After two meetings of Lets Loop a local town, held in the warm and safety of the local government offices, a small group of us set out yesterday afternoon in the rain to discover how easy it would be to conduct an ongoing survey of local businesses. Our first two meetings had included an indepth presentation about the reason why induction loops are so valuable to people whose hearing is reinforced or provided through a hearing aid. The second meeting was to discuss if those present would be willing to carry out a survey and if they felt they would need some training. We also had a very interesting diversion in the form of a visitor who is in the process of setting up a new cinema on the site of an old brewery. The visitor wanted to meet with the group to ensure that the new cinema was as welcoming to people affected by hearing loss as possible.
The field trip was a great success, offering the group members with some training and a real taste of the response they will elicit. We first went into the local railway station. The equipment worked but it did not provide as clear a response as it might have. The signs could also have been positioned in a more obvious location. Next an independent chemist, they did not have a loop system at all which was not a surprise as they had no signage to suggest they would have. Then on to a major chain of chemists. They had several signs, although the one in the window, outside the shop was hard to spot, the one on the counter was very distinct. We asked for the loop system to be provided, but at first the assistants had no idea where their portable loop system was (we knew what to expect because the MD of the company that manufacturers the loop they have bought for each branch was part of our field trip). Eventually they found it and it was brought out for inspection, sadly although the manager assured us it had been plugged in, it was clear that the rechargeable batteries were not able to power up the loop and microphone which were built into the unit. We then moved on to a high street bank. They had loop systems built into the counters and these seemed to work reasonably well, however when we approached the enquiry desk things were a bit more uncertain. Although there was a sign on the desk, the very helpful lady on duty claimed she had never been asked for the loop system but she had to search for the portable loop system which when it emerged was caked in dust. It was clear that the bank worker had no idea how to use the equipment. We ended our field trip at a high street company who provide many us with our glasses and are also a major supplier of hearing aids. We asked about the loop system as advertised in the window. There was a very positive response in the sense of our request being well received. However after a number of discrete conversations between staff it was admitted that the audiologist who visits the store one day a week had taken the portable loop system away with him some time ago.
The field trip to our County town was very profitable, no one was rude or dismissive of our requests, indeed several people we spoke to had questions to ask about relatives who also depend on hearing aids. We were thanked in several shops for raising our concerns and there are at least three dust covered loop systems that have now been cleaned and staff who know where they are kept. It is clear that any retail business which is prepared to invest in this form of technology should ideally fit fixed loop systems under counters, rather than portable units that can easily be removed or be forgotten about. However it is vital that whatever system is chosen the staff need training. If this blog doesn’t get read by people who can influence such things, the ongoing ‘Lets Loop …….’ groups will certainly begin to make a difference. More power to Hearing Link for their work to establish these.