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There’s some built-in wizardry available in hearing aid devices that’s going untapped by many Richmond seniors dealing with hearing loss.

About 80 percent of hearing aids and all cochlear implants are equipped with telecoils, a small copper coil that can receive a signal transmitted from a sound source, according to information from Clayton Bowen of the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Richmond.

But the problem is, few public places are equipped with the technology for the hearing impaired to make use of their t-coils.

The t-coils act as antennae that plug wearers directly into a sound system when a public place is equipped with a sound loop.

Think of the loop, a copper wire that is literally looped around the space, as the transmitter, according to information from the Hearing Loss Association of America. Loops enhance hearing in areas where there’s lots of background noise, in poor acoustics and where you are at a distance from the sound source.

It not only amplifies, but clarifies.

“It helps me. It’s as if the speaker is talking directly to me,” said Ron Lanier, director of the department for the deaf and hard of hearing. He regularly uses a t-coil and his office and department are t-coil friendly.

But the department’s offices are the exception in the Richmond area.

Some places of worship, including St. John’s United Church of Christ on Stuart Circle in Richmond, and some newer McDonald’s restaurants are looped-equipped. There also is an induction loop system in the Virginia Repertory Theatre’s November Theatre.

The induction loop system at the November Theatre basically allows patrons with t-coil equipped hearing devices and cochlear implants to plug directly into the theater sound system.

Hearing impaired patrons without t-coil devices may ask at the theatre door for a hand-held transmitter and headphones that will tap into the loop system, according to information from the theater. There’s a similar device available at the state department for the hearing impaired.

A lack of awareness regarding the loops has hindered expansion of its use, according to Lanier and Bowen.
It’s not really been embraced as much. I’m unsure why,” Bowen said.

The technology is nothing new, it’s been around for some 20 years, but there have been significant improvements in quality in recent years and more hearing devices are equipped with t-coils.

The state agency has portable loops that it makes available to interested local businesses, places of worship and other groups to try out and see if they want to invest in the technology.

The Hearing Loss Association of America’s Richmond Chapter has its own portable audio loop. The group provides information and self-help services to individuals dealing with hearing loss.

Those with older hearing assistance devices may be able to have an audiologist retrofit their aid with a t-coil, said Linda Wallace, president of the Richmond chapter.

Loops may be placed around the periphery of a room. A conference room at the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has loop wiring concealed behind the ceiling molding.

The local hearing loss association chapter places its loop under the edge of the table used at its meetings, Wallace said. It’s quick and easy to set up a loop. It takes no more than 15 minutes to set up and then dismantle at the end of a session, according to Wallace.

Loops are less expensive than an FM or wireless system, Wallace said.

A portable system costs $500 to $1,000. You can loop a conference room for about $4,000 to $6,000, and a portable loop system for a large room costs $3,000 to $4,000, according to Bowen.

Portable systems for personal use are about the size of a laptop computer and you carry it with you wherever you go, Wallace said.

“I can’t think of any drawbacks that can’t be fixed,” Lanier said. “It’s just a wonderful system. I’m hoping that we can educate more people about how beneficial it is.”


HEARING LOSS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA: General information on hearing loss and resources and advocacy;