Called a hearing loop, it can bring crystal clear hearing in public spaces — including theaters, churches, museums, airports and even the U.S. Supreme Court — to those with hearing aids equipped with a telecoil. The telecoil, or T-coil, is a tiny copper coil receiver automatically built into more than two-thirds of today's hearing aids and in all cochlear implants.
Hearing loops have been popular in Europe for the past 30 years, and the movement is gaining momentum in the United States. Hearing loops now cover about 400 venues in Wisconsin, 120 locations in Florida, all new New York taxicabs, the 12,200-seat Michigan State University Breslin Center and two large Broadway theaters — the Gershwin and the Richard Rodgers.
The loop is created when a wire is installed around the perimeter of the room and plugged into an audio source. Much as a Wi-Fi network delivers wireless Internet access to computer users in coffee shops, a loop system takes sound from an electronic source, such as a microphone or TV, and delivers it directly to a hearing aid. The result: clear sounds without the annoying background clatter and static that can be so frustrating.
"Hearing loops increase access for the hard of hearing in public venues like churches, concert halls, theaters and even airports, where poor acoustics sometimes prevent understanding even for people with normal hearing," says Juliëtte Sterkens, a hearing-loop advocate at the Hearing Loss Association of America.
Hearing loops can also be installed in your home and connected to your television or music system. (For more information, visit HearingLoop.org.)
To learn more about the push for more loops in public areas, check out the "Get in the Hearing Loop" campaign cosponsored by the Hearing Loss Association of America and the American Academy of Audiology.
Cathie Gandel is a freelance writer based in Bridgehampton, N.Y. Additional reporting by Candy Sagon.