By Stephen O. Frazier
This joint effort by the GITHL committee and Google Maps has already resulted in the listing of thousands of venues that offer hearing loop access
Google Maps has recently begun including hearing loops in the accessibility information on its website. This has received little notice from the national media or hearing loss related entities but, for the hard of hearing, this is important news. A national data base of looped venues has been a goal of hearing loop advocates for years and it’s finally becoming a reality. This action, a joint undertaking of the Get in the Hearing Loop Committee (GITHL) of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) and Google Maps, is the latest example of the growing awareness and availability of hearing loops in public place.
Hearing loops are the preferred assistive listening technology for those people with hearing loss and hearing aids. Unlike Bluetooth®, currently a 1 to 1 means of transmitting sound, hearing loops can serve an audience of 1 to 1,000 or more. Hearing Loops, in their simplest form, are a thin copper wire discreetly placed to encircle a room and are connected through an amplifier to the room’s public address system.
The amplifier feeds the sound from the PA system to the loop wire that then transmits it as a silent electromagnetic signal to receivers in hearing aids. These receivers, called telecoils, are in the majority of hearing aids and all cochlear implant (CI) processors.
Those devices turn the signal back into sound and, with the hearing aid/implant microphones turned off, the user hears mostly sound from the PA with little background noise. This dramatically increase the intelligibility of what is being said over the PA system. The “speech to noise ratio” that’s so important in hearing and understanding conversation is heavily weighted to speech rather than noise.
User friendly hearing loops are common in the UK, much of Western Europe and Australasia and, in the US, are increasingly found in theaters, places of worship and other areas where people with hearing loss can expect to have difficulty hearing.
This joint effort by the GITHL committee and Google Maps already has resulted in the listing of thousands of venues that offer hearing loop access, and the process is ongoing. To check if a particular venue offers hearing loop communication access, visit Google Maps. Enter the name of a venue such as the “Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City.” A box beside or below the street map typically contains the phone number, street address and, sometimes, much more. In that space, directly below a row of blue circular icons, is a brief description of the venue with a “continued arrow” link. Click on the arrow and you’ll find “Assistive hearing loop” if one is known to be present, plus other applicable accessibility accommodations. On a smartphone or tablet, the information is found on Google Maps by clicking on “about.”
This is an ongoing project and the GITHL committee continues to seek out and verify hearing loop installations throughout the country. The listings are interactive so individuals can lend a hand in maintaining their integrity. At a venue’s Google listing there is a “suggest an edit” link or, with the app, an individual can click “update this place.” There also are links to add a photo or to post a review. If mention of the loop is missing on a venue known to be looped, users can email the GITHL committee at firstname.lastname@example.org to let them know.
Loop installers can suggest updates for Google Maps listings by visiting www.hearingloss.org/hearinglooplocations and completing a brief form.
Trained as a hearing loss support specialist by the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), Stephen O. Frazier has more than 20 years of experience providing support and advocacy for those with hearing loss. He chairs Loop New Mexico, a clearinghouse for online information about hearing loop and other assistive listening technology; and he is a member of HLAA’s national Get in the Hearing Loop campaign task force. Contact him at email@example.com