|EDITORIAL: U.S. moves ‘into the loop’
More public venues adopt hearing-assisted system
From RegisterGuard.com 10/26/11
More than 35 million Americans report having problems hearing these days, about 11 percent of the population, with an estimated 600,000 people being “functionally deaf.” With the number of Americans age 55 and older expected to jump to 31 percent from 21 percent in the next 20 years, the proportion of people suffering hearing loss in this country is expected to increase substantially.
That’s why reports that the installation of “hearing loops” in public venues is spreading will be good news to millions of Americans. The loop is a thin strand of copper wire that’s installed on the floor around a room. When turned on, it radiates an electromagnetic signal that can be picked up by tiny receivers, called “telecoils,” built into many hearing aids. One writer has described the loop as “wi-fi for the hearing impaired.”
The loop doesn’t just boost the volume of sounds coming into the ear, as many hearing-assisted devices do. It puts the source of the sound directly into the listener’s hearing aid, cutting out the reverberations and background noises that typically occur in public settings such as sports arenas, airports, train stations, concert halls and churches.
Countries in northern Europe embraced hearing loop technology well in advance of the United States. The telecoil has been around since 1947 but it wasn’t until 1990, with passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, that public facilities with 50 or more seats had to install devices to assist hearing. Most opted for FM radio systems that require individual headsets and are inferior to hearing loops.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders estimates that only about a quarter of the people who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have them, but expects that percentage to increase as hearing loops catch on.