Help for hearing loss

Putting hearing technology to use at The Shedd and beyond

Alan Anttila (left) visits friends Gerry Moshofsky and Betty Rust, both residents at Eugene Hotel, to test out the hearing loop on Moshofsky’s TV one afternoon.

Vanessa Salvia
Alan Anttila (left) visits friends Gerry Moshofsky and Betty Rust, both residents at Eugene Hotel, to test out the hearing loop on Moshofsky’s TV one afternoon.

PHOTO by VANESSA SALVIA

PHOTO by VANESSA SALVIA

Loop Eugene Committee member and hearing aid wearer Alan Anttila installed a loop in Gerry Moshofsky’s apartment. Outside of paying for installation, the equipment is quite affordable.

By VANESSA SALVIA

For those with hearing loss, the options for hearing better are usually limited to sitting closer or turning up the volume.

But a newer technology is allowing those with hearing aids not only to hear better, but avoid the stigma attached to this common ailment.

The Shedd Institute in Eugene, for example, has installed a “hearing loop” system that enables visitors to its performance halls to hear better.

The technology is called audio frequency induction and, in its simplest form, is a wire hooked up to a hearing loop amplifier and installed around a room.

“The output from either the microphone or sound system goes to the loop amplifier and the loop amplifier sends a current out on a wire that creates a magnetic field that people with cochlear implants and hearing aids can pick up,” says Sheryl Butler, a certified hearing loop installer with Hearing Access Solutions LLC, based in Iowa.

Butler has designed and installed more than 100 hearing loop systems and was recently in Eugene to give a presentation at The Shedd on hearing loop technology.

“This system will take comprehension from maybe 10 percent to up to over 85 percent,” Butler says. “No other assistive system can do that so even people with profound hearing loss are actually able to hear what is being said.”

For a venue like The Shedd, hearing the music and dialogue clearly is key to enjoying the concerts and musical theater performances.

“The loop in our newly-remodeled Jaqua Concert Hall is having a truly profound impact on our friends’ ability to access live music and the spoken word once again,” says Ginevra Ralph, who founded The Shedd in 1991 with her husband Jim. “A former board member who suddenly needed a cochlear implant exclaimed, ‘I never thought I would hear violins again.’”

Sue Prichard, a retired commercial real estate broker in Eugene, was diagnosed with a severe hearing loss at age 50. She and her husband have known the Ralphs for more than 30 years and have attended many performances at The Shedd.

“After attending a show a couple of years ago, we ran into them and I mentioned that although the show was wonderful, I could not hear well enough to enjoy it,” Prichard says. “Ginevra, having been a special education teacher many years ago, and being a staunch believer of 100 percent accessibility, became very interested in what it would take for the hearing impaired to be able to hear their performances.”

Sue and her husband Hugh led a fundraising campaign to loop the Jaqua Hall.

“The combination of The Shedd’s avid fan base, Ginevra and Jim’s deep connections, my hearing loss, and my husband’s and my strong community connections has made that possible,” Prichard says. “What we have learned in this process is that the hearing loop systems are far superior to any other assistive listening devices. Surveys, studies and research show that those of us with hearing impairment rate the sound transmitted through the hearing loop as superior to any other system.”

The Shedd also installed loops in a meeting room, and has a portable loop for the concessions and will-call tables.

The Shedd’s Loop Eugene Committee’s goal is to teach the public about hearing loops and advocate for their installation in appropriate public and private places.

The Ralphs’ goal for this technology is to have every room in The Shedd set up to be as “hearing accessible” as they are “physically accessible,” Ginevra says.

“We looped the large multi-purpose classroom to allow for board and committee meetings as well as classes like the 80-member Road Scholar program we have just had,” she says. “Every speaker was mic’d, the piano/instruments were mic’d, the films and video signals went through the processor system. And during the Q&A sessions the participants had to consciously wait for a handheld microphone to ask their questions so that the telecoil users can hear them.”

The Loop Eugene Committee is hosting free sessions called “Sound Advice,” which invite the public to drop in, check out the loop in the classroom and troubleshoot their own assistive devices.

In the Jaqua Hall, “pick up” mics on the stage send dialogue, instrumentals and singing to the hearing aid user’s telecoil via the loop’s magnetic field.

This technology is also useful in people’s homes.

Gerry Moshofsky, who moved into the Eugene Hotel earlier this year, had his living room looped prior to installing carpet.

“The wire runs under the carpet here in the living room,” he says. “With the telecoil we just push a button on our hearing aid that goes into telecoil mode, and then we can mute the TV and we still can hear it on the telecoil. So, I can hear the television but if you were sitting here we could still have a conversation. Without this I’d have to turn the TV up very loud to be able to hear it, and then we couldn’t converse.”

The telecoil system has advantages over other assistive hearing devices, such as the FM or infrared system which requires the user to wear a headset.

“A lot of times those are hearing aid incompatible,” Butler says, “and if you’re at a venue checking out the box you may have to leave your driver’s license hostage. People don’t like them because it’s obvious they are wearing a device.”

The telecoil system uses a discreet button or a remote control on a hearing aid and nobody knows they’re using a coil.

Sue Prichard has a family history of hearing loss and knows it’s both a “hidden disability” that people try to hide because they’re embarrassed.

“For many years, people were not aware of my hearing loss, both because it is an invisible disability, and because I have always been very determined to stay connected and stay engaged with all of the social and community activities that I have been a part of for the past 45 years in spite of my disability,” she says. “As my hearing loss has become worse, and I could see the potential for the negative impacts, I made a decision to become a vocal and visible advocate. I saw many people around me with hearing loss who retreated and withdrew, because it is difficult to stay connected when you cannot hear.”

Ginevra is acutely aware of how much talent the community loses when someone with hearing loss withdraws, “and they lose their community, conversations, brain functioning and fun,” she says. “If you can’t hear what is going on in a committee meeting, for example, you simply can’t participate. If you can’t hear what is going on at church, the concert hall, restaurants, or even the family dinner table, you stop participating and fade away.”

She feels the social stigma of a disability is lessening, but hearing problems won’t be going away.

“Being hard of hearing is truly going to be the ‘new normal’ before long given the aging population and all the kids with earbuds in their ears all the time,” Ginevra says. “People with hearing loss need to become strong advocates for themselves, too — that means ‘coming out of the silence.’”

Prichard knows first-hand that most people who are hearing impaired would prefer to be able to hear well, and furthermore, most of them would like to not have to explain it to people.

“It can be embarrassing, because no matter how good your hearing aids are, words are still missed,” she says. “Even with the most expensive hearing aids, one never regains full hearing capacity. It is unlike glasses, where when you get glasses, you are back to 20/20 vision. With hearing aids, there is improvement, but there are still significant challenges in word comprehension.” ■

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