Hearing Aids Aren't Always Enough

Date Posted: 9/19/2011

True or false: A good sound system fits all hearing needs.

Jess Pettey, longtime member of St. Luke’s UMC in Houston and an active leader with the Hearing Loss Association of Houston, will tell you otherwise. “If you can’t hear what the teacher or preacher are saying at church, you might rather stay home than be frustrated,” he says. According to current statistics, with the popularity of Mp3 players, hunting and live concerts, 10-15% of all ages have a hearing loss. Hearing loss impacts 50% of those in their 70s.


The American Disabilities Act requires any facility with 50 permanent chairs or more to provide some kind of assisted listening system. Notes Pettey, “While churches are exempt from this requirement, most would want to voluntarily provide it for their congregations if they understood the tremendous benefit for an aging population and others with hearing challenges.” Convincing church leaders of the need for an investment in listening devices comes down to education and awareness, primarily, he says.


“Surprisingly,” he adds, “hearing aids are not very effective in large groups and large rooms. It is almost like we can hear everything, so it becomes harder to distinguish speech amidst the background noises.” As an active proponent of the national initiative called “Get in the Loop” America, Pettey began educating the leadership and Senior Adult group at St. Luke’s on several options to bring greater word clarity to those hard of hearing.


The three primary options to provide hearing assistance beyond the typical sound system are:


1) an FM system that requires supplying hand held receivers,


2) an infrared system that also uses hand receivers and


3) an induction loop system which is deemed the most user-friendly option and lowest maintenance.


An induction loop is a thin strand of insulated wire circling a room, a chair or even worn around your neck. Most hearing aids and coclear implants have telecoils with manual controls that can tie into the looped signal. The wire receives a signal from an amplifier and lets the individual hear clearly while keeping the volume level unchanged for other listeners.


Electricians can typically handle simple installations, but trained specialists can compensate for challenging environments. So far this year, St. Luke’s has installed a loop system in the sanctuary and parlor. (Note: churches will find this much more affordable to install during construction or remodeling than after-the-fact.) For more information on hearing loop technology, go to: www.hearingloop.org/loop/America  or email Jess Pettey about church related installations at jpettey24@comcast.net. Adds Pettey, “I hope church leaders will begin to learn about these hearing assistance options and budget for it, because hearing what is said at church is life changing!”