There is a form of well established science that has the potential to change the life experiences of over 2m people in society. Sadly many of these people are poorly served by the way this proven piece of technology is supplied to them which is a disgrace as the cost of the real thing is often no greater than that of the poor imitations. After many years of working with the technology it is clear that most people who are asked to supply and install the technology don’t understand or fully respect the value their work can provide for people who are often socially isolated without it. This is an area where champions are needed.
In the field of what used to be termed DDA or the Disability Discrimination Act, the idea that an Architect or a builder would fail to understand the mechanics of a ramp for people with mobility problems seems hard to imagine. However from time to time one hears of stories of ramps that are too steep or inaccessible at one end or the other. I know of one Church in Brighton & Hove that paid for an expensive stairlift to be installed to allow people relying on wheelchairs to go into the basement where the toilets are fitted. When it was first installed the designer or the architect or both miscalculated, and although the ramp worked very well, it was not possible to get off or on the lift once down in the basement, because a nearby wall prevent access. I have never heard how this matter was resolved, but I am sure it was. These incidents are as far as I am aware relatively few and far between and by comparison to the subject of this blog, the stories of poor design and inept installation are almost non existent.
Around 11m people in the UK suffer from hearing loss, and over 2m of these rely in part or exclusively from hearing aids to allow them to hear what is being said around them, and enjoy the sounds that many of us take for granted. These numbers are rising and so this subject is vital for our society. In large gathered situations, where there is invasive background noise, hearing aids are not able to discriminate between the sounds that the user wants to hear and the sounds they want to filter out, unlike the way most of us can do with our ears. Equally in such situations amplified sounds from speech or music can be difficult to hear over background sounds and the harsh acoustic nature of some buildings. Enter a device that can be used to link a microphone or other source of sound direct to the hearing aid, without the use of external wires. Known as a hearing loop, these devices are usually poorly fitted, using inadequate components and usually the microphone is situated in the wrong place to achieve its purpose. However all of these failings can usually be put right and the cost of a properly fitted loop that works is usually no more than the cost of one that doesn’t. However the technology is almost invisible and so spotting the problems, unless you have the right knowledge and equipment is not easy.
I work for a company that fits hearing loops and over the years we have learned from experience that our own practice of previous years was not adequate, and like people who have quit smoking, we have become enthusiasts for getting it right. Unfortunately so many loops are inadequate that a large number of people with hearing aids don’t have much confidence in the technology and understandably don’t necessarily understand why some loops work very well and others don’t work at all. It is vital that all loops are tested according to the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standard (IEC 60118-4) for the performance of induction loop systems in an assistive listening application. One of the ways of ensuring that the person fitting or testing the hearing loop will be aware of this standard and should work to it, is if they are on the list of hearing loop assessors from the Institute of Sound and Communication Engineers. If you enter a building that in your opinion has or should have a loop fitted, one very simple thing to do is to ask the people on reception or managing the event, if there is a loop and if it has been recently tested. All this will do is to raise awareness amongst others, but that is vital if we are to improve the lives of some 2m people in the UK. There are many other ways of assisting and the best place to start is Hearing Link, a charity based in Eastbourne.