Just what is a hearing loop?

International symbol for a hearing loopThere is a lot of confusion about hearing loops and assistive listening devices. Although public venues should have the loop switched on at the same time as the microphone (because that’s how it works), there are some places that think it should only be switched on if someone asks for it. And then, sadly, all too often, that’s when they find it doesn’t work. But just what is a hearing loop?

Hearing augmentation is not old technology. Technology has improved but the systems remain the same. Andrew Stewart explains the myths in a factsheet, Is Hearing Augmentation Old Technology? The factsheet also includes information about what consumers think about loop systems. The loop system is much preferred as it is discrete. Other systems require patrons to request a device to be worn around the neck, which is stigmatising. 

There are more fact sheets on the Hearing Connections website on the three types of hearing augmentation systems:

      1. Hearing Loop System
      2. FM System
      3. Infrared System

The fact sheets also cover schools and universities, live performance spaces, aged care facilities, installation and signage guides.

Hearing loops are not just about compliance and human rights – they are good customer service. 

Hearing loops are good customer service

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. 

Out of the loop in meetings

A large room with a power point screen at the front and people sitting at tables cabaret styleOne in six people experience hearing loss. It’s an invisible disability. Survey research by Ideas for Ears paints a clear picture of the problems people experience at meetings if they have just a minor degree of hearing loss. Most of the problems can be easily fixed because the majority of people with hearing loss can hear well enough if the situation is managed well. This includes using a microphone, having good acoustics, and sufficient lighting to lip read.

Frustration, feeling excluded, stressed and embarrassed are some of the feelings expressed by respondents. Hearing augmentation was covered in the survey, and once again, not having the hearing loop switched on or not working was top of the list.

The report makes for interesting reading for anyone organising and running meetings – any meeting – especially if the purpose is for participation and inclusion. While the research was done in the UK, there is no reason to assume it is any different in Australia (or elsewhere). An overview of the survey was published on the Ideas for Ears website.