Breaking down barriers for hard of hearing

A hearing loop first for Red Deer

Desiree Bauer, spokesperson with Speak Up Central Alberta

A barrier-free advocate hopes the use of a hearing loop to assist people with hearing aids last month in Red Deer was only the beginning.

Desiree Bauer, who uses a hearing aid and runs the support group Speak Up Central Alberta, said the International Day of Persons with Disabilities community event held Dec. 5 at Carnival Cinemas was the first barrier-free event for those with hearing aids in the city.

“It was very exciting. We see ourselves as welcoming and inclusive and this is one part of accessibility that I think we overlook,” said Bauer who was part of the organizing committee for the event.

A hearing loop was temporarily installed at Carnival Cinemas to provide a magnetic, wireless signal to hearing aids to provide better sound quality.

“What happens with hearing aids is sound ricochets and bounces around all over the place and we hear all of that in our hearing aids. When there is hearing loop installed, we switch to a special program in our hearing aid and now we don’t hear the background noise in the theatre or the event. We hear what is directly coming through the microphone in our ears,” Bauer said.

She said Red Deer College’s Arts Centre uses an FM system that requires people to take out their hearing aids and borrow one of eight headsets to amplify the sound on stage but does not match the unique frequency needs of each person. City council chambers also has an FM system.

“It’s like giving everybody a generic pair of glasses.”

She said hearing loops are a old technology and Europe is well looped.

“It is starting to make a movement in Canada and it’s becoming very relevant in 2017 because the federal government is working on putting together a Canadians with Disabilities Act. We don’t have one in this country. With that act they will be mandating that accessibility includes the hard of hearing,” Bauer said.

Lee Ramsdell, vice-president of Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, Edmonton branch, said the City of Edmonton has been very proactive when it comes to loop technology. Service counters at libraries, rec centres and city hall have loops. Counters at a new city office tower and meeting rooms will also be looped.

Walterdale Play Theatre and Maclab Theatre at the Citadel are looped.

“I went to the Fringe Festival in Edmonton and took in a play at the Walterdale this past summer and it was the first time in my life, and I’m just about 60, that I heard every word of the play. It was fantastic,” Bauer said.

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