There are more than 28 million Americans with some form of
hearing loss. The number has
doubled in the last 20 years. A large percentage of people struggling with that loss work in the enterprise, but of those 28 million only 20 percent are using a hearing aid because of the stigma of hearing aid use or the expense, but often because hearing aids don't work very well in certain environments, including those common to the enterprise.
But CIOs can do a surprisingly easy thing to help people be more efficient and more comfortable dealing with their hearing issues. Simple technology can boost the benefit people get from their hearing aids.
One of the problems for people with some form of hearing loss is being able to enjoy the sound from any type of sound system, from the TV in their living room to a movie theater, a conference, or a concert. Basically, none of those sound systems is calibrated for hearing aids. That makes many people with some hearing problems avoid going out to public performances because they get frustrated with the sound, and obviously the same problems exist in the office and the board room.
Installing a simple device called a “hearing loop”
-- simple wires that circle a room -- can change all that. The hearing loop can connect most hearing aids and cochlear implants to the sound system directly, using the telecoil most hearing aid devices already have. The telecoil is nothing more than a tiny coil of wire around a core that will induce an electric current in the coil when it's in the presence of a changing magnetic field. Telecoils were originally designed to "hear" the magnetic signal naturally generated by the magnets in old telephones, allowing people with hearing aids to hear better during phone conversations.
A hearing loop can be permanently installed under the floor,
in the ceiling, around a baseboard, or around an area in a room, or it can be temporarily placed around any area where people with hearing aids containing a telecoil might be. Installing one is relatively inexpensive, just the cost of a simple wire and an amplifier. For example, the cost of the wire and amplifier for a 5,000 square foot facility could be as low as $2,000. This will allow all people
with telecoils in the room to use their hearing aids as their personal sound systems. To install one at home, around the living room to watch TV or listen to the home stereo, only costs around $300. One of the main advantages of the system is the hearing aid, when turned to the telecoil mode, filters all background noise and only delivers the sound from the hearing loop.
It makes sense to install them in conference rooms, where
they can be connected to the sound systems and help people with hearing loss participate in the discussion, and they could easily find their way into other parts of the office where multimedia is being used.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires
that buildings and facilities be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. This includes communications access for people with hearing loss. But installation of hearing loops in shops and entertainment venues is just starting to take place. In other words, retail CIOs are really missing the boat.
In Europe it is more common: "Here [in Denmark] we
can just install a good loop system in a theater or a church building or any meeting room (and we do -- our churches are almost 100% covered now), and ask hard of hearing people to switch to the T-position," says the Rev. Jan Gronborg Eriksen,
president of Churchear.
Churches make an excellent proof of concept for both the enterprise and for retail outlets. The growing number of people beginning to suffer hearing loss shows an unprecedented opportunity to gain an advantage by helping these people. The technology is proven and cheap. CIOs, retailers, and entertainment venues: What are you waiting for?.