Hearing Loops for Musical Performances

An Interview with Lorraine Gailey of Hearing Link

Hearing_loop_at_supermarket
A hearing loop in action at the supermarket. Photo by Contacta.
For people with hearing loss, a musical performance can be transformative if the theater has a hearing loop. Yet hearing loops—literally loops of wire that encircle the inside of public spaces such as performance venues, national parks, and museums and pipe sound directly into a person’s hearing aids—sometimes don’t work in practice. The 3rd International Hearing Loop Conference seeks to help realize the sometimes elusive promise of loops by bringing together hearing aid wearers, representatives of the loop industry, and the owners of the venues where loops are provided.

We spoke with Lorraine Gailey, CEO of Hearing Link, the UK advocacy organization that will host the Hearing Loop conference in October 2013.

What are some of the issues you hope to address at the International Hearing Loop Conference to make this technology more of a widespread reality?

Hearing loops can make a massive difference to the ease with which a hearing aid wearer can hold a conversation or listen to a performance or speech in noisy surroundings. The technology is simple, but frequently the results are poor.

There are two main ways in which things can, and usually do, go wrong from a technical point of view. First, almost all hearing aids are fitted with T-coils to receive a loop signal, but often they are not activated by the audiologist. The hearing aid wearer has no way of knowing whether this has been done or not; so if they try to use a loop and find it doesn’t work, they usually assume that “loops don’t work for me,” and don’t try again.

Hearing aid wearers are reluctant to make a fuss when they find a loop not working.

The second problem is that most loops are not installed properly, or not maintained in good working order. This means that even with an activated T-coil and an informed hearing aid wearer, the experience will not necessarily be a good one.

Besides these two technical problems, there is a human one. Hearing aid wearers generally do not feel confident making their needs known, so they are reluctant to make a fuss when they find a loop not working. This means that the staff in the shop, conference center, information desk, or wherever have no way of knowing that anyone is even trying to use the loop. Their usual response to the question “Why isn’t your loop properly maintained?” is “We don’t get any complaints, and anyway nobody ever asks for it.”

The situation is particularly difficult in public entertainment venues. Setting up an appropriate loop for a musical performance is challenging, but not impossible.

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Copyright © 2017 Nancy M. Williams. All Rights Reserved.

4 Comments

  1. Some modern hearing aids are optimised in very clever ways for clarifying speech, but they are less satisfactory for listening to music, because of those clever ways. For example, the pitch of some notes may be altered. So for musicians and serious listeners, it is worth asking for a ‘music’ program, without special speech processing, to be provided in your digital hearing aid.

    • John, thanks for writing, and what you say is very helpful. I have a music setting on my hearing aid, and I find it helpful in some situations when I’m playing.

  2. Dear Nancy, what are your experiences with musical performances heard through T-Coils? I don’t have really any and we’re wondering whether it could be a benefit to install the loop in a concert hall… what is your opinion? Thank you so much!

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