When people in church don’t hear what the minister is saying, the minister can tell.
“You might say something that has the congregation laughing, and there will be a couple of faces that are just blank. Or you’ll see one or two people leaning over to ask someone ‘What did she say?’ And you know they didn’t hear you,” Dottie Kaiser of Lima said.
Ms. Kaiser does a lot of what she calls “pulpit-fill” for vacationing pastors or for Ohio churches needing an interim minister. She says even when churches have a good sound system, churchgoers who are hearing impaired cannot hear everything.
“Sometimes you’ll see people with real expressive faces squinting, and looking intently at you, trying to hear,” she said.
A few Toledo religious institutions have made an effort to help hearing-aid wearers by installing a supplementary sound system endorsed by the American Academy of Audiology and widely used in Europe.
It’s known as a hearing loop.
The loop systems consist of an amplifier and wire installed around the perimeter of a room. Low electrical current from the amplifier creates a magnetic field. People wearing hearing aids or cochlear implants equipped with a telecoil device can pick up the sound of a speaker wearing a tiny microphone whose voice is transmitted over the magnetic field.
The system won approval by audiologists because it doesn’t require the user to ask for special headsets or a transmitter that is necessary with FM transmitting systems. It also has the advantage of using as receivers the wearer’s own hearing aids which have already been fine-tuned to the owner’s hearing needs.
Hearing aid users can switch between settings — one with an M or “microphone” and T or “telecoil.” The microphone setting amplifies one-on-one conversations and works fine in many situations. The telecoil setting enables the wearer to pick up sound from a person amplified by the induction loop.
“It is an easy way to eliminate background noises and cut down on distance problems,” said Dr. Clint D. Keifer of Toledo Audiology in Maumee.
He says ambient noise interferes with hearing for everyone but is more problematic for the hearing impaired, even those fitted with an appropriate device. An estimated 30 percent of people older than 60 have some hearing loss and Dr. Keifer’s practice is seeing an influx of people who are reaching that age.
“In my experience, the baby boom generation is savvy about technology but wants something that’s inconspicuous,” Dr. Kiefer said.
Since the induction loop transmits to the t-coil in the user’s hearing aid, no one has to ask for special headsets at a public venue, something that traditional F.M. amplification requires.
Susan Kaufman is a hearing-impaired person who has experience with F.M. systems and with the loop and prefers the loop. “Oh, my gosh,” she said. “You feel like the speaker is right there in your ear.”
Mrs. Kaufman once wore hearing aids and was fitted for cochlear implants in 2001. Both devices have t-coils that serve as the receivers for sound transmitted from the loop. She was instrumental in having the loops installed at several buildings on the campus at the Congregation B’nai Israel.
She also recently assisted in making a presentation to officials at the Toledo Museum of Art urging the installation of an induction loop to make programs more accessible to the hearing-impaired.
Kelly Garrow, the museum’s director of communication, said the museum is committed to expanding access to the museum’s collection.
She said the museum’s new director, Brian Kennedy, was “dumbfounded” that there were not already loop systems installed. “They are mandatory in Australia,” she said. Mr. Kennedy worked at the National Gallery in Australia before coming to Toledo.
Ms. Garrow said that several projects are being planned for the museum but the induction loop system is a high priority. “It will happen at the museum,” she said.
Andy Jankowski made the loop presentation to the museum on behalf of Assistive Audio, the local company which installed the loops at Congregation B’nai Israel.
He says that the systems are installed in public places such as churches, auditoriums, retirement communities, and parks.
Hearingloop.org is a non-profit advocacy group for the hearing impaired. Its Web page offers advice on the cost of systems.
“Typical costs range from $2,000 to $8,000 for small to medium-sized worship centers, but more for very large facilities with lots of embedded steel. Most congregations’ loop systems will cost no more than what one of their members would pay for a pair of today’s high tech hearing aids,” the site said.
Mr. Jankowski has installed much smaller loop systems as well, including a system for the backseat of a mini-van used in his own family.
“I have grandchildren who are profoundly deaf and have cochlear implants,” he said. The installation of the loop in their van allows them to watch and listen to DVDs while on long trips,” he said. “I’m in the business to make it a better world for them.”
Don Beyer of Torrence Sound Co. of Perrysburg agrees. His company installed loop systems at two Toledo churches, Hope Lutheran and Historic St. Patrick. The company provides all kinds of sound systems for different venues.
“One of the joys of the job is getting a thank you,” Mr. Beyer said. “But it really means a lot when the folks that shake your hand are hard of hearing. They’ve been left out for a while.”
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