Listeners Hear Better with Loops
Jennifer Krohn has been listening to the greater Grinnell community for more than 25 years, and she wants all community members to be able to hear too. That’s why, in her role as Grinnell College’s Americans with Disabilities Act compliance coordinator, she reaches out to experts to provide assistive technology solutions for those with disabilities, such as hearing loss.
An estimated 57 million individuals over age 12 in the U.S. have diagnosed hearing loss in at least one ear, and the prevalence increases with each decade of age, making hearing loss one of the most common disabilities. Digital hearing devices can typically correct for only half of the loss and not for sound distortion.
According to Krohn and the experts she contracts with for College and community support, hearing loops are the preferred assistive listening technology for hearing aid users. Hearing loops, also known as audio frequency induction loops, improve sound quality and offer a practical, cost-effective solution for those with hearing loss. Hearing loops also fulfill compliance requirements established by the ADA.
New Hearing Loop Systems
More than two dozen hearing loops have been installed in facilities throughout the community of Grinnell — at Drake Community Library Caulkins Community Room, Grinnell High School auditorium, Mayflower Community’s Carman Center, Buckley Dining Room and Kiesel Theatre, St. John’s Lutheran Church, and throughout the Grinnell College campus.
The campus locations include:
- The field house bleachers and the information desk at the Charles Benson Bear ’39 Center for Recreation and Athletics;
- Burling Library's lounge and circulation desk;
- Herrick Chapel's chancel and nave;
- The Harris Center cinema;
- Room 101, Room 209, the Marketplace check stand, and several other venues in Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center;
- The Pioneer Bookshop checkout counter; and
- Classroom settings in Robert N. Noyce ’49 Science Center.
The College also has small portable tabletop loops that can be moved easily from one location to another, as well as headsets with loop receivers. One of these portable loops was used successfully this fall at an event at the Conard Environmental Research Area. The College also has a large portable loop that is used in spaces where there is no loop for one-time events such as Commencement and Faulconer Gallery talks.
J.R. Paulson, M.D., contributed to the hearing loop installation at Grinnell High School, knowing from his own experience that he was missing lines in plays he attended there. “I knew senior citizens who didn’t attend anymore because they were not hearing, but I didn’t realize how bad the problem was,” he says. “Once I started wearing hearing aids myself, I was impressed by how much I’d missed, and started using the t-coil in some of the other venues in the community.”
Who Made It Possible
Thanks to connections made via Krohn, Sheryl Butler, a loop engineer and co-owner of Hearing Access Solutions LLC, installed and certified the hearing loops at the high school auditorium, St. John’s, and on campus. Butler also was called in to fix and certify the Drake Library loop. Certification requires that each loop meet an international standard and have proper signage to alert the public that the loop is available.
Juliette Sterkens, Au.D., a professional audiologist from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is a hearing-loop advocate with the Hearing Loss Association of America. She also consulted on installations in the Grinnell community.
“Jennifer Krohn is a tireless advocate and true champion of hearing loops,” Sterkens says. “She had firsthand experience with hearing aids and a loop system because her mother was hard of hearing, and she learned how much better her mom could hear with a hearing loop and a hearing aid with a t-coil.
“As a result,” she adds, “Grinnell is way ahead of the curve, particularly with hearing loops in public places where people visit. One loop in a community begets another hearing loop because it works so much better than other systems.”
Eliza Willis, professor of political science with senior faculty status, serves on the College’s Building Projects Committee that is overseeing the development of plans for the new Humanities and Social Sciences Complex (HSSC) and other Phase 1 building projects. She also chairs the Grinnell Advisory Panel on Accessibility and Universal Design, which has been offering recommendations on accessibility in the HSSC, the new Admission and Financial Aid building, and Phase 1 of the campus landscaping plan.
“Based on a careful analysis of alternative Assisted Listening Systems and our experiences on campus with various systems,” Willis says, “the Grinnell Advisory Panel on Accessibility and Universal Design has recommended the installation of induction looping in several classrooms and other spaces in the HSSC. This recommendation has been favorably received by the Building Projects Committee and the selection of specific rooms to be looped is currently being evaluated.”
How Hearing Loops Work
A hearing loop system wirelessly transmits sound directly to an individual’s hearing aid or cochlear implant. The signal sent by the loop system can be received directly by a telecoil (or t-coil)—a component integrated into most modern hearing devices. In 2014, an estimated 70% of available hearing aid models included built-in t-coils. The more powerful the hearing aid, the greater likelihood of having a t-coil.
A hearing loop system, like those installed throughout Grinnell, consists of a specially-designed amplifier connected to the venue’s sound system or microphones, as well as a wire that encircles the perimeter of a room or specified listening area. The current running through the wire generates a signal, which can be received by the t-coil in a user’s hearing device.
“All that is required of the user is to push a button on the hearing aid to activate the t-coil. Once activated, the hearing aid then becomes part of the PA system and enables the user to hear the sounds as if he or she is mere inches away from the microphone at the podium,” Sterkens explains. “It brings that sound right into the ear without background noise or reverberation. That makes people who are hard of hearing very happy. It’s a dignified solution that eliminates the need to wear headphones in order to hear.”
Individuals without hearing devices can also benefit from hearing loops which lessen background noise by accessing the loop via portable receivers with headphones or ear buds. Earbuds with a T-coil are now available that can be plugged into a smart phone with a free app to enable people who are hard of hearing to hear.
Krohn and facilities directors throughout the community have heard many favorable comments from hearing loop users, who in some cases are literally hearing in local facilities for the first time. Grinnell’s organist Linda Bryant, a hearing aid user, often mentions how much she values the loop installation in Herrick Chapel.
“I cannot tell you how grateful I am for this system,” she says. “Recently, for the first time, I understood every word spoken from either side of the Herrick Chapel chancel. I am so appreciative of the effort and expense.”
Sterkens points out that often hearing loops can be installed for less than the cost of buying hearing aids. “For people with hearing loss who are in the market for hearing aids, it makes sense to buy one with a t-coil,” she adds. “It won’t cost any more than a hearing aid without a t-coil.
Drake Community Library Director Marilyn Kennett reports that the library’s hearing loop was installed in 2013, “through donations from the Community Education Council and Grinnell Regional Medical Center. The hearing loop seamlessly enhances the listening experience for hearing impaired individuals at many library events.”
Mayflower Community’s executive director Bob Mann says, based on Mayflower’s positive experience, the facility has assisted other local organizations in planning for and installing hearing loops.