It's a boon for people with hearing loss, widely used in northern Europe, and yet in this country it still remains relatively unknown and underutilized by millions who could benefit from it.
I'm talking about induction looping, which has been available in the U.S. for years. For those unfamiliar with this ingenious device, the Wall Street Journal recently called it "a technological godsend" in an op-ed column by David Myers, a psychology professor at Hope College in Holland, Mich., and creator of the website HearingLoop.org that advocates for the technology.
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What is looping? Here’s a quick primer: Looping is a wireless technology that can broadcast sound from microphones and PA systems directly into your ear. All you do is flip to the telecoil program on your hearing aid. Induction loops are used in auditoriums, places of worship, concert halls and information booths.
Myers, who suffers from hearing loss, wrote about using the loop in London's Westminster Abbey, which enabled him to hear the service better than most of the audience, including those with normal hearing. A loop also can be installed at home, and a very simple but effective version of a loop can be used with your TV.
For people with hearing loss, exposure to a hearing loop is nothing short of miraculous. Someone once told Myers that it “felt like God talking.” Even for those who don't have hearing loss, or only a mild loss, a headset to receive the loop signal can vastly improve comprehension in a lecture or at a performance.
Hearing loops are much more common in northern Europe — particularly Britain and Scandinavia — than they are in the United States. Unfortunately, even when a loop has been installed, potential users may not know about it. One place where hearing loops exist but are not advertised is the Richard Rodgers Theater on Broadway, where the acclaimed play Hamilton is currently being performed. If you have a hearing aid with a telecoil, all you have to do is sit down in your seat, flip the switch to telecoil mode and enjoy the show.
If you don’t have a hearing aid or cochlear implant with a telecoil, simply go to the concierge desk and ask for a loop receiver. (It’s the same desk where you get infrared headphones.) I saw Hamilton early in its run, and the staffer at the desk didn’t know what a hearing loop was, but he figured it out — and my guess is that he’s had a lot of requests since mine.
About 70 percent of hearing aids come equipped with a telecoil these days, but make sure your audiologist has activated the one in your hearing aid. If your hearing aid doesn’t have a telecoil, ask to have one inserted. According to Myers, it’s a $2 device. It can transform your life.
As useful as Myers' article in the Journal was, the benefits of looping are not exactly news. Almost every major news outlet has written about it in the last five years, including in-depth articles in Scientific American and the New York Times.
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Yet looping still seems to be a secret. Business leaders and others need to make use of this technology, which could change the lives of their employees and customers at a relatively modest expense. And places that have installed hearing loops need to let people know that they are available.
One caveat about looping: It’s not for everyone. People who are deaf will still need ASL interpreters. People whose hearing loss cannot be corrected by hearing aids or cochlear implants will still need live captioning in the form of CART (communication access real-time translation). Even people like me, who have a hearing aid and a cochlear implant with telecoils in both, may need the loop supplemented by captions.
For a list of looped venues in your area, try the website of your chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America. In New York, the list can be found here.
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