Most of us are very familiar with the blue badge that allows drivers to park in parking bays set aside for drivers and passengers with reduced mobility. There is another important blue badge which is a great deal less well understood and currently a great deal rarer. Sadly there is a lack of awareness of the scheme, even amongst some people who have the most to gain or should be most proficient in the use of the technology involved. According to Action on Hearing Loss who were previously known as RNID around 2M people have hearing aids, only a third of those who would benefit from such items. Not all those who have been prescribed hearing aids wear them regularly. Despite this hearing aids provide benefit to at least 1.4M people in the UK. Perhaps if all of us were aware of the potential benefits of hearing aids, a larger proportion of the 6M potential users would have aids prescribed and use them regularly.
The sign above tells those in the building or area concerned that there is a hearing loop fitted. This means that for those with a suitable hearing aid, that their listening experience can be significantly improved by simply moving a switch on their aid. There are several barriers to overcome however and we need to work together to remove these.
Not all manufacturers include the coil needed within their hearing aids to pick up the signal from the loops. In some cases this is because the aid itself is too small for any of the current coil technology to fit. In other cases however the reason is due to cost (a poor excuse as the coil components are not expensive) or an argument that demand is low which in fact becomes a self fulfilling statement.
This then moves us to the audiologists who surprisingly don’t all realise that fitting a hearing aid with a coil will be of real benefit to the wearer. Some audiologists actually claim that with modern hearing aids, loops are no longer needed or helpful. It is easy to understand why demand is low! However although I have no audiological training I know that in this perspective, these professionals are wrong in almost every case.
Even amongst hearing aid users who have access to a loop setting, because not all venues promote their loop systems or use them appropriately the person who could benefit enormously is left uninspired and cynical of the value of hearing loops. In some cases they are the only people in the area who are in a position to know that the loop amplifier has been switched off, a simple request to correct this could improve the experience for all hearing aid users in the venue and will remind the organisers to check next time.
Even where loops do exist I have been in many gatherings where the speaker, calls out to the assembled audience to ask if they are happy for him/her to not use the microphone. Whatever the reason for this, the end result unless the hearing aid user is prepared to make a issue of this laziness, is that the coil setting on their hearing aid cannot be used.
Finally we have buildings and settings where a loop could be installed relatively easily, and at modest cost. I have heard professional medical officials claim that there is no demand for a loop system. This is despite an estimated £20M lost to the NHS each year for appointments that people with hearing loss, fail to keep simply because they didn’t hear their name being called at the appropriate time. There are also venues where rather than fit a permanent loop arrangement, the organisation has instead procured portable loop systems. Whilst this allows them to believe that they have responded positively to the Equality Act 2010, these solutions are often more expensive and usually a great deal less effective than a professionally fitted, permanent system.
I suggest that if these same arguments, failures to invest and understand were applied to wheel chair access that they would be quickly and robustly challenged. Even allowing for the Daily Mail focus on Blue Badge fraud when applied to occasional parking abuses, if the Blue Badge above was treated with the same respect we treat the parking blue badge, far more people could enjoy a night out at the theatre, cinema, or even at home watching TV. The Winter Gardens Theatre in Eastbourne recently held a free Matinee of a shortened programme for people to come and check out their hearing aids and the loop in the Theatre. This is as part of efforts by local residents and charities to ‘Loop Eastbourne’ in an attempt to establish Eastbourne as a Hearing Loop ‘Town of Excellence’, which other towns and cities can then seek to replicate.” Wouldn’t it be great if all Theatres and Cinemas did something similar at least once a year and in time if all towns and cities could follow Eastbournes example? Perhaps someone could promote World Hearing Aids Day?