There are three different ways of deploying hearing loop technology in public spaces: as built-ins incorporated in a building’s structure, as fixtures attached to the ceiling, and as appliances, individual hearing loop environments generated by mats or carpets placed on the floor.
It’s easy to make the case that hearing loops are the most sensible, cost-effective, and effective assistive listening systems among currently available technologies (the others being infrared and FM). The equipment is relatively inexpensive. Hearing loops are easily engineered to suit a multitude of environments. They work fine in spaces with irregular shapes or with physical obstructions, which can cause problems for infrared systems. They can be engineered so that adjacent spaces can have independent loops, a problem for FM systems.
Unlike infrared and FM systems, which require a special receiver for each user, hearing loops leverage the receivers – T-Coils – that many users have integrated into the hearing devices they’re wearing already. (There are also portable T-Coil receivers that play through headphones, like the ones that come with infrared or FM systems, for those people who need them.) Plus, because they’re integrated with the wearers’ listening devices, the T-Coils produce a higher quality sound than portable receivers.
With so much going for them, you’d think hearing loops would be everywhere. Yet, they remain one of the best kept secrets in the U.S.
They’re not a secret in Great Britain, where they are ubiquitous. That’s because in Great 耳鳴治療 Britain, public policy and the health care system are aligned in support of hearing loops. The British National Health Service dispenses hearing aids, all of which are required to have T-Coils. This means that British audiologists and hearing aid manufacturers are all on the same page regarding loop technology. This means there is public awareness of hearing loops and widespread recognition of the international symbol indicating the presence of a hearing loop.
The U.S. is a different story. For one thing, not everyone has health insurance. For those that do, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America, a mandate to cover hearing aids exists in only 3 states (Alaska, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island), although 12 states (including New Jersey) have programs that provide hearing aids to minors and one (Georgia) to people with low incomes. Government workers may be better off, depending on which government employs them: some Federal Employee Health Benefits plans cover hearing aids, as do plans for state workers in Minnesota and Kentucky and retired state workers in California. Military active duty personnel and their immediate families can get hearing aids if their hearing loss is diagnosed as profound. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs supplies hearing aids to veterans who can demonstrate their hearing loss is service-related.
Unlike Great Britain’s National Health Service, though, none of the hearing aids available through the few U.S. health care plans offering them are required to have T-Coils. Although the percentage of T-Coil-equipped hearing aids distributed in the U.S. is climbing – currently, about 60% – it’s still a far cry from the near 100% in some other countries.
According to Sergei Kochkin of the Better Hearing Institute, of the approximately 34 million adults aware of hearing loss, 19.4 million suffer moderate to profound loss and of these, 8.4 million own hearing aids. There are no statistics available about how many U.S. hearing aid owners actually know if they have a T-Coil, let alone know how to use it.
Lack of awareness among potential beneficiaries of hearing loops is a non-trivial issue, as illustrated by a couple of people I know:
- New York City composer Richard Einhorn worked in the recording industry until he suffered a major hearing loss, requiring hearing aids. He’s someone who’s aware of state-of-the-art audio technology, yet he discovered his hearing aids’ T-Coil capability entirely by accident. Now he’s an energetic advocate for hearing loops; his story was reported in the New York Times last October.
- Rabbi Daniel Grossman of Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville, NJ has experienced hearing loss since birth and has been active throughout his life in the deaf and hard of hearing community. He has been at the forefront of promoting accessibility for the hard of hearing and has a T-Coil in his hearing aid. Nevertheless, he was unaware of hearing loop technology when he visited England last summer and didn’t recognize the international symbol for the presence of a hearing loop in the many places he saw it.
These two are highly informed about hearing loss issues and deeply involved in the hearing loss community. Yet they had to go out of their way to discover hearing loops. Imagine what it must be like for others.