Assistive Listening Technologies

The assistive listening systems that are most commonly available today are predominantly based on the following technologies:

  •  Hearing Loops and T-coils (telecoils)
  •  Infrared transmitters and receivers
  •  FM / Radio transmitters and receivers

There are also some new technologies emerging. Keep checking back here for more information.

For a detailed look at the advantages, limitations, applications, compliance and applicable standards associated with each technology, along with a brief description of how each technology works, click on the button below.

As described in our guide there are advantages and limitations to each technology depending on the application and the environment which it will be used in. However, the most commonly installed systems rely on a combination of hearing loops and T-coils.

A user’s perspective

Improve compliance:

'Don't forget to tell them about loops!'

only 22% of hearing aid recipients are told about hearing aid accessories

Hearing loops and T-coils are still the only technology that meet all the needs of hearing aid users, including intelligibility, discretion, ease of use, transient use and availability.

However, only 22% of hearing aid recipients are told about hearing aid accessories by their health care provider. Source: https://ihlma.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Telecoil-availability-in-hearing-aids.pdf

There appears to be a common misconception by users that relatively few hearing aids have T-coils equipped. In fact, in a recent review of the connectivity of 462 hearing aids and their 756 variants, 286 (38%) had a Telecoil fitted as standard and 316 (42%) had the option to have a Telecoil enabled.

There are a number of factors affecting a user’s compliance with their hearing aid device, including first impressions and utility, if a hearing aid user’s first experience with a T-coil and loop is poor they are unlikely to use the function in the future, drastically reducing the benefit of T-coil enabled device.

Therefore, on behalf of our customers, we are seeking a renewed commitment from the hearing instrument manufacturing and dispensing community to raise awareness and improve equality of access to audio for all hearing aid users.

The importance of hearing loops and T-coils to patients, clients and customers

Access to intelligible broadcast audio signals is a right not a privilege.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD 2006) recognises that everyone is of equal value, has the right to make their own decisions, and should be treated with fairness, dignity, and respect.

This led to many countries developing their own legislation protecting the rights of individuals; for example The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), UK Equality Act and European Accessibility Act, to name just a few.

It therefore follows that the 15% of the population who experience significant hearing loss are no less entitled to access to broadcast audio than anybody else.

Many reports reflect the importance of hearing loops and assistive listening:

 

79% have left an establishment early because it was too noisy.
91% said they wouldn’t return to a venue with high noise levels.
Dixon, L. (2016). Speak Easy: Hearing the views of your customers. Action on Hearing Loss.
Research shows that appropriate sound can increase retail sales by over 30 percent and triple productivity for some workers.
Treasure, J. (2007). Sound business.
In schools, up to 70% of the consonants spoken by teachers cannot be heard by pupils.
Speech Intelligibility in Classrooms: A research project. The Department of Building Engineering & Surveying of Herriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.
70% of respondents agreed that hearing loss sometimes prevented them from fulfilling their potential at work.
Approximately two-thirds (68%) agreed they sometimes felt isolated at work because of their hearing loss
Arrowsmith, L. (2014). Hidden Disadvantage. Action on Hearing Loss.
A 2016 study asked 866 adult users of T-coil equipped hearing aids and cochlear implants to rate their ability to understand speech, in places such as places of worship, theatres and auditoriums and conference rooms.
 
Less than 14 percent rated their ability to hear without a hearing loop above a seven. However, while listening in a looped area, 86 percent rated their experience between eight and ten.

So, what can you as Audiologists and hearing support professionals do to help?

Advantages of hearing loops and T-coils

T-coil users can receive a sound signal directly to their own hearing aid or cochlear implant without the need for a separate receiver. Therefore, by bypassing any external or background noise and other acoustic distortions, the quality and intelligibility of that sound is much greater.

In addition, hearing loops and T-coils:

Where to get a supporting information and a hearing loop demonstration kit

To help you support and educate your service users we have put together some information that you may find useful:

• [links to end user and advocate pages]

• [IHLMA e-resources – to be created]

o Hearing loops, loop signs and where to find them

o Hearing Loop Registry

o How to discreetly request access to a loop or report lack thereof (IHLMA cards see HLAA)

• [links to professional bodies – see end user and advocate pages]

• [Hearing loop demonstration kits are available from….to be determined]

How do a T-coil and Hearing Loop Work Together?

To replace loops:

  • All the stakeholders have to agree on something that could provide universal access. This would require technology that is open, non-proprietary, global and simple. It would also have to work with low power consumption, sufficient range, low latency and low cost. This is not so easy, especially with so many stakeholders with vested interests.

 

  • Once something is agreed and standards are published, devices need to be designed with the new technology. For hearing aids, that most probably means a trickle down of technology from the premium instruments to the mass market devices over a number of years.

 

  • Then there is a period of time for these new devices to enter the market and get a sensible proportion of the hearing aid user base. Again, several years at least.

 

  • Then there will be a long period where the existing technology – loops – will remain very relevant because of the high number of installed systems and a majority of hearing devices not having the new connectivity. There is likely to be a bridge period where installed systems are either backward compatible (radio receivers with neckloops) or forward compatible (loop receiver to radio convertor)

In the final part of their statement the IHAC* set realistic expectations:

"HA/CI [Hearing aid / cochlear implant] users require continued quality hearing access in public places which is currently, and in the foreseeable future, provided by TC [T-coil] and HL/ALS [hearing loop / assistive listening solutions]. The rights of HA/CI users to access must be continued and maintained during this period of technological change and shall not be compromised by the promise and overly optimistic expectations of a future technology development."

*The International Hearing Access Committee (IHAC), includes representatives from:

International Federation of Hard of Hearing People

Deutschen Schwerhörigenbundes e.V. (DSB)

International Hearing Loop Manufacturers Association (IHLMA)

European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association (EHIMA)

European Federation of Hard of Hearing People (EFHOH) · Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA)