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Let Them Hear: Why Not Get Your Church Looped?

Most parishioners with hearing loss choose not to suffer the hassle and embarrassment of special receivers and headsets. Happily, there’s a better alternative—the broadcast of personalized sound directly through hearing aids.

In The Adventure of Silver Blaze, Sherlock Holmes was struck by the dog that didn’t bark, the dog that curiously did nothing. Similarly curious about the assistive listening receivers and headsets that many churches offer their hard-of-hearing worshipers is their visible absence. Most of these receiver/headset units, purchased for $100 or so each, sit gathering dust in closets, many with dead batteries. Because they are usually incompatible with hearing aids, people who do use these devices must remove their hearing aids.

Now imagine a scenario in which hearing aids have doubled usefulness—they serve as sophisticated microphone amplifiers but also as personalized loudspeakers. In churches, in auditoriums, and even in home TV rooms, clear, strong sound customized to people’s own needs is broadcast by loudspeakers that lie an eighth of an inch from their ear drums. Turning on these loudspeakers requires only a subtle tap on the hearing aid. Tap again and the person can hear both the broadcast sound and the spoken or sung voices from those nearby. In this scenario, hearing aid use increases and the stigma attached to hearing loss and hearing aids diminishes.

In most British and Scandinavian churches—and in pioneering Holland, Michigan—this scenario is a reality. Most major churches and public facilities have installed a modern “induction loop” system—a special amplifier that transmits a magnetic signal through a wire that encircles the audience. When equipped with an inexpensive telecoil (T-coil) receiver, many hearing aids become in-the-ear loudspeakers. More and more hearing aids, including virtually all of the behind-the-ear aids worn by those with the most need for hearing assistance, are now equipped with telecoils, which can also receive a magnetic signal broadcast by nearly all American phones manufactured since 1989.

“It is actually fun to go to church, and hasn’t been that way for a long time,” reported one woman who could have used her church’s previous infrared receiver and headset but didn’t. At another church, one woman broke into uncontrollable joyful sobs when she suddenly found herself hearing the Word as she hadn’t in years.

Thanks to newspaper publicity and word of mouth, the technology is now spreading throughout West Michigan. A Grand Rapids church sound engineer reports, “Slowly the members of our congregation have been updating their hearing aids and [in four months] we’ve gone from one user to over ten. Several members have commented on the clarity and ease of use.”

In late 2002, the Michigan chapter of an organization for hard of hearing people (Self Help for Hard of Hearing People) adopted a resolution asking that Michigan’s churches, auditoriums, theaters, courts, airports, and other venues where sound is broadcast install assistive listening systems that broadcast sound directly through hearing aids.

As church members, we are called to witness to the surrounding culture. Here is an opportunity for churches to lead the culture in providing resources for those who are hard of hearing. By installing hearing aid-compatible assistive listening, churches can both serve their members and lead the culture.

For more information about this technology, and how to bring it to your community, church, or home, visit www.hearingloop.org.