Published in August 2007

Assisting the Hearing Impaired, Part 3
By David Lee Jr., PhD

A discussion of audio loop systems.

Editor’s Note: Part 1 of this discussion appeared in June, Part 2, last month.

    More than 28 million people in the United States are hearing impaired. Many of these people attend worship services regularly. I am convinced that, in the near future, even more will attend worship services once they are offered technologies that enable them to have a positive worship experience. I say this based on personal research and from wonderful feedback I have received from readers of Sound & Communications.
    Many of you are helping me to better understand the needs of hearing-impaired people. You are also helping me understand that induction audio loop systems are preferred by this unique group of people. There is much more to this issue than my presentation here. However, as I study hearing impaired issues and technologies, I continue to be convinced that the audio needs of the hearing impaired hold important opportunities for our industry.
    In many house of worship settings, people hear sound after it has traveled from the loudspeakers, bounced off the walls, and after it has merged with clapping, laughing and additional ambient noises. The mashed up sound is difficult for hearing-impaired people to understand. Similar to how in-ear systems help many musicians hear distinguishable audio amid onstage sound wars, induction audio loop systems punch through much of the garbled auditorium noise and deliver the sound directly into a listener’s ear canal via hearing aids. Thus, an inductive audio loop system and hearing aids increase the intelligibility of a sound source. A result of clear sound is a positive worship experience for the hearing-impaired listener and shared community with fellow congregants.
    There are various types of induction audio loop systems. A typical induction audio loop system consists of an insulated wire that circles the congregation area, and an amplifier that is attached to this wire to amplify the output of a microphone or mixing board. A magnetic field is created within the loop and is received by a telecoil, or “T” setting, that is found in most modern hearing aids, then it is reconverted to sound by the hearing aid. More than 75% of the hearing aids in use today have a telecoil that helps people to hear better when conversing on a telephone and hearing from audio loops. Newer hearing aids have an “M” (microphone) setting, a “T” setting and an “M/T” setting that enables the listener to hear a conversation and the sound from the magnetic field at the same time. An induction audio loop system is reasonably simple to install, simple to use and affordable for most congregations of any size.
    Other assisted hearing systems use FM radio frequencies to assist the hearing impaired. The audio from a microphone or from a mixing board is fed into an FM transmitter. The transmitter broadcasts the signal to the congregation using an FM frequency. The hearing impaired must use an FM receiver to pick up the signal, and earphones (or a hearing device) to hear the audio. There are infrared systems that generally work the same way.
    These systems work well and have been installed in many public settings. However, according to my peers and pertinent research, these systems often sit unused. The reason given for their nonuse is that most hearing-impaired persons feel embarrassed or are self-conscious about using visible external hearing devices during a worship service. Thus, induction audio loop systems enable hearing-impaired persons, who use a hearing aid with telecoils, to experience clear audio without the stigma of using visible hardware.
    Our future is sounding clearer. Local governments throughout the country are beginning to require hearing technologies in buildings and auditoriums. I suspect this will become widespread in the near future. This means that hearing technologies, such as induction audio loops, soon may be required in new worship facilities, banks, schools, shopping centers, theaters and other locations. This means we have an opportunity to help a special group of people to experience a more meaningful life by providing them nearly normal hearing opportunities in numerous settings. This also means that we have new opportunities to gain income. That’s what I am hearing. What are you hearing?
    Sources for information supplied here include: “Breaking the Sound Barrier” (http://gbgm-umc.org/disc/pdf/breakingsoundbarrier.pdf) and “Getting Hard of Hearing People in the Loop” (http://hearingloop.org).
    [For additional information, see “Heard Around the World! Hearing aid compatibility and wireless assistive devices,” by David G. Myers, PhD, with Norman Lederman, MS, in Sound & Communications, April 2006.—Ed.]

David Lee Jr., PhD, CEO of Lee Communication Inc., Orlando FL, is a licensed minister and has more than 25 years of experience as a systems integrator. He is a member of Sound & Communications’ Technical Council. Send comments to dlee@testa.com.




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