Area churches, other facilities install ‘looping’ system to accommodate hearing-impaired population
Even with mild hearing loss, Phil Lucasse still had a hard time adjusting his hearing aid in church so he could focus on the sermon and tune out the not-so-joyful noises that surrounded him in the pews.
“If you’re wearing a regular hearing aid and someone is talking up front, your ears hear all the things the speaker says and all the noise in between, the shuffling, the coughing,” said Lucasse, 82. “They bring up everything.”
He had tried the hearing equipment offered by his church, Fuller Avenue Christian Reformed, “but those things don’t really do the job,” he said.
Nearly two years ago, Fuller Avenue CRC joined what has become a long list of churches and other facilities to install what is called a “looping” system.
Since then, Lucasse said, he and about a half-dozen others at his church can participate better because their hearing-impairment woes are no more.
“It’s just so much easier,” he said. “I have control now of how loud I want it in my ears. It’s as though you are the distance to the speaker from his lips to the microphone. None of that noise is there anymore.”
Looping allows public address systems to transmit directly to certain types of hearing aids, free of distortion and muffling.
Options before the technology included taking the initiative to locate, check out, wear and return special equipment — often a receiver about the size of a deck of cards and a headset or earphones that are incompatible with some hearing aids.
But the clunky devices usually collect dust because people are reluctant to draw attention to their hearing impairment. And proponents say the headsets do not work nearly as well as looping, which transforms hearing aids into in-the-ear loudspeakers.
With the new technology, all that’s required is the push of a button on a hearing aid or cochlear implant.
Sound is transmitted to a telecoil receiver — a tiny copper spool about the size of a grain of rice that comes in most modern hearing aids.
The Hearing Loss Association of America — which is collaborating with The American Academy of Audiology to promote looping systems — describes them as binoculars for the ears.
Many countries have adopted the new technology, which is being used in senior citizen centers, colleges and universities, public transportation information booths and in both concourses and all gate areas at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.
The cost ranges from several hundred to several thousand dollars to have the system installed — wires that loop an area, either below the floor, at floor level or ringing the ceiling, and connect to an amplifier.
One price advantage of the looping system is that once it is installed, the number of those who can use it is infinite.
People even are having the technology installed in their homes — a home version can cost less than $100.
Hope College psychology professor David Myers is pushing to have all public places and places of worship looped to help the hearing impaired.
Myers learned about the t-coil about 10 years ago, when he was visiting Iona Abbey in Scotland.
It was difficult to hear with the sound of voices bouncing off the abbey’s stone walls, Myers said.
Then his wife noticed a sign that indicated the abbey was outfitted — or “looped” — for t-coil users.
Myers knew he had a t-coil in his hearing aid, but had never tried it.
“I switched it on, and it was amazing how clear the sound was,” he said. “Like going from a bumpy gravel road to fresh asphalt.”
Since then, Myers has made it a mission to have the technology installed in as many places as possible.
He created a Web site — hearingloop.org — aimed at spreading the word about hearing loops, and he was interviewed for a Scientific American magazine article, published in January.
West Michigan churches, Myers said, have been at the forefront of those willing to provide hearing loops. It is easier for him to name churches that don’t have the technology, he said, than to try to list all those that do.
“Usually, churches follow the culture, but in this case, it’s been churches taking the lead,” he said.
Myers said the reason is obvious: “They want them to hear the Word, don’t they?”
On a recent Sunday morning, Phillip DeYoung stood as the rest of his congregation at Alger Park CRC sang “How Sweet The Name of Jesus Sounds.”
DeYoung, 21, admits he is more comfortable singing at home in his bedroom along with country crooner Kenny Chesney.
What is important is that everything at church, from the singing to the Rev. David Deters’ sermon on forgiveness, came in loud and clear.
DeYoung uses a cochlear implant in his left ear and a hearing aid in his right. He also is legally blind, so being able to hear is all the more important, his father said.
“His ability to hear is crucial to his ability to function, to interact,” Glen DeYoung said of his son.
Gary Diephouse, supervisor of Alger Park’s sound equipment and building committee chairman, called it a “no-brainer” when the church chose to install a looping system about six years ago in the sanctuary and fellowship hall.
“If they can’t hear where it matters most, they go home,” Diephouse said.