Hearing loss affects children through senior adults. Approximately one in ten people and one in three in the “65 and over” age group have significant hearing loss. Our experience at Temple Emanu-El is consistent. In a January 2013 survey with a return rate of over 85% of our households, 39% (38 households) reported that at least one adult in their household has hearing difficulty and 19% (19 households) reported that at least one adult in their household wears hearing aids. A Temple Emanu-El committee began visiting churches, synagogues, and other buildings having assistive hearing devices to learn about current technologies. As a result of their research, we decided to install an induction loop system to greatly improve the hearing experience of both our current members and of folks who will be attracted to our services and events knowing that the system is in place.
An induction loop connects a sound system – a microphone, TV, DVD player, etc – to a wire loop which encircles the room. The loop gives off a signal that can be picked up by a hearing aid equipped with a telecoil (a tiny wireless receiver) or by a cochlear implant. People without telecoil-equipped hearing aids or cochlear implants can pick up the signal through an unobtrusive personal receiver which is attached to a headphone or ear buds. When the telecoil or personal receiver is turned on, it receives only the sounds coming directly from the sound system, not the background cacophony, and there is no blurring of the sound that comes with distance from a sound source. The sound is clear, clean, and interference-free.
Telecoils today are built into two-thirds of hearing aids on the market as well as in all cochlear implants, so there is a growing number of people able to directly benefit from induction loop technology. Moreover, the greater people’s need for hearing assistance, the more likely they are to have hearing aids with telecoils. Currently, about 1 in 4 people with hearing loss – approximately 8.4 million – have hearing aids; this number would increase if hearing aids could double as wireless, personal loudspeakers.
We have installed one loop in the floor of our sanctuary whose effect extends to both the sanctuary and our social hall below it, and a second loop in our multi-functional room used for meetings and classes.
One of our members, 59, who sustained hearing loss following chemotherapy, attended the first hearing loop demonstration at a Shabbat service. She writes, “I switched my hearing aid to the telecoil setting. Tears came to my eyes when I was able to hear the rabbi as if he was talking directly into my ear. I was, for the first time in many years, able to follow the prayers and the sermon easily instead of straining to try to decipher individual words, thus losing the meaning of what was being said. What a “miraculous” experience.”
We believe that adding hearing loops to our Temple infrastructure demonstrates our deep respect for Jewish values by breaking down one of the barriers to full participation in Jewish life. Thirty years ago, our Temple Emanu-El community took its first steps towards empowering people with disabilities by installing a chair lift on the stairs down to our social hall. Ten years ago, we increased our access for those with mobility challenges by adding an outdoor ramp to our front door. By incorporating a hearing loop system in our building, we are reaching out to those who may have felt socially isolated due to hearing challenges and bring them “back to the conversation.”
We want to sincerely thank the Clarity Fund and the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation for funding our induction hearing loop system.