Around in Europe for more than 40 years and required in public places throughout many European countries, gadget-free, loop assisted-listening systems are making their way around the U.S. at a quickening pace.
“As hearing loss is becoming more recognized and more people are dealing with it, loops are starting to gain traction in the U.S. because they are easy to use and there is no limit to the number of people who can use them at once,” said Laura Hansen, owner of Assist 2 Hear LLC, based out of Littleton.
What the loop system does is allow a person who wears a hearing aid with a telecoil, or t-coil, to receive sound directly from a venue’s sound system. This is similar to how a laptop picks up a Wi-Fi signal. In the majority of venues that have them, Hansen explained, the sound is loud enough without a loop, but it is not intelligible to the hearing-impaired individual even with a hearing aid.
Enter the t-coil. They were first placed in hearing aids during the 1940s in order to prevent users from hearing feedback while on the phone. With the loop they help to do the same thing; eliminating issues that arise from poor acoustics, ambient noise, feedback or other background noise.
Locally, Grace Presbyterian Church in Highlands Ranch has just joined St. Andrew’s Methodist and Littleton’s United Methodist Church as larger-scale venues that have been looped.
“We’re progressing with installations here in Colorado,” Hansen said. “The City of Fort Collins actually issued a proclamation that all of their public buildings, any new constructions and renovations have to be looped and they are retro-fitting all their public existing buildings as they can.”
In addition to a growing number of airports, churches, auditoriums and senior centers across the country, New York City recently has begun to loop thousands of taxicabs, while also looping all of the city’s staffed subway booths. In 2010 Michigan State University’s Breslin Center became perhaps the largest venue in the country to become looped, helping bring audio clarity to more than 12,000 hearing-impaired basketball and concert fans.
The only necessity for a hearing-impaired individual to get on a loop “network” is that their hearing aid has a t-coil. According to Hansen about 70 percent of all hearing aids are already properly equipped and only the smallest of hearing aids on the market cannot be retrofitted. The cost for retrofitting a hearing aid is about $150, compared to around $6,000 for a top-notch pair of hearing aids.
Another bonus to the loop, Hansen said, is that it eliminates the wearing of any uncomfortable, and sometimes embarrassing, paraphernalia, such as headphones.
“You just hit the switch on your hearing aid to the T setting and it comes in directly to your hearing aid which is already programmed precisely for your hearing loss,” she said. “It’s a very simple system.”
Not just for public places either, loops can be installed in people’s homes as well. For Hansen, that is exactly how she got started in the business she is in.
“My father had his TV room looped,” she said. “He was very hard of hearing and when I saw the joy that he experienced, it was just amazing.”