Responding to Myths and Misconceptions about Hearing Loops

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Some hearing loop advocates run into unexpected roadblocks in their efforts to make community more accessible for people with hearing aids and cochlear implants. They write me for help to respond to comments from AV & IT engineers dismissive of hearing loop technology.

A physician, at a large well known medical center in NYC, recently asked me if the objections from the IT engineers, when he inquired why their facility doesn’t offer hearing loops in their auditoriums, were valid. He was told “There are no hearing loops in place and the reason behind that is that there is potential interference with the wireless mics within the auditoriums.“

If mic issues prevented successful loop installations, that would long ago have been apparent in the many thousands of installations in the UK, Scandinavia, and northern Europe, and the 1000 or so auditorium/worship place installations now in Wisconsin and Michigan . . . not to mention the countless more across the country.

I asked a local audio engineer, someone who has decades of experience in the audio field and personally installed hundreds of hearing loops. He explained: ”Hearing loops operate at audio frequencies (100 – 5000 Hz) created by a magnetic field. Wireless, Bluetooth or FM systems run at radio frequencies or a carrier frequency in the “GHz” or “MHz” range and in my opinion and experience, there is no interaction or interference between the two. 

Blogs on the web give some answers as well.  This blog  explains how interference problems can be avoided and recommends using trained loop installers who adhere to the IEC 60118-4 induction hearing loop standard. This article  explains that hearing loops can be difficult to install in some venues and they are best left to trained installers.

It is my experience that the average AV or IT engineer is not up to date of recent loop equipment development, not familiar with the IEC standard, lacks the proper training and experience installing loops. Perhaps, they remember hearing loop equipment and poorly functioning installations of yesteryear?  There is good news: hearing loops can be installed in the vast majority of venues and while there can be exceptions, there are very few.

Phased array loop installations can overcome effects of metal,  create even magnetic fields with little or no over-spill, state of the art loop drivers are more powerful than ever, loop performance verification is made easier and more precise with smart iPad apps , some systems even offer remote monitoring and email warnings to the installer should a malfunction occur and cancellation loops limit spill into areas where musical instruments with magnetic pick-ups, that are not properly insulated, could cause an issue. As always, proper engineering of the loop is key to successful installations: no different than the need for properly installed speaker systems.

To me – there is one more argument. Why should AV engineers, who often do not know much about hearing loss and even less about hearing aids and CIs, think they can decide on the type of assistive listening technology used in a facility? Where are the studies that demonstrate that consumers like, prefer and use the FM and IR systems they install? Nothing should be decided about people with hearing loss without them. And survey after survey has shown, that loop technology is, overwhelmingly, user preferred.

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