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
(PDF) required digital wireless phone companies and service providers
to make telecoil-compatible phones available effective 2005
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,
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 (PDF), 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.
"Never doubt that a small group of committed
people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing
that ever has."~ Margaret Mead