Hearing Loop History

The first patented magnetic induction loop communication system was invented by Joseph Poliakoff in Great Britain in 1937. “Hearing loops” work today for the same reasons today as in 1937 but the systems have evolved, just as audio engineering and computerization have. Since 2007, hearing loop systems comply with an international standard (IEC60118-4) to be fully commissioned.

A hearing loop consists of one or more physical loops of copper cable (coil or flat) which are installed within any size of public space – indoor or outdoors. The cable generates an electromagnetic field throughout the looped space which can be picked up by a telecoil-equipped hearing aid, a cochlear implant (CI) processor, or a hand-held hearing loop receiver.

The receptive copper coil in a hearing aid is known as a telecoil (or T-coil) because in its earliest form it was used to pick up a magnetic field from the copper coils within a telephone. The telecoil enabled the hearing aid user to hear a phone conversation clearly without background noise.

Audio induction (hearing) loop technology gained a bit of traction in the 1950s but the growth of the industry was regionally uneven and full of “ups and downs” due to the quality of amplifiers and education of the installers. A working knowledge of physics and acoustical engineering is critical and many loop installers were doing their best — but not always delivering projects with uniform, equally distributed audio signals.

“Dead spots” in some projects left people wondering why they had invested in the project at all.  To resolve this issue of poor installations, and to prevent further damage to the reputation of the technology and the manufacturers, the international code for compliance was upgraded substantially in 2007. 

The IEC6-118-4 is not something that most carpenters, electricians and A/V experts can address, without the experience and training that carefully selected installers and sub-contractors have.

By the year 2000, consumer-driven advocacy in the U.S. for hearing loops was led by David Myers, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Hope College in Michigan, who experienced a hearing loop for the first time in an 800-year-old Scottish abbey while on vacation there. Dr. Myers discovered that by pressing a button and activating the T-coils in his hearing aids, the words of the minister “floated” directly into his ears – with distortion or reverberation. It was an experience he will never forget and one that he wanted to duplicate for others when he got back home.

Dr. Myers’s subsequent enthusiasm—along with pioneering advocates in several states—sparked a growing hearing loop advocacy movement in the U.S.

In 2010, HLAA, in partnership with the American Academy of Audiology, joined the movement by launching Get in the Hearing Loop (GITHL), a campaign that has now become an ongoing program for HLAA.

Today, loops can be found throughout the United States, but advocacy continues to push for more and more loops as a way of creating hearing friendly communities.

Just a few examples of where you will find hearing loops today:

  • Federal Government: the U.S. Supreme Court, Library of Congress, and the main chamber of the House of Representatives
  • State and City Government: the legislative chambers and committee meeting rooms of the Arizona and Rhode Island statehouses, and city council chambers throughout the U.S.
  • Museums: Museum of Modern Art (New York City), Kentucky Derby Museum (Louisville, KY), and the Chrysler Museum auditorium (Norfolk, VA).
  • Stadiums: Yankee Stadium ticket booths and the entirety of the Michigan State University Breslin Center Arena
  • Theaters: over 195 live theater, concert and event halls across 35 states, six Broadway theaters, two theaters at Lincoln Center, the Seattle Repertory Theater, and Boston’s Symphony Hall
  • Hotels: Guest registration counter at the St. Louis Union Station Hotel and the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel (Virginia)
  • Transportation:
    • San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) – 755 new trains and a pilot program for information booths and platforms
    • New York City – over 1400 Taxis of Tomorrow and more than 600 New York City subway information and fare kiosks
    • Amtrak’s ticket counters and customer service desks in a growing number of stations
    • The Michigan Department of Transportation and Indian Trails Inc. installed hearing loops on 17 motor coaches serving passengers throughout Michigan
    • New passenger ferries operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
    • More than 10 international airports across the country, including Boston-Logan, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Indianapolis.
  • And just plain cool:  Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream factory tours (Waterbury, VT), and the New York Botanical Garden

2011: What is a Hearing Loop System and How Does it Work? (UK)