About 48 million Americans have hearing loss, and more than half of them are younger than 55. Most don’t wear hearing aids – not because they don’t need them but because they buy into the stigma that hearing loss is for the elderly. Even with hearing aids – and this is one of the best-kept secrets of the hearing- aid industry – you may need even more help to hear a lecture, a sermon or a play.
There’s an easy solution, but it has been little embraced in the U.S.: hearing loops.
Looping, for those who don’t know, is a technology that involves installing a wire around the periphery of a room or between rows of seats. The speaker uses an ordinary microphone that amplifies his or her voice for the hearing audience and transmits it directly to a listener’s hearing aid, specially equipped headphones or cochlear implant. All extraneous sound is cut out. Hearing aids are ordinarily effective only up to 6 feet away. But with the hearing loop the voice is as clear as if the speaker were 4 feet in front of you - clearer, perhaps, because of the elimination of background noise.
A small but determined group of New Yorkers has been successful in getting looping installed in various places of worship, at information booths in museums, in some stores (such as Apple Inc.’s SoHo store) and in the ordering line at Shake Shack.
But hearing loops are few and far between in our city, and they’re geared mostly to tourists.
Looping isn’t the answer for everyone. The deaf, for instance, can’t take advantage of hearing loops unless they wear hearing aids. But it is the answer for thousands of us who want to participate in the cultural life of our city. Looping is also beneficial for our endangered art institutions. For certain kinds of culture -- lectures, readings, classical music concerts, theater – the audiences tend to be made up of baby boomers and older.
Think how arts programs would profit if those millions with hearing loss had access to programs now denied them. •
Katherine Bouton, a former senior editor at The New York Times, is the author of “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I – and 50 Million Other Americans – Can’t Hear You.” Distributed by Bloomberg View.