An Assistive Listening System that may be of Interest to your Church
by Jim Ogle
Is your church friendly to your Hard of Hearing (HoH) contingent? If not, or if you don’t know, read the following.
The Albuquerque Chapter of Self Help for the Hard of Hearing (SHHH) is interested in introducing you to an old, but not well known, technology that is relatively cheap, low maintenance, and provides a relatively high quality sound to a subset of the HoH community. This technology is known in the industry as an Audio Loop (AL).
The AL requires a facility with a microphone, amplifier and a cable that surrounds the congregation (a loop) and returns to the amplifier. It can be attached to an existing public address system. The user of the system must have a hearing assistive device (HAD), like a hearing aid or cochlear implant, which is equipped with a telecoil. Telecoils have been an option for hearing aids for more than 50 years. The user must be inside the loop and must have the HAD set to the telecoil. When the HAD is set to the telecoil, the HAD microphone is disconnected, thus cutting out any background noise, which is 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 HAD. The HAD then reproduces the sound using the personal settings of the particular HAD. By using the electronics of the HAD 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.
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. IR systems require the user to have an IR receiver headset and the FM systems are made for communication between individuals, not large bodies of people. An advantage of the AL system is that it only requires the HAD that the person normally uses (and already has thus placing no financial burden on the church to provide, retrieve and maintain headsets), thus making it the simplest and most dignified system for the HoH person to use.
AL technology is not new. It is used throughout a number of countries in Europe, particularly Great Britain, where it is used in cathedrals, opera houses, and airports, just to name a few of the types of facilities where it can be used.
Why should this technology be of interest to the clergy community? This is best illustrated with some statistical information and relating a personal experience.
In 2000, 9.2% of the US population was hearing impaired (http://www.hearingreview.com/Articles.ASP?articleid=H0507F01). This implies that 9.2% of Albuquerque’s population is hearing impaired. The numbers vary by age, with the youngest being only 2 % and the older being close to 30%. In the coming years the baby boomers will be joining the older population, thus increasing the percentage of HoH people that should be in congregations.
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? Statistics indicate it may be up to 9.2 % of the congregation. A possible partial fix, an AL system, is relatively cheap and easy to install.
If you are interested in learning more about this technology, the Albuquerque Chapter of SHHH invites you to see an AL system in use at its monthly SHHH meetings held on the second Saturday of the month in the Taylor Ranch Community Center from 10:00 am to 12:00 noon. Time can be made after the meeting to meet and discuss your particular situation and answer any questions.
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 Hearing Loss Association of Albuquerque 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.