BURLINGTON — People with hearing aids hear many things they otherwise wouldn’t — music and voices … and the rustling of papers or clearing of throats several feet away. With all the excess background noise, listening to a presentation or speaker in a public place can be difficult.
The hearing loop system recently installed at the Burlington Public Library reduces that background noise, tuning in directly to each person’s hearing device and helping them hear only what’s important.
“We’re always looking at using technology to make things better for people,” library director Maggie Buckholz said.
The hearing loop works by transmitting magnetic energy directly into a person’s hearing device fitted with a telecoil (or T-coil) using a series of wires placed around a room or area. It can be used in areas as small as around a rocking chair to as big as an entire house.
“I can turn on the loop and he can turn on the loop, and the rest of you don’t have to hear that amplification,” said Joanna Olmstead, who, with her husband Jerry, helped bring the loop to the library.
At the Burlington library, the loop is set up in the conference room and in a small area around the reception desk.
“The T-coil allows you to use what is designed for you personally,” Jerry Olmstead said. “It’s old technology. It’s not a new technology; the U.S. is just behind the curve.”
Buckholz said the Olmsteads, who both rely on hearing devices, approached her with the idea of having the loop installed. While she thought it was a good idea, the $6,000 price tag was a little high.
“I looked at it and went, ‘We don’t have this money,’” she said.
However, with the help of the Olmsteads’ fundraising efforts and community support, Buckholz said the money was raised.
The Olmsteads said they thought the induction loop would be a good fit for the library because they know from experience how many hearing-impaired people visit the library. And because hearing impairment is not just an age issue, it’s an all-inclusive addition for the library.
“It makes it possible for people in the community to contribute,” Jerry Olmstead said. “Without that, they stay at home, buried in the closet.”
Only a few other locations in Skagit County are equipped with the induction hearing loops: Anacortes City Hall, the Anacortes Library and Bethany Covenant Church in Mount Vernon, Buckholz said.
“It really should be in every building,” Buckholz said. “It allows the hard of hearing to participate in community and government.”
The library has a portable device that can demonstrate what the induction loop does, even for people who are not hearing impaired. Anyone is welcome to try it, Buckholz said, they just have to ask at the reception desk.