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This article is part of our Fall 2022 issue of Breaking Barriers. This installment focuses acquired disability. Most people with disabilities were not born with their disability, but acquired it through stroke, accident, illness, aging, etc. In this issue, people describe how their acquired disability has affected them, what they’ve lost, and what they’ve gained. If you'd like to read more stories from this issue, please subscribe to Breaking Barriers.

As an audiologist practicing in Madison, Wisconsin for more than 35 years, I have helped thousands of people with hearing loss understand and cope with the challenges they face daily. My patients complain that this acquired disability makes it hard to hear in large areas such as meeting halls, theaters, and places of worship. 

A common misunderstanding is that hearing loss is only about loss of loudness, but it’s more about clarity—getting a good signal to the impaired ear and separating the sounds they want to hear from the sounds they don’t want to hear. People with hearing loss say they can hear your voice but cannot understand (meaning the clarity of the speech signal is lacking). Distance from the sound source, reverberation, and ambient noise in a room can make it more difficult to distinguish speech. This is where hearing loops can help.

A hearing loop wirelessly sends the audio signal from the facility’s microphone and sound system to those wearing telecoil (t-coil)-compatible hearing aids or cochlear implants, or to a wireless headset (for those without hearing aids or without t-coil hearing aids). The telecoil picks up the sound from the hearing loop and directs it through the hearing aid to the ear. This improved signal to the ear provides speech clarity that amplification alone cannot provide. Hearing loops are affordable and economical to maintain.

My patients love the fact that they can go into a theater, church, or auditorium with a hearing loop, simply push a button on their hearing aid, and hear the sound directly. They also love not standing in line to get headphones or earplugs to use—only to find after they are seated that the headphones don’t work (dead battery), or the earplugs have not been cleaned, or the device isn’t adjustable to help their specific hearing loss. 

My role is one of advocate. I do not install hearing loops and do not solicit business, but rather act as an educator and advocate for my patients with hearing loss. Thank you for your interest in getting your church in the loop for better hearing. 

For more, watch for a live presentation on Zoom by Juliette Sterkens and David Myers at 7:30 p.m. (Eastern) on February 6, 2023.

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