You Don’t Look Like You Have a Hearing Loss

An Interview with a Hearing Loop Advocate

Janice Schacter Lintz, the Ralph Nader of the hearing world, has been on a mission over the past decade to install hearing loops in public places for people of all ages who suffer from hearing loss. Thanks in part to her work, the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Botanical Garden, and the New York subway information booths, among many other places, are now equipped with hearing loops. After meeting Janice, I made sure that the new Phonak hearing aids I recently purchased not only had a music setting for playing classical piano music, but also a T-coil, which is a miniature antenna inside my aid that picks up sounds from hearing loops. I recently caught up with Janice for GRAND PIANO PASSION™.

I’m still confused by how hearing loops work. Could you explain?

You go to a museum and you want to watch the video at an exhibit, so you put your hearing aid on the T-coil setting. All other sound is cut out, so that the only thing that’s coming through your hearing aid is the video sound. The technology is not new, but I’ll give a brief overview. Basically a looped room has a wire that connects to the sound source, like a video or person speaking into a microphone, and that loop wirelessly transmits the sound directly to hearing aids on the T-coil setting.

What matters is how crystal clear the sound is from the loop.

That’s right. You’re not hearing all the people chattering in the background, you’re not asking other people for permission to hear, you’re in control of the situation. Your own hearing aid regulates the volume. You don’t have the stigma of a device. Why would anybody want to wear something big around their neck?

You’re talking about those assistive listening devices that you can get at a theater, for example?

Yes. When you request one of those devices, at the counter you have to self-identify as someone who has a hearing loss. Sometimes you get, “You don’t LOOK like you have a hearing loss.” I’m interested to know what someone who has a hearing loss is supposed to look like.

Your daughter, Arielle Schacter—an 18-year-old with a moderate-to-severe hearing loss—does she get that sometimes?

All the time. She recently wrote an article on her blog asking, what does a person with a hearing loss look like?

I love that. So give me an example of a place where you helped to have a hearing loop installed.

My daughter went to Shake Shack some time ago with her friends. After she placed the order, the cashier read it back to her, but my daughter had no idea what he said since the restaurant was noisy, and she couldn’t hear him. Like so many people with a hearing loss, she was embarrassed to admit her difficulty hearing, so she just nodded her head. I ended up writing to Danny Meyers, who is the owner of Shake Shack and the Union Square Café, and he installed a hearing loop at the Upper West Side Shake Shack as a pilot. When we went to Shake Shack recently, Arielle ordered the food, she confirmed the repeated information, and the order came just the way she asked for it.

So was the person who was taking the order speaking into a different microphone?

No, it was the same microphone; it was just wired into the hearing loop.

That must be a huge relief. I suspect that not many people with a hearing loss know about T-coil and hearing loops

Currently, only three states require audiologists to advise about the T-coil. Arizona is the only state that requires it on the bill of lading. New York and Florida just require disclosure, but frankly, I have yet to have an audiologist tell me about it.

So what would be the magic word? You go to your audiologist, and you say: I want …

I want a T-coil in my hearing aid. And if they say you don’t need it, find another audiologist.

You see, consumers rely on audiologists or hearing aid dispensers for information, but some sell you what they want to sell you, which is typically what has the biggest profit margin or is the easiest to program. They don’t tell you to go to their competitor because they don’t offer a hearing aid with a T-coil for your level of hearing loss, or it takes too much time to explain how approximately a $50 device works. There is an urgent need for somebody to represent the people with a hearing loss. It’s easy for me since I am not paid, and I cannot be fired, so I have taken on that role.

You have testified in the U.S. Congress about the problem of hearing devices in national parks. How did that come about?

While going on vacations with my daughter Arielle, we found that access in national parks was horrific. The assistive listening devices were either broken or not there, and someone told me that I could file something called a 504 complaint, and make sure that it said 504 complaint in the subject line because it raises the issue to the top of the pile by creating a federally mandated timeline. Life should have a 504 complaint deadline. I started filing so many 504 complaints that they asked me to testify in Congress, so I did. Subsequently, I was asked to conduct training seminars on the issue and also helped to write the guidelines for effective access at national parks.

What about for people who are not in the Greater New York area, what are the existing resources for them?

The induction loop system is slowly going into other states. It’s already installed at the ticket windows in Disney World, the Chrysler Museum auditorium in Virginia, and Ben and Jerry’s Factory Tour in Vermont, to name a few. The awareness is definitely increasing, and the demand is increasing as well. People can check out for more locations. Build it, and they will come.

If you wear a hearing aid that has a T-coil, look for signs in public places indicating a loop: the universal symbol for hearing assistance—an ear with a white line through it on a blue background—along with the letter “T.”

Copyright © 2018 Nancy M. Williams. All Rights Reserved.

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