get clearer sound than those instruments would provide using the microphone setting. This version of the symbol can be downloaded from:
Loop New Mexico is an initiative undertaken by the Albuquerque, New Mexico chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America in an effort to make more public and private facilities accessible to those with hearing loss and to raise the awareness of both the Hard of Hearing and the general public to the benefits of induction loops systems.
We are currently most focused on the installing of loops in churches but are promting their use wherever the HoH could benefit from them.
You can be an advocate for a hearing loop system in your church
Is your church friendly to the Hard of Hearing (HoH) members of the congretation? If not, or if you don’t know, please consider the following.
The Albuquerque Chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAAbq) wants to introduce you to an old but not well known technology that can be relatively inexpensive to install, is low maintenance, and provides high quality sound for those with a hearing loss. This technology is known in the industry as AFILS (Audio Frequency Induction Loop Systems) but has become more commonly know as simply a hearing loop.
A hearing loop requires a facility with a microphone, amplifier and a cable that surrounds the congregation (a loop) and returns to the amplifier. It can supplement an existing assistive listening system (ALS) or be installed as a stand alone system where no other ALS exists. The user of the system must have hearing aids or a cochlear implant (CI) equipped with what is called a telecoil or T-coil or must have an assistive listening device (ALD)with a headset. That ALD, as do telecoil equipped hearing aids and CIs, will receive the signal “broadcast” by the hearing loop somewhat like a radio receives the signal from a radio station.
Telecoils are currently in over 70% of all hearing aids on the market and in all cochlear implant processors. They must have a manual control or the option to manually over ride an automatic telecoil in order to work in a looped environment. The user must be inside the loop and must have the hearing aids or CI set on either the telecoil setting or the combination mic/telecoil setting to receive the signal from the loop. When using the telecoil only setting the user hears much less of any background noise - a common nuisance for HoH people in large gatherings.
The AL system works by producing an electromagnetic field inside the loop that varies in proportion to the sound that is driving the system. The telecoil, which senses the electromagnetic field fluctuations, induces a small current in the electronics of the hearing aid or CI that then reproduces the sound. By using the electronics of the hearing aid or CI and cutting out the background noise the quality of the sound, and thus the ability to understand, is typically better than other hearing assistive systems. Those without telecoil equipped devices can borrow a receiver and headset that will receive and transmit the loop signal.
Other systems that are common in the US include infrared (IR) and frequency modulation (FM) systems. Infrared systems are common in theaters and concert halls. FM systems are making great contributions to the young, hearing impaired, students in schools and are also used in large venues such as auritoriums and churches. IR and FM systems require the user to have a receiver/headset just as do hearing loops for those without telecoils. The obvious advantage of the loop system is that for most HoH people they do not need to borrow any equipment, they just turn on their telecoils to access the ALD. What's more, their hearing aids are correcting” the sound to match their particular hearing loss pattern. Another advantage of the loop system is that it only requires receivers for a small segment of the HoH members of the congregation thus placing a smaller financial burden on the church to provide, retrieve and maintain headsets..
Loop technology is not new. It is used throughout Europe, particularly Great Britain and the Scandanavian countries, where it is used in cathedrals, opera houses, airports and even in London's taxi cabs.
Assistive listening technology is important to a substantial portion of any congregtation. This is best illustrated with some statistical information and relating a personal experience.
The latest estimates indicate that over 17% of the US population has a measureable hearing loss and, surprisingly, over 65% of them are below retirement age. Church congregations tend to be weighted toward seniors where up to 30% or more can be expected to have some degree of hearing loss but the baby boomers are now beginning to be part of the older population, thus increasing the percentage of HoH people in congregations.
Jim Ogle, the founder of the Loop New Mexico initiative, reported, “The church my family attends is relatively large in size with a modern sound system. When I attend church, I find there is very little that I really understand. The acoustics of the church, along with background noise, distorts the sermon to the point where I understand very little. The experience is less then satisfying, thus discouraging me from attending church regularly. How many others have this same experience, and thus stop attending church?”
There are already over six dozen churches in New Mexico where hearing loops have been installed. The difference in the quality of sound between listening to the service using the mics in hearing aids or using telecoils is dramatically demonstrated by a recording you can listen to at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3XoVrUjfaY&feature=share .
If you are interested in learning more about this technology, HLAAbq invites you to experience a hearing loops that is in use at its monthly meetings. Go to www.HLAAbq.com for details on the date, time and location of these meetings.
Time can be made after the meeting to discuss your particular situation and answer any questions and there are a number of handouts that you can take with you that explain with text, photos and drawings and clear and complete explanation of hearing loops systems. You can also learn about the at www.hearingloop.org.