Tuesday, 12 August 2014

It's time for Ottawa to get in the hearing loop

I spent the better part of two years working in the hearing industry.
As with nearly all the journeys I've taken for work, I knew nothing about hearing loss.
I don't believe I knew anybody who wore hearing aids. I saw a few around, those bananaramas sported by old folk when I worked in a nursing home for the summer. A lot of those folks still cupped their ears and yelled at people, mostly because the people in question also suffered from dementia and no one bothered to check their hearing aid batteries or clean the wax out.
Sucks to be old, suffering from dementia AND have hearing loss.
I once heard a funny story about Eddie Fisher who suffered both hearing loss and dementia in his latter years. His daughter Carrie had to keep replacing the aids because Eddie thought they were candy and kept eating them.
That's pretty expensive candy, with the average pair of hearing aids costing more than $3,000. You can buy a lot of jujubes for that.
Anyway, along my travels I encountered a nice fellow named Bill Droogendyk at the meeting. Bill has a company called Better Hearing Solutions and he is in the business of "looping" churches and living rooms for people who wear hearing aids.
He filled me in on how they work.
Looping technology has been around for more than 20 years and is all the rage in Europe where even the Underground is looped to enhance the hearing experience for folks.
Loops are also being used in taxicabs in New York City and Yankee Stadium has them around their concession and ticket stands.
Hearing loops are simple and involve running a simple copper wire around an area to allow the person with hearing aids to hear everything and everybody in that area. So granddad can finally hear the tellie properly and the church patrons can actually listen to a sermon.
The key to the looping system is something called a T Coil, which is a little device that is in most hearing aids. The audiologist or hearing aid specialist has to switch on. Nothing could be easier.
Trouble is audiologists in this country, for some reason, either neglect to tell their clients about the T Coil or figure they don't need it since there are very few places they can use them.
This has infuriated hearing advocates here and in the States because essentially they see it as a missed opportunity for people who may have been sitting in silence for decades. It's also a missed business opportunity in a country that prides itself on being the most wired place in the world.
Which leads me to my point.
Why is Canada so far behind in the looping game when the technology is very cheap?
Why isn't the City of Ottawa, say, looping OC Transpo and arranging to have looping installed in the new LRT system? Why aren't our libraries, the new stadium at Landsdowne and Service Ontario looping their customer service areas?
I can see all kinds of applications.
For example, a person with hearing loss can buy a chair cover with a built-in amplifier which he or she can take anywhere -- in the car, to a conference room or any small space -- and place microphones within a six foot radius and hear EVERYTHING people are saying. No more lip reading, no more asking people to talk louder. This little kit costs under $500!
A car can be looped so mom can hear the kids in the back seat, talk on the telephone, and listen to the radio like a regular person. This technology is available and just ready for the asking.
Looping has huge potential for businesses who are looking for new customers, and can declare their businesses hearing friendly.
The looping of buses or cars or hotel meeting rooms is very cost effect and would change the lives of people with hearing loss overnight. One of the reps who installs these systems told me about a seminar he conducted in a hotel meeting room which he looped for the patrons. He told them to turn on their T coils and all of a sudden these people, who all had hearing loss, could hear a seminar for the first time in ages. He said some of them actually broke down and started crying.
And yet, for many of the 10 percent of people with hearing loss, the T Coil remains inactive.
They remain, in essence, unplugged.
I saw a campaign aimed at business.
It had a logo with an ear and the message was simple.
Activate your T Coil.
And so I'm asking you, people of Ottawa, to tell your audiologists to activate your T Coil.
And I'm asking the City of Ottawa to develop a looping plan for this city to change the lives of the people of this city and set an example for other municipalities.
It's an election year, Jim Watson.
It could make you pretty popular with some nice folks who deserve better.
What do you think, Diane Deans? What about looping OC?
What about it Blue Line?
Why not follow the lead of New York cabbies?
It would be part of my platform if I were running for Mayor.

Anyone who wants to know more about looping can contact me.
I can set you up.
I know people.

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