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Wisconsin churches, others install hearing loops

  • Associated Press
  • January 27, 2014 - 10:45 AM

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — Mary Jane and Terry Griffin used to plant themselves in a rear pew at their church in Eau Claire in the hope that sitting by a speaker would help them hear the Mass.

But now, the couple can sit anywhere they want because the church has installed a hearing loop, which boosts sound so their hearing aids can pick it up.

Hundreds of hearing loops have been installed in Wisconsin, many of them in churches and libraries, according to The Leader-Telegram of Eau Claire (http://bit.ly/1hEDAvD ).

A hearing loop contains a microphone to pick up sound, an amplifier that processes the noise and a coil that functions as an antenna. The coil runs around the perimeter of a room, sending a signal picked up by the telecoils in hearing aids or cochlear implants.

The Griffins learned about hearing loops at a conference and passed on the information to their priest at St. James the Greater Catholic Church. The Rev. John Schultz then researched the technology before recommending the church pastoral council approve installation of the $6,700 system.

"We're in the hospitality business," said Jacky Miller, St. James pastoral minister. "When people come to church, we want them to hear, so they can participate."

The Griffins said the loop has improved their experience at church.

"I'm just absolutely amazed at how well we can hear," Mary Jane Griffin said.

In general, churches can be difficult places for people to hear, said Per Forsberg, the owner of Chippewa Falls-based Audio Architects, which installs hearing loops.

"Sanctuary spaces are typically very reverberant, and intelligibility with a hearing aid goes completely down the tubes," he said.

With a hearing loop, people with hearing aids can set the telecoils to pick up sound from the microphone linked to the system, rather than their hearing aid's internal microphone, resulting in a clearer signal without background noise.

"One of the advantages, which people like, is they don't hear any of the distractions immediately around them," said the Rev. Brett Voigt, of St. Paul's Lutheran in Menomonie, which installed a hearing loop more than a year ago.

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