Shared by David G. Myers
Hearing Screenings, Hearing Aids, Hearing Loops
As the child of a hard of hearing woman (who spent her last dozen years completely deaf), I experienced my first hearing screening as a high school student. Sure enough, my hearing loss pattern mirrored my mother's increasing low-frequency loss - thus alerting me to my likely future.
While in graduate school at the University of Iowa, I was rescreened at its Medical School. Given the unusual nature of my "reverse slope" loss, I was called in for a "case of the week" group interview before physicians, residents, and audiologists. In the end, their search for a serious brain disorder turned up nothing. But it did help me understand why I have the greatest difficulty hearing soft, low-pitch (usually men's) voices, and why I could hear a high pitched microwave oven timer better than my wife, yet have never heard an owl's hoot.
As a Hope College (Michigan) professor, my increasing difficulties hearing students' comments and questions led me to yet another screening with a local audiologist, and ultimately to benefit from hearing aids. By this time, hearing technology had become capable of selectively amplifying those unheard low frequencies, thus supporting my ability to continue teaching.
By 1999, digital hearing technology had become available, so I returned for another screening and was given aids that included an inexpensive magnetic "telecoil" receptor. My audiologist explained that the telecoil (aka "T-coil") setting could assist my phone conversation - because all recently manufactured landline phones (and now select models of cell phones) were "hearing aid compatible." That meant they transmitted not only sound, but also an interference-free magnetic signal to the hearing instrument telecoil. When I activated a telecoil, the hearing aid became an earplug that now received stronger, clearer sound from the phone.
My audiologist explained that this magnetic communication via the telecoil was also possible in any facility with a PA system connected to an "induction loop" (or what we have come to call, more simply, a "hearing loop"). The PA system feeds an amplifier, from which a wire loop around an audience transmits sound magnetically - just like the magnetic phone communication.
This hearing screening and the resulting new hearing aids set the stage for my hearing epiphany. A few months later, I sat for worship in the historic abbey on Scotland's Isle of Iona. Alas, the spoken word - after reverberating off those 800-year-old stone walls - was indecipherable. But then my wife noticed a hearing assistance sign, with a "T" (indicating telecoil compatible) and nudged me to activate my telecoils. The instant I did so was unforgettable.
Suddenly the muddy voice was crystal clear - and seemed to be coming from the center of my head! I was close to tears, having not known that sound like this was possible, and with so little fuss.
In ensuing UK visits, I have experienced the spread of this hearing loop technology in places both big (churches, cathedrals, and auditoriums) and small (post office and ticket windows, and the back seats of all London taxis). Regardless of the venue, the technology transforms my hearing aids into wireless speakers that deliver sound customized for my needs. And it does so effortlessly - without my needing to locate, check out, wear, and return conspicuous equipment (which often is hearing aid incompatible and delivers the same sound to everyone).
Returning home after that Iona Abbey epiphany, I wondered: Why can't Americans with hearing loss enjoy this same user-friendly assistive listening? Would hearing loops not work equally well here as in the UK (and Scandinavia)?
To begin, I installed a hearing loop in my home. For more than a decade, now, my TV has - with a simple button push on my hearing aid remote - broadcast from inside my ears. Ditto my phone, in my looped office. (I can set the receiver on the desk and hear voice mail messages through both my hearing aids.)
Today, other proprietary wireless technologies can also enhance TV and phone listening. But they cover only short distances. And being specific to the hearing aid model (unlike hearing loops, which communicate to all hearing aid brands), they cannot serve our hearing needs in public venues. Thus in 2002 we launched our campaign to bring hearing loops to our local city - Holland and adjacent Zeeland, Michigan. Today, virtually all our worship places and public auditoriums are equipped, and so, now, are hundreds more across West Michigan, from small churches to airports and even the 12,200 fixed seats of Michigan State University's basketball arena.
Happily, the movement to make assistive listening directly hearing aid compatible is now rapidly accelerating, thanks to the growing support of hearing professionals, of new hearing loop vendors, and of kindred-spirited hearing advocates and hearing loss associations in New York City, Illinois, Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, Silicon Valley, Sarasota, Seattle, Rochester and elsewhere.
In Wisconsin, for example, there are now well over 200 looped venues, thanks to the leadership of audiologist Juliette Sterkens. And thanks to the leadership of Janice Schacter's Hearing Access Program, hearing loops are now in New York City subway booths and are coming to all future New York City taxis. Finally, thanks to the Hearing Loss Association of America and American Academy of Audiology' s joint Get in the Hearing Loop initiative, the good news has been trumpeted by national media, including the New York Times.
Although this story began with one person's hearing screening, credit for the national hearing loop movement belongs to this whole community of hearing advocates. The pack is greater than the wolf.
Hope College social psychologist David Myers is the creator of and author of A Quiet World: Living with Hearing Loss (Yale University Press).
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