COVID-19 Screens and hearing augmentation

A man wearing a striped apron passes is behind an acrylic screen. A woman on the other side of the screen is paying for her goods.Acrylic screens have appeared at almost every reception desk in response to covid-safe requirements. But without related hearing augmentation installed, it makes it harder to hear each other.  If people are wearing masks as well, this makes it worse. 

We are familiar with screens at ticket offices, such as train stations, where hearing augmentation systems are mandatory. An article by Bruce Bromley explains how these new reception desk screens contravene the building code if they don’t have hearing augmentation. When businesses installed new screen, few, if any, thought about the communication problems they would cause. And if they did, they perhaps thought we could all live with it.  We need respond to this issue because being covid-safe looks like being a new normal. 

Any service or business that recently installed an acrylic screen at reception should look at finding a hearing augmentation system. It will benefit the receptionist and the customer. Plug and play solutions are available where there is a microphone and speaker on both sides of the screen. I suspect that these screens will not disappear even if and when covid does. It’s all part of adjusting to the “new normal”.

Editor’s comment: Sometimes I find myself or the receptionist ducking around the screen to hear and to be heard. So the screens only work some of the time.

Hearing Loops are not obsolete technology

picture of Sydney Centennial Hall (Town Hall) set up for an event with red chairs in rowsSome technologies are overtaken by new discoveries, but others just keep getting better. One such technology is hearing loops. The basic technology remains the same but improvements are being made over time. Modern hearing aids have not  improved so much that people don’t need augmentation in meeting venues. It’s a bit like saying wheelchairs have improved so much we don’t need ramps.

Andrew Stewart at Hearing Connections nicely addresses all the myths and misconceptions about hearing augmentation systems. He says that the hearing loop is still the most efficient and effective for users, and the most convenient for venue managers. Other systems are not popular because of additional equipment that needs to be worn or used, which singles users out from the crowd. Andrew also provides the BCA references at the end of the newsletter.

    • Myth 1:  Hearing aids have improved and sufficient by themselves
    • Myth 2: Hearing loop systems are superseded by other technology
    • Myth 3: The newer technology is better
    • Myth 4: Use your smartphone as a receiver
    • Myth 5: SoundField systems are the modern-day replacement
    • Myth 6: Bluetooth is the answer
    • Myth 7: Captions are good enough

An excellent resource for building designers and property managers.

Picture is of Sydney Centennial Hall (Town Hall). A hearing loop is installed.

Hear this! The value of a hearing loop

Two women are on stage. One is lying down and looks dead. The other leans over her with grief.When theatre patrons can’t make out the dialogue they stop going. There’s no point. But a hearing loop can bring them back. A hearing loop works with a special switch on a hearing aid. It sends the sound from the speaker directly to the aid. Yes, there are other types of hearing augmentation. But who wants to go to ask for a special device to hang round your neck? Older people generally shun assistive technology because of the perceived stigma. Hearing loops are far more discrete. See this video of a case study that surprised a theatre manager. 

There are several types of hearing augmentation systems, but hearing loops are preferred by users. Other systems don’t cut out background noise or require a special device to be worn by users. English subtitling is sometimes used for operas so that patrons can follow the story. Captioning is a similar system and could be applied to live performances as well.

“I don’t need a microphone.” But yes, you do

Picture of an ear with sound wavesThere are three types of hearing augmentation systems – but which one to use? The system preferred by most users is a “hearing loop”. It is connected to the sound system in a meeting room or auditorium. People wearing a hearing device with a telecoil, have the sound sent directly to the device. It screens out all the background noise and gives definition to the speech. However, a microphone must be used all the time. So no more “I’ve got a loud voice, I don’t need a microphone” because it won’t be transmitted.

Hearing Connections website gives an explanation of this system, FM and Infra-red systems. A system with an ambient microphone that picks up all the sound in the room amplifies all the sounds – so background noise is included with the speech. It can defeat the object. Also, the system should be turned on automatically – no-one should need to ask for it – that’s the point. Building designers, owners and managers have a legal obligation to incorporate the needs of people who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

Editor’s comment: I’ve been given lots of different reasons why the hearing system isn’t working. I’ve been told that permission is needed from  security to turn it on, as well as being told it can’t be switched on because people outside the room might hear confidential information. Clearly, having the system installed and connected is one thing, and training people about its use and purpose is another.