By David G. Myersicture two worlds, and ask—whichone you would prefer? And, whichdo you suppose most of America’s31.5 million people with hearingloss would prefer?World One offers assistive listeningthat is hearing aid incompatible. Itrequires you, and those who are lessopen about their hearing loss, to takethe initiative when entering publicvenues to locate and check out specialequipment, to remove your hearingaids, to wear either ear buds that havebeen in others’ ears or a conspicuousheadset, and then afterwards, to replacethe hearing aids and return theassistive unit.World Two offers assistive listeningthat is hearing aid compatible. Itrequires nothing more than pushinga hearing aid button, whereupon itbecomes an in-the-ear loudspeakerthat broadcasts sound customizedfor your own ears.World One describes most of theUnited States.World Two describes 21st centuryBritain, Denmark (a world center forhearing technology), and increasinglyAustralia. “The whole of the church isserved by a hearing loop,” declared thefirst sentence of Westminster Abbey’sprogram for the 50th anniversarycelebration of the Queen’s coronation.“Users should turn their hearing aidsto the setting marked ‘T’.”Each time I have done this incathedrals, churches, and auditoriumsduring the month I spend in Britaineach year, I am delighted with theconvenience and clarity of this userfriendlyassistive listening, thanksto the magnetic signal transmittedfrom a surrounding hidden wire (a“hearing loop”) to my hearing aidtelecoils. I activate my telecoils andinstantly the speaker’s voice comes tome not from some distant loudspeakerbut seemingly from the center of myhead. It’s an extension of the sametechnology that enables our landlinephones and increasingly cell phones,thanks partly to effective HearingLoss Association of America (HLAA)advocacy efforts, to communicatemagnetically via our hearing aidtelecoils.Moreover, this hearing-aidcompatibleassistive listening is nowappearing in countless transientlocations, including the back seats ofall London taxis and at designatedticket windows, bank teller stations,post office counters, and pharmacystations. Tens of thousands of suchvenues are served either by small arealoops or by countertop loop boxes.On one memorable occasion, Isat in the main departure lounge ofLondon’s Gatwick Airport, awaitingupdates on my delayed transatlanticflight. Alas, the announcements werea verbal fog. But knowing that thiswas the UK, I turned on my telecoilsand was delighted to hear crystalclear announcements. Much as Wi-Fiwas transmitting information to mylaptop, the hearing loop was wirelesslytransmitting information to my hearingaids, transforming them into inthe-earloudspeakers.Back here in World One, I wondered;might hearing-aid-compatibleassistive listening work where I live,in Holland, Michigan, and in placesbeyond?I started at home, by connecting asmall loop amplifier to my TV audiooutput. Then I ran a thin wire outfrom the amplifier, around my TVroom seating, and back to the amplifier.(I stapled the loop wire to theceiling studs in the basement beneath.)Voila! My TV now broadcaststo me via my hearing aids. My previousTV listening system, which was hearingaid incompatible, required removingmy hearing aids and plugging my earswith a headset. Now I can enjoy the TVloop and still hear the phone ring ormy wife talking, thanks to my hearingaids’ mic + telecoil (M + T) setting.With that gratifying result, I nextlaunched, with community support, aninitiative (described at hearingloop.org) to introduce hearing loops toinstitutions serving the nearly 100,000people living in my community and itsadjacent village and townships. A half
continued from page 19their way into micro-BTEs (behindthe-earaids) these days.”So, if hearing-aid-compatible assistivelistening is sweeping the UK and WestMichigan, why not all of America?The Hearing Loss Association ofAmerica has urged “that telecoils begiven the prominence they deserve asa valuable hearing aid feature that willallow the expanded use of assistivelistening devices.” Moreover, HLAAhas effectively advocated for kindredhearing aid compatibility for telephones.(At no additional consumercost, hearing loops share the sametelecoil that receives signals fromhearing-aid-compatible phones.)Telecoils once were said to comein 30 percent of hearing aids, but nowcome in half or more of hearing aids,including most of the behind-the-earaids worn by people with the greatestneed for assistive listening. With supportfrom hearing professionals andhearing loss consumers, the Arizonalegislature recently passed, and itsgovernor signed, a bill that requireshearing professionals to explainthe usefulness of telecoils to peoplepurchasing hearing aids.The Michigan and CaliforniaHearing Loss Associations have gone astep further, by advocating that newlyinstalled assistive listening systems behearing aid compatible. “In all newand extensively remodeled buildings,wherever there is a public addresssystem, a loop should be permanentlyinstalled,” declares the Californiaassociation.Across America, from SiliconValley, Albuquerque, and Tucson inthe southwest to New York City inthe east, consumer initiatives haveled to countless new hearing loopinstallations. These include the mainchamber of the U.S. House of Representativesin D.C., the Kentucky DerbyMuseum, the Museum of Modern Artclassroom, and, thanks to the initiativeof hearing advocate Janice Schacter inNew York City, at Temple Emanu-el,the world’s largest Jewish house ofworship, among other notable venues.In Santa Rosa, California, audiologistBill Diles equips nearly all hisnew patients—more than 1,500 sofar—with home TV room loops, whichcome with the hearing aid purchase.Where can we buy a hearing loop, and who can install it for us? (This is themost frequently-asked question at www.hearingloop.org, the non-profitwebsite created by David Myers.)The growing market for hearing-aid-compatible assistive listening hasbeen served by several manufacturers including Oval Window Audio (anAmerican company), Ampetronic (British-made loops distributed in theUnited States by Assistive Audio), Phonic Ear (Danish-made and distributedby Wireless Hearing Solutions and HARC Mercantile), and Univox (Swedishmadeand distributed by Pure Direct Sound, and others).To these we can now add, as of September, 2008, two new Americanloop manufacturers and distributors. The British manufacturer, Contacta,has entered a strategic partnership with an experienced American loopengineer to manufacture and distribute products in the United States asContacta, Inc. And, Premovation Audio, which has designed and installedhundreds of loop systems in West Michigan and beyond, has just begunmanufacturing and distributing Loop America hearing loops. These loopentrepreneurs and their growing list of loop distributors share a commonhope, that if they build it we will come.When he surveyed a sample of hispatients in whose homes his assistanthad installed loops, he found 53percent reporting the highest level ofsatisfaction with their hearing aids,compared to three percent amongthose without the home loop system.Following Diles’ lead, Michiganengineer Terry Simon, who is marriedto an audiologist, is now traininghearing professionals nationwide tostrengthen their practice and service byinstalling hearing loops. His WirelessHearing Solutions anticipates having180-trained installers by the end of2009. Additionally, a growing list ofloop manufacturers and distributorsare selling products to the growingAmerican market (see “If They BuildIt, Will We Come?”). Also in the worksare new articles promoting hearingaid-compatibleassistive listeningfor hearing professionals’ trademagazines.All of this leaves many of usincreasingly hopeful about the dreamof World Two, a looped America. Ifwe can mobilize consumers, hearingprofessionals, and audio engineers,then maybe the United States needn’tcontinue to lag behind other countriesin providing seamless hearing aidcompatibility for both telephones andassistive listening. By doubling hearingaid usefulness, we can increase theappeal of hearing aids, decrease thestigma associated with hearing lossand aids, and increase public supportfor Medicare, Medicaid, and insurancereimbursement. That would be a betterworld for us and for all Americanswith hearing loss.David G. Myers, Ph.D., (www.davidmyers.org) is professor of psychology atHope College and the author of 17 books,including A QuietWorld: Livingwith HearingLoss (Yale UniversityPress). Hehas also createdthe nonprofitinformationalwebsite, www.hearingloop.org.