As the HLAA Hearing Loop Advocate, what I am doing in my home state of Wisconsin, in the country and beyond is not just promoting loops. I am foremost raising awareness and improving the understanding of hearing loss. By explaining what hearing loss is, how hearing aids help but have significant limitations especially for those with more severe loss, and in reverberant and noisy larger public places (and yes professionals need to hear this message too) and how hearing loops can provide seamless access much like wheelchair ramps do for people with mobility handicaps, I build the case for hearing loops.
FM and Infrared assistive technology were and are a solution for hearing access but not a seamless solution. FM and IR devices are a hassle and rarely excite folks like loops do. Hearing aid users have to go out of their way to use FM/IR, hearing aid users have to self-identify to find these devices only to find out they malfunction, and are like Richard Einhorn says – are just not a dignified solution… more an afterthought. And many of us have found that the typical hearing aid user (the people who sit in the typical audiology and HA offices, the ones who are not likely to join HLAA even when given membership materials) will not bother using FM or IR devices.
Hearing loops, I have found, are very much used and appreciated by the typical non-HLAA member hearing aid users. Knowing about hearing loop technology also spurns action by normal hearing folks and thanks to them many loops are being installed in houses of worship, retirement centers and libraries. Once the loops are in the response from the users is often overwhelmingly positive, emotional and accompanied with lot of smiles. All this of course reinforces that the loop installation was the right thing to do.
But…in order to benefit, consumers need telecoils in their instruments. It is unfortunate that hearing loop advocates like myself, continue to run into far too many consumers around my state and the country who were never informed or never demonstrated how the telecoil can wirelessly link into the hearing loop.
How can we increase the number of hearing aids that are equipped with telecoils? It foremost means raising awareness of the benefit of telecoils. I have heard some anecdotal evidence that this positive word of mouth thanks to nearly 300 hearing loops in Wisconsin is increasing the number of consumers who know about t-coils. I hear from hearing aid manufacturer’s reps that Wisconsin hearing aid providers now routinely inquire about telecoils in new products. And it is not just consumers who benefit. I recently received an email from a minister in Oshkosh thanking me for educating her on telecoils. The minister was confident when she counseled one of her parishioners on the kind of hearing aid features to consider. Her advice was confirmed with big smiles and thanks you’s when he used the loop for the first time after following her advice. Awareness would also increase if audiologists and dispensers would loop their waiting rooms. In the Fox Valley many providers have taken this step – see here and here
That telecoils are an important feature in hearing aids was recently endorsed by the Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Wisconsin. The Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing proclaimed that all consumers need to be told about telecoils before ordering hearing aids. I would think it would better yet for consumers in Wisconsin if WSHA , the Wisconsin Speech, Language and Hearing Association for audiologists and speech, language pathologists, as well as WAHP, the Wisconsin Alliance of Hearing Professionals, would go on record recommending the same. These professionals are licensed by the State of Wisconsin to provide hearing healthcare that is in the best interest of consumers. Together we could strengthen consumer protection for consumers with hearing loss and support a similar law Arizona recently passed.
The Arizona law mandates telecoil counseling for potential hearing aid clients by audiologists and hearing instrument specialists. A similar law in Wisconsin would certainly make it less likely that I encounter hearing aid users who were never told about the telecoil benefits even though they followed the costly recommendations of the professional licensed by the state of Wisconsin. Without telecoils consumers are unable to benefit from hearing loops nor can they use all kind of other assistive technology that requires a telecoil such as the new ClearSounds Quattro. Consumers deserve better than to be left out of the (hearing) loop.