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It clearly was a moving memorial service for a longtime friend who had died after a long illness, but I sat in silence, unable to hear the poignant stories and loving words from family and friends.
The problem was something I’ve encountered all too often before: a house of worship without the technology to allow those with hearing loss to fully participate.
The service was held in a beautiful 19th century church in Cambridge, Mass., in an alcove that seated about 50 people. Those who spoke used a microphone, but the sound was further amplified by the reverberant stone interior. My hearing aids couldn’t handle it. The words were an indistinct, painfully loud booming.
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I finally took the battery out of my hearing aids, frustrated and heartbroken at not being able to hear the emotional words of family and friends.
Sometimes all the tips and tricks and strategies for hearing better simply aren’t enough. That’s when we need technology. Unfortunately, sometimes all the personal technologies available to the deaf and hard of hearing, plus all those strategies, still aren’t enough.
That’s when we need induction loops. I wrote about loop technology just a couple of weeks ago, but this memorial service reminded me in a deeply emotional way just how important looping is.
Handheld devices like an FM system would not have worked at this service. There was no podium to hold the transmitter, and many people spoke spontaneously — making passing around the transmitter inconvenient and intrusive.
A hearing loop was the only solution. It would have transformed the experience not only for me, but also for many others with faltering hearing. Given our age, that probably included a good number of those present.
Looping can be expensive for a large space like this church, but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. A loop can, if necessary, effectively circle only a part of a room — or, as in this case, the alcove where the service was held. Anyone within the alcove would need only to switch to the telecoil program on their hearing device or use one of the headsets that are part of the system.
Many churches and other places of worship have tight budgets that need to stretch to fund community outreach programs, including helping the homeless and sending volunteers to poverty-stricken areas abroad. Looping a large sanctuary could be reasonably considered beyond the means of many churches.
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However, an induction loop in a smaller area would probably cost less than $10,000 and it would do so much to help older congregants. While some of my friends in the hearing-loss community would argue that people with hearing loss should be able to sit anywhere and be able to hear, I think we have to take reality into consideration.
The church’s website notes that it is fully wheelchair accessible. That’s admirable. But what sometimes gets overlooked is the many people with the invisible disability of hearing loss, who are as excluded as a person with mobility issues would be.
I’m going to another memorial service this week (they seem to come more often these days) and I have to admit I’m torn about attending. I want to honor the deceased by my presence and pay my respects to the family, but I also don't want to subject myself to another sad, frustrating and silent experience.
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