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First United Methodist Benton Installs Hearing Loop Technology

By Amy Forbus
Editor, The Arkansas Conference

(read original article here)

The sanctuary at First United Methodist Church Benton now offers an enhanced worship experience for attendees who use hearing aids or cochlear implants: a “hearing loop” system.

In large rooms with reverberation and echoes, such as many church sanctuaries, a hearing aid cannot always do its job well. A hearing loop eliminates those stumbling blocks, sending the sound from the public address system directly to a person’s hearing aid.

The hearing loop itself is a copper wire that is concealed around the perimeter of a given area—in First UMC Benton’s case, most of the sanctuary, excluding the choir loft. The wire and a driver connect to the public address system, creating a magnetic field.

Inside that field, a hearing aid equipped with a telecoil (also called a t-coil, t-switch or telephone switch) becomes the user’s personal receiver. It picks up the sound coming through the microphones while cutting out sources of background noise that can make comprehension difficult for listeners who have hearing impairment.

lisa-richey-hearing-loop-first-unitied-methodist-church-bentonAt the Feb. 7 lunch gathering of the church’s DMA (Don’t Mention Age) group, audiologist Dr. Lisa Richey of Saline Audiology Associates presented information on the newly installed system. Arkansas Loops, a division of Saline Audiology, installed the hearing loop at First UMC Benton.

“It makes everything come in clean and crisp, right in your ear,” Richey said. “So if somebody is in front of you turning pages in the Bible, turning pages in the hymnal or making noise, it doesn’t make any difference. It’s coming straight from the source, straight to your ear.”

Hearing loop technology is well established in Europe, and as telecoils become more common, its use is spreading across the United States. Richey said that most people who come to her clinic for a hearing aid opt for a telecoil-equipped version.

“As of recent times, we are giving everybody a telecoil in their hearing aid if at all possible,” she said.

Telecoils usually can be programmed for an individual’s specific level of hearing loss, and unlike Bluetooth or FM-dependent hearing assistance devices, a telecoil doesn’t drain additional battery power beyond what the hearing aid already uses.

For those without telecoils, devices called “loop listeners” also work with the hearing loop system. Loop listeners tend to be less user-friendly because of their conspicuous nature, and they often must be checked out and back in, creating an extra step for the user. Conversely, a telecoil can be turned on and off while the hearing aid remains in the user’s ear.

“If you know that you have a telephone switch in your hearing aid, then all you have to do is push a button, turn it on, and you’re already hooked up—you’re ready to go,” Richey said.

Areas equipped with hearing loops post signs that include a “T” in the lower right-hand corner to notify telecoil users that the technology is available. Churches aren’t the only place loops have been put to use: Amtrak ticket booths, some pharmacy counters, more than 12,000 seats in Michigan State University’s basketball arena and even parts of Walt Disney World include hearing loop technology.

The Rev. David Jones, senior pastor of First UMC Benton, said that a designated gift from an anonymous church member made the hearing loop installation possible. He added that the congregation may now install hearing loops in other parts of the church building.

“We are in the process of offering it to our Sunday School classes,” he said.

Jones has received several positive comments from worshippers who feel reconnected with the worship experience after years of struggling to comprehend what they were hearing.

“One of our long-term members expressed to me that not only could he hear the sermon for the first time in years, but also he could hear the music clearly,” Jones said. “In his words, ‘I did not miss a single note!’”

Tommy Reed, a member of First UMC Benton who has some hearing impairment, recently had his telecoil activated and began using the loop during worship services.

“I feel good about it,” he said, noting that he no longer has a problem hearing what the pastor and the music minister are saying. “I think it’s a real good idea that someone brought it up, and it’s just going to be a help all the way around.”


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