By Janis Ringette

The first hearing loop in the James Bay neighbourhood was installed at the sit-down counter at the Thrifty Foods Pharmacy on August 8. Less than a month later, two hearing loops-- at the reception desk and in a meeting room--were installed at Somerset House, a retirement residence at 540 Dallas Road. If other locations follow these progressive leaders, our community could become the friendliest and most accessible community in Victoria for people with hearing loss.

Hearing loops help solve a big problem for those who wear hearing aids. Though hearing aids work well in quiet, small spaces, they do not work very well in large, open spaces where sound bounces off high ceilings and distant walls; the echoes produced are picked up by hearing aids. People with hearing aids have great difficulty hearing what they want to hear in public areas.

A telecoil hearing loop diminishes troublesome background noise and improves sound clarity dramatically. Here is how it works. A copper wire is "looped" around the periphery of a counter or a room (or even a stadium) and is connected to the sound system. Sound is transmitted directly from a microphone to hearing aids and cochlear implants which are equipped with a tiny copper telecoil wire. One man described the improvement this way: "It was like going from a rough gravel road to fresh asphalt."

Residents who visit the sit-down counter at the James Bay Thrifty Foods Pharmacy will notice a blue sign with a white ear and the letter T. That image is the universal symbol indicating a t-coil hearing loop is available. To use the system, a customer steps near the counter and switches on the telecoil function in her hearing aids. When a staff person speaks into the black microphone attached to the computer screen, the sound goes directly to the t-coil wire in the hearing aids.

Telecoil is included in most hearing aids (including Costco's cheaper house brands) for those with moderate and severe hearing loss. However, many in Victoria have never used their t-coil function. Some will need to ask their hearing aid companies to turn it on and explain how to use it. As more and more locations provide hearing loops in Victoria, turning on the t-coil setting will become a normal every day event.

Vancity Credit Union has been a stand-out leader in accessibility in British Columbia. Vancity installed counter loops at all 56 branches. Everyone is welcome, customer or not, to visit and try out a counter loop. The closest branch to James Bay is at 752 Fort Street.

In Europe, loop systems are common at customer-service counters, theatres, churches and even airports. In the U.K., where access for the hearing disabled is required by law, most post offices and 11,500 taxis are looped. In North America, we are far behind.

Though hearing loops are ideal for people who wear hearing aids, two different assistive listening systems--FM and Infrared--are appropriate for people who are hard of hearing but do not wear hearing aids. Personal hearing aids are the only equipment necessary to use a loop, so the number of users is unlimited, but locations offering FM and IF must provide headphones, and the number of users is limited to the number of headphones. Victoria City Council Chambers has an FM system, but has only one headphone available. By contrast, James Bay New Horizons provides FM with twelve headphones available. The James Bay United Church has an Infrared system.

A database listing locations with assistive listening systems in Greater Victoria was compiled for the Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre (IDHHC) and will soon be available on their website. In the meantime, a PDF of the database is available by emailing jar@islandnet.com

An online database of locations with assistive listening systems across North America is available at . To find locations nearest your home, type in your postal code, and listings will be automatically sorted by distance.