This Consumer's Perspective on Hearing Loops and Telecoils
By Stephen O. Frazier
“You don't need telecoils, you'll have Bluetooth.” Oh?
Alive and well and visiting in London, Mark Twain famously said of rumors in New York that he had died, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” The same could be said about the very idea that hearing loops are on their death bed thanks to newer technology that has been developed. The same could be said for telecoils often made claim that, “You don’t need telecoils, you have Bluetooth®” Google Map's decision to post the presence of hearing loops where applicable in the accessibility information of venues on their website is just the latest example of recognition of the growing awareness and availability of this assistive listening technology here in the US.
While hearing aid manufacturers continue to reduce the number of hearing aid models that have or can be fitted with telecoils, the decision by Amtrak to include hearing loops in the new trains they have ordered from Siemens Mobility seems to indicate hearing loop technology has become recognized as an important means of providing communication assistance to people with hearing loss. The similar decision to include hearing loops in their new subway cars in New York City is further evidence of the continuing spread of this technology as the US continues to, as the Hearing Loss Association of America suggests, Get In the Hearing Loop. More performance spaces, places of worship and other “places of assembly” are being “looped” every day as a result of pressure from the hard of hearing public to have their disability addressed. Over the last decade, and with little support from some in the hearing care industry, hearing loops have spread across America as a result of consumer driven efforts. Many hearing care providers have gotten on board and promote the technology on their websites and in their practice. There are over four-hundred offices around the country that have at least one loop installed for demo purposes according to one source. Unfortunately, far too many providers still tell their clients, “You don't need telecoils, you'll have Bluetooth.” Oh?Why are they stumped if the clients asks how Bluetooth will help at the theater or the client’s place of worship. Even in states like New Mexico where telecoil counseling is mandated before the fitting of hearing aids, some providers don't even mention it.
Hearing loop technology is international in application and telecoil equipped hearing aids and CIs purchased in the US can connect to loop signals at the airport in Moscow or London just as they can at Delta Airline's new terminal at LaGuardia in New York. They're just testing the concept in New York but city buses with hearing loops are already in use in the UK and Australia. It's neckloops and FM receivers that help tourists hear the tour guide on a river cruise up the Danube, not Bluetooth. The same is true at a Broadway theater that has not yet replaced their FM or Infrared system with a hearing loop as many of their competition have.
As a former retailer I've never understood why a hearing care provider would not tell clients of a feature that can double the functionality of a pair of hearing aids and cost them nothing. Is it a lack of familiarity with the technology? A lack of time permitted by a bottom line focused hearing care chain? Do manufacturers leave out telecoils in order to make their BTE hearing aids even smaller?
From my perspective, the choice as to whether or not to have telecoils in their hearing aids should be made by the buyer and user of those hearing aids, not by a hearing care provider. To not counsel a client in the technology and deny that client that right appears to me to violate the standards set forth in the ASHA Code of Ethics providers agree to observe that say,“Individuals’ statements to the public shall provide accurate and complete information about ...products for sale…” It's not complete if the client is not told about the telecoil option.
Survey’s have shown that clients who get that counseling and, in most cases, get the technology are more satisfied with their hearing aids and with their provider. They’re more inclined to recommend that provider to others. Telecoil counseling looks like a win-win situation to me.