For Hearing Aid Users, Hearing Loops Reduce Noise Clutter

This logo posted on the wall, or in the case of Emmons' church, in the weekly bulletin, signifies that a venue is looped.
This logo posted on the wall, or in the case of St. Michael's, in the weekly bulletin, signifies that a venue is looped.
Barbara Emmons stands at the entrance of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, which has a hearing loop in the sanctuary.
Barbara Emmons stands at the entrance of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, which has a hearing loop in the sanctuary.
CLEARWATER (2011-12-22) -

Barbara Emmons is sitting in a pew at St. Michael's Church in Clearwater. She's attended Mass here for the past decade. But for most of those years, she could barely make out what was going on--even with hearing aids in both ears.

"It was very difficult," says Emmons, 76. "I used to sit down front so that I could see the priest's mouth and pick up words."

That was before the church installed a hearing loop.

"It means everything to me to be able to hear what the priest is saying," Emmons says. "It's like when you get a pair of new glasses, and you walk out, and you say, 'Oh, my goodness! Everything's so bright and clear!'"

Emmons is just one of 36 million Americans with some degree of hearing loss. Traditional hearing aids don't always help in public places because they amplify every sound--not only the priest's homily, but also distractions like babies crying and people coughing.

But recently, St. Michael's got a hearing loop. It's a wire in the floor that transmits sound directly into a hearing aid or cochlear implant. To tune into the loop, Emmons switches her hearing aids to the telecoil setting.

Anthony DeMeo paid nearly $8,000 for loop at St. Michael's. He attends Mass there with his grown daughter, MaryAnn, who is nearly deaf.

"I wanted to do something to help people, and I knew what it was to have someone that couldn't hear," DeMeo says. "It is the invisible handicap."

Dave Myers of HearingLoop.org agrees.

"I've often thought when I can't hear an event that if I were left outside in a wheelchair that didn't have access, people would be aghast," Myers says. "But if I'm left outside the event cognitively because I can't understand what's being said, nobody knows--and thus, nobody cares. Not because people are uncaring, but it's invisible."

Thanks to donors and grants, more Florida venues are being looped; look for the blue and white picture of an ear.

Still, loops aren't perfect. They're expensive, and insurance doesn't cover them. Plus, the sound is a bit tinny.

But for Emmons, who struggled through Mass for a decade, the hearing loop is her saving grace.

It's wonderful--for a couple of reasons," Emmons says. "Not only can you hear everything wonderfully, but you can also meditate without all the surrounding noises."

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