Let's Get Looped!

By Yishane Lee

We’re talking about hearing loop systems, of course. As writer Elizabeth Stump describes in “Keeping You in the Loop,” in our new Spring issue of Hearing Health magazine, hearing loop systems deliver clear sound—free from background noise, echo, or distortion—directly into hearing aids that are equipped with telecoils (T-coils). About two-thirds of hearing aids have T-coils, and hearing loop systems are available at a growing number of public venues, ranging from churches and other places of worship to New York City taxis to auditorium ticket booths.

But hearing loop system advocates think we can do better. Here is advice from Juliëtte Sterkens, Au.D., the consumer and hearing loop advocate for the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) and a member of the National HLAA/American Academy of Audiology Hearing Loop Task Force.

What are your recommendations to others on how to advocate successfully for looping systems in their community?

I usually make a phone call or a pay a visit and explain why people with hearing loss (even if they use hearing aids or cochlear implants) have trouble hearing. Most facilities are unaware of the difficulties people with hearing loss experience—it is my experience that they want to help. During the visit I often play parts of sound demos in and out of hearing loops. These sound demos can be eye—or should I say ear—opening?

I have also let some of the responses from hearing loop users help me in the process. Many comments can be found online, such as at LoopWisconsin.com.

Advocating is made easier if I know that a facility will soon be undergoing remodeling because the installation of the loop wire is usually easier and less expensive if completed when the carpeting is going to be replaced anyway.

If cost is going to be of concern, I will offer information as to how other venues have handled this. For example, there are grant monies available for some venues (libraries, some houses of worship), and many communities have a community foundation is interested in knowing what can be done to improve access.  

For example in Oshkosh, Wis., the community foundation was helping to fund a remodel of the Oshkosh Convention Center in the fall of 2008. I made a couple of phone calls and sent a letter with information to the executive director. The result was they helped fund two hearing loops at the convention center about two weeks before the carpeting was to be laid down. 

The executive director believed me when I told her that having a hearing loop at the convention center would convince other venues to do the same. Oshkosh now has more than 40 hearing loops including its 100-plus-year-old Grand Opera House, a funeral home, several retirement communities, a court room, and a new conference center at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

To increase attention to a need, I have found that a letter to the editor of a newspaper can be of tremendous help—and the best part is that this is free!

There is strength in numbers: If you are advocating for improved access ask a friend or family member or a hearing professional to write a short letter of support as well.  

The last resort would be playing the ADA card (Americans with Disability Act). The ADA mandates that facilities offer assistive technology. If a facility is unwilling one could file a complaint with the Department of Justice.

The HLAA has more tips to help you advocate for loops in your community, and we have additional links including looped spaces at hhf.org/loops.

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