What are common concerns about loop systems?
1. "It's said that only 30 percent of hearing
aid wearers have the telecoil receptor, which means that loop
systems can't serve 70 percent of hearing aid wearers."
The oft-cited "30 percent" may once have
been true, but is no longer. Surveys of leading hearing aid
manufacturers reveal that virtually all behind-the-ear hearing
aids and most in-the-ear hearing aids now come with the audio
coil ("telecoil") receptor. (Only the completely-in-the-canal
aids--about 1 in 5 hearing aids--cannot have a telecoil.)
GN ReSound, for example, estimates that 80 percent of their
hearing aids now come with telecoils. Audiological researcher
Mark Ross recommends that telecoils "be routinely incorporated
in all hearing aids, as a kind of default position, unless
there is an explicit request or reason not to do so."
- The telecoil compatability of post-1989 telephones has
helped fuel the increased inclusion of telecoils.
- Those most needing hearing assistance tend to have larger
hearing aids, most of which have telecoils. In one HLAA
of members, 80 percent had hearing aids or cochlear implants
- Some hearing aid wearers are unaware of their telecoils.
- If you build it, they will come. In countries, communities,
and churches where loop systems have been installed, people
get telecoils when purchasing future hearing aids.
2. "Loop systems aren't suitable in adjacent classrooms,
theaters, or hotel conference rooms, because their output
will spill over to adjacent spaces. They also aren't suitable
for courtrooms and other venues where confidentiality may
require sound to be contained."
Traditional perimeter loop systems indeed cannot be
used in adjacent rooms. Today's modern loop engineering does,
however, enable the containment of sound, and thus the looping
of adjacent lecture halls, theaters, and hotel conference
3. "Loop systems aren't conveniently portable, and
thus aren't suited for temporary meeting spaces."
Looping a temporary meeting room--taping wire to the
floor and plugging in the attached amplifier--takes but a
few minutes, and reduces time spent distributing special receivers
and headsets (since fewer will be required).
4. "The sound broadcast by loop systems isn't loud
enough (or is too loud)."
On hearing aids with preset volume output, one's audiologist
can raise or lower the volume output for the telecoil as well
as for the mic setting. Hearing aid manufacturers can also
help, by orienting telecoils for optimal loop system reception
(see #8 below).
5. "Interference from fluorescent lights, power lines,
computer screens, electric guitars, etc., make loop systems
A site check---easily done by having a hearing aid
wearer turn on the telecoil---usually confirms that interference
is not a problem (and where it is, can be dealt with). Modern
fluorescent lights do not create interference. Interference
near electric guitars can be eliminated with a humbucker pickup
coil on the guitar. Older computer monitors produce interference,
but this is reduced in newer monitors, and the new flat screens
produce no interference.
6. "Loop systems won't work in outdoor venues such
FM assistive listening systems, although not without
problems, are more affordable in such venues. Loop systems
have, however, been installed in very large venues, including
both indoor arenas and outdoor stadiums. When installed, they
are more likely to be used and they reduce the need for special
receivers and headsets, which few hard of hearing people check
7. "FM and infrared systems afford more even coverage."
Loop system output is often experienced as louder
by those sitting near (but not over) the loop wire. Professionally
designed and installed loop systems following modern IEC standards
do, however, provide quite even coverage throughout most of
a facility. In venues with nonreflective walls, the coverage
of infrared systems can also be uneven, as well as easily
blocked by another person or object. FM radio signals also
are vulnerable to problems, including interference, though
they do enable stereo reception.
8. "Hearing aid manufacturers install telecoils that
are sometimes oriented for optimum telephone, not loop system, reception."
In the September, 2002, Hearing Review, Mark
Ross notes that a horizontal telecoil optimizes telephone
reception, but that "to optimally detect a signal from
a loop (e.g., floor or neck system), the telecoil should be
situated in the vertical position. Often recommended is a
compromise position in which the telecoil is angled so that
adequate (though not optimal) inductive coupling can be achieved
with both telephones and loops. However, since it is much
easier for people to manipulate a telephone for optimal coupling
than to angle their own heads relative to a loop, I would
suggest the vertical position as the normative one. Still,
there is a need for some creative engineering on the topic
of telecoils, an area of research that does not seem to have
sparked the collective imagination of the hearing aid industry."
With in-the-ear hearing aids, the telecoil orientation tends
to vary with the shape of the ear and the resulting ear mold
and hearing aid case. Some people find that, in certain venues,
they may need to slightly cock their heads for optimum reception
(but most would much prefer this minor adjustment to the hassle
of conspicuous receivers and headsets).
9. "Using a loop system means that I can't hear others
That's actually less of a problem with loop input
than when one's ears are plugged with a headset. A simple
tap switches the hearing aid from telecoil (T) to mic (M)
setting. (That's much less hassle than taking off a headset
and putting one's hearing aids back in.) Those who also have
a combined mic/telecoil (M/T) setting can enjoy both inputs
simultaneously. They can, for example, listen to TV broadcast
directly through their hearing aids and hear others
in the room.
The broadcast of sound through one's own hearing aids also
guarantees that adjacent people won't be distracted by irritating
sounds spilling out of an assistive listening headset. Sound
broadcast through hearing aids is contained within one's ear.
10. "Might not alternative future assistive technologies
achieve the same results?"
Perhaps, and, if so, all the better to hear you with, my dear.
What informed hard of hearing people wish for is not so much
loop systems, which are today's technology for broadcasting
sound directly through hearing aids. What they wish for is,
rather, a future that mandates hearing aid compatible phones
and, likewise, hearing aid compatible assistive listening.
Should it eventually become possible to, for example, broadcast
sound to miniaturized, low-power radio receivers embedded
in hearing aids, that could be wonderful. (Today's Bluetooth
receivers are too large, and demand too much battery power,
to be accommodated by hearing aids.) We welcome all audio
engineers, manufacturers, and vendors to join the free market
competition in support of hearing aid compatible assistive
Imagine a future in which hearing aids have doubled functionality--as
sophisticated microphone amplifiers, yes, but also as personalized
loudspeakers for sound broadcast in most public venues and
in homes, as well, where people's own hearing aids can be
their TV loudspeakers and where they can listen to phone conversation
with two ears. With doubled usefulness, and with none
of the hassle and embarrassment that comes with using receiver/headsets,
the number of people benefiting from assistive listening would
soar. Moreover, the number of hearing aid users might double
(which, along with fewer returns of hearing aids, would bring
down their cost). And the stigma of hearing loss and hearing
aids would diminish. The bottom line would be improved
quality of life for millions of Americans.