There are close to 50 Million Americans living with hearing loss, including one-third of people between the ages of 65 and 75, and one-half of people over 75. Among 12- to 19-year-olds, researchers estimate that 17 percent show evidence of noise-induced hearing loss in one or both ears. Among US military veterans, the most common service-connected disabilities are hearing impairments. In fact, US veterans who served from 2001 to 2010 are four times more likely than non-veterans to suffer with severe hearing impairment.
For those who are fortunate enough to have healthy hearing: Consider the fact that we all need to communicate with each other, and that hearing loss is not an obvious challenge to overcome. It is considered an “invisible disability” and one that is not often discussed – despite the impact it has on effective communications in virtually all settings. When was the last time someone volunteered to you that they had difficulty hearing and/or understanding what you were saying?
According to recent research, untreated hearing loss is associated with depression, isolation, learning difficulties, cognitive decline and other ailments. Defined as a disability by the Americans With Disability Act (ADA), hearing loss is one of several types of “communication disorders” covered by the ADA. For title II entities (state and local governments) and title III entities (businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public), the goal of the ADA is to “ensure that communication with people with these disabilities is equally effective as communication with people without disabilities.”
Specifically, ADA rules that went into effect on March 15, 2011 make clear that “covered entities must provide auxiliary aids and services when needed to communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities.”
Why are the ADA rules important for all of us?
Individually prescribed hearing aids assist in compensating for hearing loss and work very well in small, quiet spaces – but they do amplify ALL incoming sounds. Outside of a 5- to 6-foot range, the background noises that are amplified cause reverberation and distortions that interfere with hearing – leading to much less clarity and weaker comprehension.
Even if you are lucky enough to have healthy hearing, you will undoubtedly come in contact with people who are not so lucky. Whether it’s a family member, co-worker, patient, customer or neighbor, it benefits all of us to recognize hearing loss (treated and untreated loss) and make adjustments or accommodations to ensure that communication is as clear and accurate as possible.
How do Telecoils and Hearing Loops Work Together?
The very good news about technology today: Built into the majority of hearing aids and ALL cochlear implants is a tiny copper coil (the Telecoil) that is capable of receiving an audio signal in spaces that have an audio induction (hearing) loop system installed. The wireless system works in any size space, from a desktop or small conference table to a 2,000-seat concert hall or outdoor stadium – and works seamlessly with ALL brands of hearing aids and implants.
Unlike Bluetooth systems that work well within an 8- to 10-foot range, no proprietary software or external gadgets are needed with Telecoils and Hearing Loops. There is no need to utilize an FCC frequency or remove hearing aids to connect. Choosing the “T” or “T-coil” mode on a hearing aid/implant can be a manual option, or the device may connect automatically, when in the presence of an audio loop signal. (Ask your audiologist for more information, or visit the HLAA website for info.)
Like ramps for wheelchairs, Hearing Loop systems deliver accessibility and inclusivity for those who depend upon personal hearing devices – without the burden of advance notice. Having to “borrow a ramp” to gain access to a space of public accommodation would affect 1.7 million people in the US who depend upon a wheelchair or scooter for mobility. For perspective, note the ratio of 1:29. For every wheelchair-confined person needing a ramp, there are 29 persons with hearing loss needing access.
Call to Action: Observe, Ask, Report!
Every time you visit a hospital, theater, museum, pharmacy, library, court house, classroom or other space of public accommodation: Look for signage about Hearing Loop Systems and if you don’t see any at all, speak up and ask why not?
Report your concerns to a local Office for Equal Opportunity. Your only responsibility is to notify the owner/manager of a public space that you have a hearing loss and to describe the accommodation that would serve you best. If not made available, document your experience and share it.
- ADA’s 27th Anniversary Report https://www.ada.gov/27th_anniv_rpt.html
- HLAA Guide for Effective Communication in Healthcare http://hearingloss.org/sites/default/files/docs/HC_Patient_Complete_Guide.pdf
- US DOJ: ADA and Effective Communication https://www.ada.gov/effective-comm.htm
- CDC Grand Rounds “It’s Loud Out There: Hearing Health Across the Lifespan https://www.cdc.gov/grand-rounds/pp/2017/20170620-presentation-hearing-health-H.pdf
- Increase in Hearing Loss from aging population NIDCD Report https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/
- NYC Passes Legislation Mandating Hearing Loop Technology http://www.hearingreview.com/2017/04/new-york-city-passes-legislation-mandating-hearing-loop-technology-public-assembly-areas/
- Induction Loop usage in Western Europe
- US DOJ 27th Annual Report on ADA https://www.ada.gov/27th_anniv_rpt.html
- It Takes More than Ramps to Solve the Crisis of Healthcare for People with Disabilities https://dredf.org/healthcare/RIC_whitepaperfinal.pdf
- Hearing loss hits a younger generation https://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/sc-hlth-young-hearing-loss-0913-story.html
- Getting People With Hearing Loss in the Loop by David Myers https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1745691618808506#
- World Health Organization Safe Listening Devices and Systems https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/280085/9789241515276-eng.pdf
- Hearing Loops: The Preferred Assistive Listening Technology http://www.aes.org/technical/documentDownloads.cfm?docID=509
- Office of the Comptroller of the Currency: Compliance/BSA https://www.occ.treas.gov/topics/compliance-bsa/index-compliance-bsa.html
- The Rising Tide of ADA Litigation Against Health Care Entities https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/the-rising-tide-of-ada-litigation-18232/
- Hearing aids may reduce the forgetfulness and mental confusion tied to hearing loss https://www.businessinsider.com/r-hearing-aids-may-slow-cognitive-decline-tied-to-hearing-loss-2015-4
- Hearing Loss Summary by the Mayo Clinic
- Hearing Loss in US Veterans
- Severe Hearing Impairment Among Military Veterans
- Consumer Perceptions of the Impact of Inductively Looped Venues on the Utility of Their Hearing Devices
- Mobility Device Statistics
- What Can Noise Do to Your Hearing?
- ADA’s Technical Assistance Program for Businesses and Government