Assistive Listening Technology

People who are hard of hearing may have trouble hearing a speaker in a public auditorium or meeting room, even if they use hearing aids or have cochlear implants.  Assistive listening technology is a way your organization can improve the quality and volume of the audio delivered to these audience members.  There are many options. 

This article will cover some of the issues and solutions.

The basic idea of assistive listening systems is that the audio signal is collected and transmitted to units that "feed" into a person's hearing aids or cochlear implant.

  • Some are portable and some are built into the architecture or the room's equipment and furniture. If you are remodeling an auditorium or meeting space, you should look into adding assistive listening. If you have to serve several spaces, one or more portable systems may be better.
  • Some devices use a separate microphone; some collect the audio from the PA system.  
  • Some use headphones (so people without hearing aids or cochlear implants can benefit); some work only with hearing aids and cochlear implants and use "loop" technology.
  • Some transmit by radio (with possible interference); some use infrared (the user must be within sight of the transmitter).

Portable assistive listening systems are available for rent, with a master unit and as many receivers as you may need. Rental prices can be high, however, so if you will have an ongoing need, purchasing may be a better route.

Ask other organizations in your area how they address this need; they may have equipment you can borrow, or may be interested in a shared purchase.

Getting the Most From Your System

Be sure to find out what its users prefer, in advance. (In fact, these users will be able to provide good advice on systems and vendors when you are in the market.)

Make sure that your presenter or speaker knows about the system and uses the microphone effectively. Check at the beginning of the program that everything is working. If there are questions or comments from the audience, make sure that they use a microphone as well.

Try It Yourself

Many movie theatres have assistive listening devices.  The next time you go to the movies, request one.  If it's an infrared unit, you may be able to locate the transmitter high on the wall near the screen.

More information

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Access Board's ADA regulations on assistive listening.

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