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What are hearing loops and how well do they work?

hearing loops

A hearing loop also called an Induction Loop is a sound system created for use by the hard of hearing in various public places such as a shop, office, church, theatre or stations. 

When everything works as it should, hearing loops can be extremely helpful and a joy to use. However, at times problems can make using them more than simply an effort. 

What are hearing loops?

The hearing loops produce a magnetic wireless signal. The signal is picked up by a hearing aid set to the T (Telecoil) setting. The hearing loops consist of a microphone to pick up the speech. This is in turn routed through an amplifier and the signal is channeled into a loop of cable. This surrounds the area of a room, shop interior, office, church, theatre, station or other.

Not all hearing aids are equipped with the ability to use a T setting. One reason is that not all audiologists consider it a standard service. Because of this, you should always ask when having new hearing aids fitted, to have the T setting activated.

Do hearing loops work well?

The reality of the situation where hearing loops are concerned is often not a good one for those seeking to make use of them. The main reason for this is the false sense of security offered by the inclusion of such a system. A few more reasons also exist that make using hearing loops more difficult.

1. Staff often aren’t trained to use or maintain hearing loops

More shops, offices and public buildings are having hearing loops fitted, but they are failing to provide training and maintenance for the loops. Once activated and initially tested, the hearing loops are regarded as in place and operational.

As recently 2011 a survey on hearing loops was carried out by Action On Hearing Loss (which used to be Royal National Institute for the Deaf) in Scotland, home of 168,000 hearing aid users. The survey found that 25 percent of shops offering the use of an Induction system, failed to offer a working hearing loop of any kind. One mentioned had purchased a loop system and proudly displayed it, still in the box. The findings also discovered a bias in the lack of staff trained in the use of any loop system installed.

The Guardian newspaper reported on the self-same problem. They mentioned not only issues regarding loops, but also a lack of interest in talking about their provision, by those who signposted their availability. They even reported that Post Offices were among the worst offenders, 18 branches having them switched off, others failing to work in another 21 offices and a further eight offices didn’t even have a system at all.

2. Hearing with the T-setting on the hearing aid

The biggest issue comes from the fact that in order to make use of a hearing loop system, the hearing aid needs to be switched to the T-setting. Now, when switched to the Telecoil setting in a fully working Induction loop environment the result is extra volume, clarity and a reduction in background sounds and the ability to hear clearly what is being said to you.

However, if the hearing aid is switched to T-setting without a working Induction Loop a loud hissing noise is heard through the hearing aid or aids. When you consider that often hearing loops are made use of in loud busy public places with an overabundance of background noise and chatter, this can be very frustrating.

By turning the aid to the T-setting in such a situation can result in less clarity, too much noise and even less understanding than would be experienced in the aid’s normal setting. The need to ask the person to repeat what they’re saying and the feeling of loss of control of the situation; can be a very embarrassing experience for many people with hearing loss.

hearing loops

What is being done?

The idea of having induction loops clearly signposted is to forewarn those with hearing loss of the provided service in plenty of time, in order that they know to switch their hearing aid to the correct setting. It also saves some hearing loss sufferers the possible embarrassment of having to ask whether such a service is provided.

The failing of these hearing loops is, in fact, breaking the law in the UK, where it is a legal requirement to provide for those with disabilities. Clearly, it is an area where checks are not being carried out, staff training is often lacking and an overall lethargic attitude is being exhibited by those who should be looking out for the greater good.

The problem has been found to be widely spread and in the UK, the charity Hearing Link has a campaign called ‘Let’s Hear’ in place, to check Loops and report any not working, as well as talk to staff about their use and operation. The same charity is also looking at persuading more places to consider installing Loops across the UK.

What can we do?

As hearing aid wearers we can take matters into our own hands and make discreet inquiries of hearing loop providers.

“As hearing aid wearers we can take matters into our own hands and make discreet inquiries of hearing loop providers.”

You can wait for a quiet time and ask questions about the system and how it works; explaining your own needs and reasons. You can send emails or letters to providers asking these same questions.

It is important that if Loops are provided, that they are fully working and switched on. Yes, often induction systems are not turned on and the staff doesn’t have the knowledge to get them working. It is not safe to assume that if a loop sign is present that a working system is in operation. Quite simply it may not be.

Also, it may be a good idea to keep your Roger Pen or ComPilot on hand. That way if your hearing loops aren’t working, you can easily have the sound go straight into your hearing aids. 

Read more: Ask Anna: What is a Roger Pen and how does it work?

Be a champion

Asking questions and even testing loops is very worthwhile. It not only puts you in the driving seat of your hearing loss needs but allows you to champion other hearing loss sufferers as well. If you’re confident, take some time out of your busy week and talk to those who offer loops. See if they really understand how the system is supposed to work. Most people if approached in the right way will be happy to work with you on making our world that little bit better.

What experiences have you had with using hearing loops? Let us know in the comments.

Author Details
Phonak hEARo, Phil is an actor, writer and journalist who writes in the deaf WellBeing and Lifestyle areas. He lives on the beautiful North Yorkshire coast with his wife Raine and their three children. Phil was diagnosed in 2016 and has moderate to severe Sensorineural hearing loss in both ears and constant tinnitus. He uses Phonak silver Nathos Auto M hearing aids. Member DANC (Disabled Artists Networking Community)