An audiologist felt so strongly about the benefits of a new hearing technology system that she brought it to her synagogue. But she didn’t stop there.
“My husband and I were very passionate to have this at our synagogue because it would make our services and classes more accessible to people wearing hearing aids,” Dr. Rita Chaiken said.
Chaiken didn’t stop at getting a hearing loop installed at Congregation B’nai Torah in Sandy Springs. She invited local leaders to a demonstration to show others how well the system helps people hear.
Now, Saint Luke’s Presbyterian Church in Dunwoody plans to have a hearing loop installed the week of Oct. 12.
Nick Hobbs founded Active Life Hearing Loops, LLC, in 2012, after meeting Chaiken at a training meeting about hearing loops. Though Hobbs works as a systems engineer, he started installing hearing loops part time because he understood the importance of the technology, which he learned was more prevalent in Europe, he said.
“My mother taught literature to deaf students,” Hobbs said. “In recent years, when I learned about this technology, I thought ‘Wow, this is a great way to include people.’”
His business is now growing into more full-time work, he said. A church in Buckhead is also interested in hearing loop technology and Hobbs said he is putting together a proposal.
Though the technology is fairly simple, it can get expensive to install. Chaiken said B’nai Torah decided to wait a few years from 2012 and install the loop as part of planned renovations in the synagogue. The loop was completed in 2014.
Hearing loops are wires that circle a room and connect to a sound system. The loop transmits the sound electromagnetically. The electromagnetic signal is then picked up by the telecoil in a hearing aid or cochlear implant.
Dr. Helena Solodar chairs the Georgia Commission for Hearing Impaired and Deaf Persons. She said the group wants to “loop Georgia” from its court systems that already have hearing loops to checkout lines in grocery stores.
“Looping systems are an amazing and relatively inexpensive way to provide hearing access from a speaker system to an ear with very little trouble,” Solodar said. “Any sound coming out of the sound system will be delivered directly to the person’s ear, if they have a working telecoil.”
Sometime the audiologist has to activate the software for a patient, but the technology for telecoils has been around more than 60 years, she said.
Dave McKenney has been a trustee and member of Saint Luke’s since it was founded in 1969. He and Roby Price, the church’s facilities manager, accepted Chaiken’s invitation to the hearing loop demonstration.
Price said he had been looking for solutions to help people hear better in the church’s sanctuary, where the acoustics were designed more for music than for speakers. The church plans to spend $8,000 in donated money to pay for the double loop installation. Hobbs will run the wires around the sanctuary and between the rows of pews, taping the wire to the floor. Then carpet will be installed over the existing brick, which has been the floor for 28 years, Price said.
McKenney said he was so excited by the demonstration at B’nai Torah that he immediately went to his audiologist to have his telecoil activated.
“[During the demonstration] my hearing aids didn’t have the telecoils activated, so we both were given small hand-held receivers and conventional earbuds,” McKenney said, “and were impressed at how clearly sound was transmitted into our ears, without the background echo of their hall.”
Rev. Shannon Dill, with Saint Luke’s, said the hearing loop is the best technology available for helping hearing impaired folks. She said many members of the congregation — both older and young — rely on hearing assistance devices, but still have trouble hearing speakers in the sanctuary.
“We have worked over the years to make physical enhancements to our facility, but none of them have made the difference in terms of clarity and reach that the hearing loop will provide,” Dill said. “With the loop, you can be seated anywhere in our sanctuary and be able to hear.”