This week a story emerged from Cornwall of how two sailors were saved from their capsized boat as a result of their cries being heard by Christine Bowden who is local resident. Mrs Bowden was the only resident who heard their cries, and had they had the misfortune to capsize two days earlier, the outcome would probably have been very different. The sailors capsized the day after Mrs Bowden was fitted with hearing aids, and she was alone in her garden when she heard the shouts. She believes that she would not have heard the men without the benefit of the hearing aids. You can read her story here. It is estimated that 17% of us or 10M people have reduced hearing and yet only 2M or so have hearing aids fitted. Many people wait for literally years before their condition is diagnosed and getting help. This was certainly the case for Mrs Bowden. It is estimated that it takes 10 years from the onset of hearing loss, to the point at which an individual approaches an audiologist. I work for a business that specialises in hearing loop installations, and our work can at times be very revealing. Yesterday one of my colleagues fitted a loop system in a reception area at a local Hospital. The kit of parts he used cost £150 which included a good quality loop amplifier, a preformed loop of wire which includes 13 turns of wire neatly coiled and taped together and a good quality microphone. It was not the first hearing loop fitted into the same reception area, even though this is a brand new building. The previous loop was fitted by a competent but non specialist electrical contractor. He did what most of his colleagues would have done, asking his local electrical wholesaler for a hearing loop kit for a reception desk. They supplied him with a £50 kit including a cheap and substandard loop amplifier and low quality microphone along with instructions of how to form a loop using one turn of wire. Sadly for the previous visitors to the Hospital the combination of these components meant that the loop itself was all but useless. However the sign, also part of the kit was fully compliant. As a result of this, many hearing aid users who visited the hospital would have struggled to hear the receptionist and had their negative view of loop systems reinforced. Earlier this year our Company fitted ten temporary loops into a Bucharest Hotel for a week long Conference for SENSE, the deafblind charity. After we had fitted the loops we asked the delegates for their feedback. A common reaction was that loops are useless, they never help and that the person concerned had stopped trying to use them. However once these experienced people agreed to adjust their hearing aids, the reactions revealed just how badly these people have been treated over many years. I know of one public building which has had loop signs on the door since it opened, but there is no loop inside the building because they ran out of money (or perhaps I should say, they ran out of priorities) before the loop system was specified.
All of us are affected by our societies attitude towards hearing loss. It is a largely hidden condition, but if we ensure that the buildings we use, where appropriate do include a loop system, that the systems themselves are of suitable quality and that we encourage our nearest and dearest to get their hearing tested we could improve the quality of life for many people and in a few rare cases, lives might be saved. In early November we will be supporting hearing loop awareness week, perhaps your employer or social groups could do the same?