Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
If you wear hearing aids or are considering making that purchase soon, be sure to ask your audiologist about telecoil technology. These small copper coils have come standard in most hearing aid devices for nearly 50 years and, when used in tandem with a hearing loop, can dramatically enhance your listening experience in public places by piping sound directly to the hearing device.
“Hearing aid microphones only work for a relatively short distance,” Juliëtte Sterkens, hearing loop advocate for the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), said. “But telecoils and hearing loops give people with hearing aids better hearing, even sometimes better than those with normal hearing.”
What is a hearing aid telecoil?
Telecoils, also known as t-coils, are small copper wires coiled discreetly inside hearing aids (see image here). They can receive electromagnetic signals from a variety of sources and are generally activated easily with the touch of a button.
The technology is not new: Telecoils were originally embedded in hearing aids to pick up electromagnetic signals from landline telephones so that the hearing aid user could hear better on the phone, Sterkens said. “When the old Ma Bell telephones were in existence, they emitted lots of magnetic signals,” she explained.
Today’s telephones are no longer a natural source of magnetic signals, but most still contain hearing aid compatible (HAC) equipment that generate a magnetic field to accommodate t-coil hearing aids.
How do I get a t-coil hearing aid?
Sterkens said although some hearing aid manufacturers have removed telecoils to make the devices smaller, the feature is still standard in most hearing devices. Hearing aid wearers desiring t-coil technology should request it from their hearing healthcare practitioner, who will provide the necessary programming and education. More about hearing aid types and styles and hearing aid technology.
What is a hearing aid loop system?
Hearing loops are assistive listening systems that exist in many public venues all over the world to assist those with hearing loss. This inductive loop system provides a magnetic, wireless signal that is picked up by hearing devices with telecoils. When hearing aid users are inside the loop and their t-coil setting is activated, any conversation being broadcast on the facility’s audio system — ie, a church sermon, classroom lecture, or stage performance — is sent directly to the telecoil in their hearing device.
This feature not only extends the listening range of hearing devices, it also eliminates unwanted background noise, increasing listening comprehension and enjoyment. For example, this video demonstrates the difference a telecoil can make at a New York subway station.
Which facilities have hearing loops?
Thanks in large part to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), an assistive listening system (ALS) must be provided in public “assembly areas with audio amplification” such as courthouses, movie theaters, live performance theaters, and public classrooms. The facilities can choose which type of ALS to install:
- Inductive hearing loop systems transmit an audio signal directly into the hearing aid via a magnetic field. The loop, which provides a wireless, magnetic signal, is installed in the perimeter beneath the room’s carpeting or flooring in a facility. Individuals with hearing aids can activate their device’s t-coil switch and receive the audio signal from anywhere inside the loop.
- Infrared systems consist of an audio source, transmitter and receiver. Most receivers consist of a headphone or neck loop, which must be requested or checked out at the facility’s information desk.
- FM systems are wireless, low power, FM frequency radio transmissions sent from a sound system to FM receivers. These receivers typically consist of a headphone or neck loop. Most receivers are available by request at the information desk of venues which utilize this type of ALS.
Sterkens said hearing loops are being installed with greater frequency in many newly constructed or remodeled airports as well as churches, public libraries and healthcare facilities. “They’re much more discreet than using other hearing assistive systems in public places,” she said. “Maryland just passed a law that mandates hearing loops be installed in state-funded projects. Indiana and Washington are gearing up, too. I think this is only the beginning.”
New Mexico also recently signed a law requiring audiologists to educate their patients about t-coils.
How do I find hearing loop systems near me?
Venues that offer hearing loop technology are identified by blue signage featuring a white ear icon and the letter “T” displayed in the lower, right-hand corner. Many hearing loop-accessible venues are also listed on the following websites or smartphone apps:
- Loopfinder.com, sponsored by the Hearing Loss Association of America, is available as an app for iOS Apple smartphones.
- Time2loopamerica.com displays a clickable map of the United States, with venues listed by city and town.
How do I advocate for hearing loop technology?
Sterkens encourages people to advocate for hearing loops in their community by using the information on the HLAA website.
“The HLAA has resources for consumers who want to advocate for hearing loops,” she said. “Sometimes all it takes is one person to make it happen. Hearing loops beget other hearing loops. If you can help people hear that much better with the hearing aids they already have in their ears, it’s incredible. Everybody deserves to hear like that.”
If you have untreated hearing loss
If hearing loss is preventing you from enjoying social activities, don’t stay home. Make an appointment with a hearing healthcare professional who will evaluate your hearing and recommend the best course of treatment so you can hear your best. For a listing of hearing centers and audiologists in your community along with verified patient reviews, visit our directory.