Making Unity Churches Hearing Accessible

Published on: November 4, 2015

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With hearing assistance that is directly hearing-aid compatible, Unity churches can lead their communities in enabling people to hear the word.

This year’s 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act has prompted celebration of greatly reduced barriers facing people with disabilities—though less so for those with the great invisible disability: hearing loss.

The 48 million Americans who struggle with hearing loss often, unnoticed by others, find themselves missing words while worshiping, attending a play or movie, or standing at a ticket window. Churches, theaters and lecture halls respond, “Oh, but we have audio receivers and headsets or ear buds …. If only worshipers would seek them out, take out their hearing aids, and then take the listening unit on and off when switching between singing and listening!”

Alas, few will make a fuss to ask for the conspicuous headsets that deliver the same generic sound to everyone.

But good news—churches are leading the culture in offering listening assistance that is directly hearing-aid compatible. All one needs do, when having trouble hearing, is press a button that instantly transforms one’s hearing aid or cochlear implant into a wireless, in-the-ear speaker that delivers sound customized to one’s own needs. No fuss, no embarrassment.

What’s the magic? It’s a simple hearing loop.” A wire surrounding the congregation sends a magnetic signal to a sensor—a “telecoil” (or “T-coil”)—that comes at no additional cost with 7 in 10 new hearing aids and all cochlear implants. (For people without such hearing aids, loop receiver/headsets are also available.)
A recent survey invited 866 people with hearing loss to rate, on a 10-point scale, their hearing aids’ performance. In a non-looped setting, the average response was 4.9. In a looped setting it was 8.7.

One person, after first turning on his telecoil and hearing a stunningly clear voice, said it “felt like God was talking.” “The experience of actually hearing such clear sounds was thrilling,” volunteered one worshiper. I describe it as like hearing a voice speaking from the center of my head.

With support from the Hearing Loss Association of America and the American Academy of Audiology, hearing loops are now spreading the nation. Venues range from the small (home TV rooms, New York City subway booths and new taxis), to large (worship places and auditoriums for several thousand), to huge (the Michigan State basketball arena and several airports).

The story is unfinished—your community’s facilities may not yet offer listening assistance that is directly hearing-aid compatible. But sometimes—as in the civil rights, anti-apartheid and anti-hunger movements—the church helps lead the culture. And here is a chance for Unity spiritual communities to do so, while enabling their hard-of-hearing people to hear the word.

 

What Does a Hearing Loop Cost?

Costs range from $140 to $300 for self-installed, home TV-room loops and up to several thousand dollars for professional installation in an average-sized auditorium or worship space. Most ministries can install a hearing loop for little or no more than the cost of one pair of high-end hearing aids, though a large facility with embedded metal will be more expensive. Auditorium hearing loops cost somewhat more than do other assistive listening systems, which require a receiver and headset. But the cost per user is typically less (because many more people will use assistive listening that is hearing-aid compatible). Moreover, hearing loops offer long-term savings from purchasing and maintaining batteries in fewer portable listening units. For the user, the telecoil cost is nominal and typically does not add to the hearing aid price.

David G Myers
David G Myers is a Hope College psychology professor, the author of A Quiet World: Living with Hearing Loss (Yale University Press), and the host of www.hearingloop.org.

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  • Theresa Flanery

    I am so glad to see Unity doing this for those shut off from hearing the world’s greatest message! Keep up the good work.