A first international "Hearing Loops International Conference," hosted by the European Federation of Hard of Hearing People, was held last weekend near Zurich, Switzerland and convened by EFHOH vice-president Siegfried Karg.
The conference was attended by nearly 100 people from fifteen nations, nearly all of whom were people with hearing loss or hearing organization and industry representatives. American participants included the HLAA's executive director (Brenda Battat) and past board president (Richard Meyer), Hearing Access Program chair Janice Schacter, Wisconsin audiologist Juliette Sterkens and her loop engineer husband LeRoy Maxfield, two representatives of American loop companies (Fred Palm of Assistive Audio and Terry Simon of Wireless Hearing Solutions), and yours truly.
Some take-home points:
- Loop manufacturers want to recreate the listening clarity, as signal to noise ratio, that we would experience if standing one foot from someone speaking. (That was precisely my experience when I first encountered a hearing loop, at Scotland's Iona Abbey.)
- In the Nordic countries, including Finland, I was told by a Swedish hearing industry representative, assistive listening is almost entirely via hearing loops (as increasingly I am noting in the UK as well, including the back seats of London, Glasgow, and Edinburgh taxis, at 11,500 post office windows, and in most churches and cathedrals with PA systems).
- Phonak representative Dr. Volker Kühnel, reported that Nordic country hearing aids all come with a default t-coil setting. Although a Swiss audiologist noted that some Swiss choose the cosmetics of completely-in-the-canal aids over the functionality of aids with telecoils, Karg noted that most Swiss hearing aids have telecoils because Swiss audiologists generally prioritize functionality over cosmetics.
- Conny Andersson, the CEO of Swedish manufacturer Bo Edin, told me that his company annually sells, in Sweden alone, 10,000 of their small Univox amplifiers for TV room use. (Extrapolated from Sweden's 9.2 million people to the USA's 300 million, that would be the proportional equivalent of 300,000 American home sales a year, or 3 million homes in a decade.)
- Richard Brooks of UK loop manufacturer Ampetronic demonstrated strategies for maintaining an even field strength in modern buildings with embedded metal, and for containing sound with minimal spillover (see video).
- Loop engineer whiz David Norman not only explained the International Electotechnical Commission (IEC) standards for loop installations (see video), he also did a clever loop installation in our Zurich University of Applied Sciences meeting hall. In addition to the room's own hearing loop, which played music during interludes, David installed a second loop that broadcast the conference in English to those seated on the left, and, through a third loop, in German translation to those seated on the right.
Among several excellent presentations was a PowerPoint slide show by Janice Schacter, (see video) with photos of loop installations from around the world, and a presentation by Brenda Battat (video soon here) on her and HLAA's successful efforts to support the requirement of volume-controlled, hearing aid compatible phones (meaning phones capable of inductive coupling and without interference). Brenda attributed the success of this initiative to a collaboration that engaged both industry and consumer representatives (and she and I anticipate further discussions of a possible follow-up meeting in the USA that might explore new possibilities for extending hearing aid compatibility to assistive listening). "One of my long term goals," Brenda explained to the conferees, is seeing research bring us to the point "where hearing aids do the job and we don't need other assistive devices."
Such was the gist of the conference's concluding resolution, adopted with virtual unanimity (and without dissent from any of the American representatives), recommending that
1) hearing aid manufacturers, manufacturers of cochlear implants, physicians, audiologists and hearing instrument specialists shall communicate the benefits of hearing aid/cochlear implant telecoil receivers for phone listening and assistive listening and educate people who are hard of hearing accordingly.
2) venues and service points where sound is broadcast shall offer assistive listening, such as induction loop systems designed to the IEC 60118-4:2006 standard, that broadcast sound directly to hearing aids and cochlear implants, enabling them to serve as customized, wireless loudspeakers (without the need for extra equipment).
The full resolution, and a supporting discussion paper, are now available at the conference website. This statement from the global hearing loss community will surely encourage and add credibility to all who envision a future in which hearing aids have doubled functionality, by serving as affordable in-the-ear loudspeakers wherever sound is broadcast.