Hearing clearly at Independence Visitor Center

    In crowded rooms, overpowering background noise can make comprehension difficult for those who wear hearing aids. The aids amplify every noise, not just the voice a listener is trying to understand. Advocates say hearing loops, likened to Wi-Fi for hearing aids, can fix that.

    Though loops have long been common in Europe, they are relatively rare in the U.S. One of the first public places in the Philadelphia area to be equipped with one is the visitors center at Independence National Park.

    Marianne Lock, president of the Hearing Loss Association of America’s Bucks County Chapter, was behind the installation.

    “A normal hearing person, your brain can distinguish speech from background noise,” said Lock. “With a hearing aid, it amplifies everything, so it’s just a cacophony of noise in the background.”

    A few years ago, Lock was standing in the lobby of the Independence Visitor Center on a noisy day and could not hear anything the employee at the help desk was trying to tell her.

    So she called on her brother–who happens to be the visitor’s center CEO–to get a hearing loop put in.

    Found most often in churches and synagogues, loops consist of a thin strand of copper wire installed in a loop, typically in the floor or ceiling. It is hooked up to a microphone, and emits electromagnetic signals. Those signals are picked up by a tiny receiver built into about 60 percent of hearing aids.

    Lock’s husband, Martin Lock, had a visitors center employee speak into the loop’s microphone to test it out on a recent morning.

    “It sounds much clearer,” Martin Lock said. “It’s coming directly into my hearing aid, as if she’s yelling into my ear almost.”

    Two national advocacy organizations have launched a campaign to get the loops installed in more places in the U.S.; subways in New York City have started using them.

    Locally, a loop at the Lansdale library is in progress, and there have been discussions about installing systems in Philadelphia International Airport.

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