UI adopts hearing-loop technology

BY CASSIDY RILEY | MAY 09, 2013 5:00 AM

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The University of Iowa has plans in the works to install hearing-loop technology in several buildings around campus, and while more expensive than older technology, official say the quality is worth it.

By simply switching a hearing aid or cochlear implant to the “T” setting, the hearing-loop system will send the sounds in a room directly to the hearing aid or implant.

In the past, the UI has relied on personal FM systems. Traditionally, a person with a hearing impairment would have an FM system that they would wear headphones with and a speaker would speak into a microphone connected to a transmitter  sending signals to the FM system device.

The UI has installed this new hearing loop technology in the B111 Medical Laboratories. The installation cost was roughly $10,000 one time. Personal FM systems can cost more than $500 each.

Jim Henderson, assistant dean of the Carver College of Medicine, said he thinks the cost is worth the benefits.

“If you have four or five people like that in the room, and their transmitter is just to their frequency, then you’ve asked the speaker to wear four or five of these and that becomes a little cumbersome,” he said of the previous system.

There are 36 million Americans who experience some degree of hearing loss. At the UI, there are 12 students who have reported hearing loss to the UI Student Disabilities Services. Henderson said with that many Americans experiencing hearing loss it is important to accommodate them.

“To me this seems very reasonable to address a problem that I think is going to be growing,” he said. “This one just seems economically feasible.”

There are currently plans to install the hearing-loop system in the new Hancher Auditorium, the new music building, the new Art Building Replacement Facility, a multipurpose room in the new residence hall, the UIHC Medical Alumni Auditorium, and the new Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building.

Carly Armour, a disability adviser for the UI Student Disabilities Services, is deaf in both ears. After her first experience with hearing loop technology she said it sounded much clearer than her experience with other technology commonly used to aid the hearing impaired in public settings.

“Comparing a room that does not have a hearing loop versus a room that does (and I do not have an assistive listening device — FM system with me), the quality of sound is awesome. It sounds like the speaker is right next to me,” Armour said in an online interview. “[With the FM system] there was too much static noise for me, personally … too much interferences getting in the way between the speaker and my receiver. It did not improve the quality of sound in order for me to understand the speaker.”

Henderson said he was introduced to hearing-loop technology at the UI 2012 Disability Conference. UI alumnus David Myers came to the conference and demonstrated the technology.

Myers also suffers from hearing loss and has been promoting the hearing loop since 2002. He said those with hearing loss often won’t use FM systems simply because the headsets cause them to stand out.

“Up to now, we’ve done it with hearing instrument incompatible assistance — which requires people to locate and wear special equipment,” he wrote in an email. “Because few people take that initiative, such receiver/headset units in theaters and auditoriums mostly sit unused.  Also, checking out such units just isn’t feasible in transient places such as ticket windows and airports.”

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