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Assistive Listening Systems – What They Are, What Their Benefits Are, and How to Find and Access an ALS

If you have hearing loss, or if you have a loved one with hearing loss, you shouldn’t need to worry about missing out on sound – like speeches or performances – when you attend public events. To ensure that you have access to sound in public venues, you should be aware of Assistive Listening Systems (ALSs).

Hearing aid-compatible assistive listening systems are required in any public venue that has a public address (PA) system. This is because the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) stresses that people with hearing loss have the same right as people with normal hearing to hear well in public venues or places of assembly. Being aware of ALS requirements and advancements can help you better access sound in these public places.

There are four main types of assistive listening systems that are currently used:

  • Hearing Loops: A hearing loop is a wire that is hidden around a seating area in a public venue. The loop is plugged into an amplifier that connects to the PA system, and the loop then transmits the PA system sound as a silent electromagnetic signal. Wire coils called telecoils, which are found in most hearing aid models today, then receive the electromagnetic signal and convert it back into sound.
  • RF Systems: An RF system uses radio waves to transmit sound to a receiver and earphones. People with hearing loss can borrow these receivers and earphones, and the receiver captures the radio waves and sends them to the user via the earphones.

If an RF system has been installed or updated since 2012, it is required by the ADA to pair 25 percent of receivers with neck loops rather than earphones. Neck loops work the same as a hearing loop, but on an individual basis. The neck loop is plugged into the receiver and transmits the sound electromagnetically to hearing aid telecoils.

  • IR Systems: Instead of using radio waves, an IR system transmits sound via invisible light beams. These beams are then converted back into sound in the same manner as an RF system.
  • Wi-Fi Systems: This type of system uses an existing Wi-Fi network to deliver sound through audio streaming to smartphones or tablets using a connected app. While these Wi-Fi systems are increasing in popularity, they do not meet the ADA standards for an ALS because they require the users to provide their own smartphone or tablet.

In addition to ensuring that people with hearing loss are able to access sound in public assembly places, an ALS can hold additional benefits. All types of ALS allow the user to separate the sound they want to hear – such as a speech or a musical performance – from background noise and other sounds.

Hearing loops are especially popular because they do not require the user to borrow any equipment from the venue. This both simplifies the system (and doesn’t require the user to remove their hearing aid) and alleviates any hygienic concern about borrowed devices. Because of these reasons, a recent study found that hearing aid users are six times more likely to use a hearing loop in a public venue than another type of ALS.

If you would like to access an ALS at a public venue, look for the required ALS signage. Ask about the assistive listening system at the information desk or box office. They will be able to provide you with the necessary information and equipment (if needed).

To learn more about assistive listening systems and how they can benefit you, please contact our audiology office today. We are happy to help!

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