DALLAS—Charles McManus might paraphrase the familiar Bible verse like this: “He who has hearing aids, let him hear.”
With that goal, Mr. McManus, 82, has become a bit of an evangelist for the induction loop—a technology that allows him to clearly hear the worship service at his church, Spring Valley United Methodist in Dallas.
“I hadn’t heard a sermon in years,” he said. “Now, it’s clear as a bell.”
An induction loop is a bit like Wi-Fi for hearing aids. Sound from the worship service is fed into an amplifier, which is connected to a large loop of wire. That loop—also called a “telecoil loop” or “t-loop”—creates a magnetic field around the pews. By turning their devices to the “telecoil” setting, hearing aid wearers can tap directly into the church’s sound system—and block out the background noise that can make hearing impossible. (Many hearing aids today are equipped with telacoil settings; some can be retrofitted with the option.)
Mr. McManus first learned about the technology when he complained to his audiologist, Angela Shoup, associate professor of otolaryngology at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Mr. McManus has been wearing hearing aids for about 10 years. But given the high ceilings and hard floors in Spring Valley’s sanctuary, sound tended to reverberate.
“I could hear a lot of noise, but I couldn’t understand it,” he said.
Dr. Shoup told him about induction loops and how they’ve become prevalent in England and Scandinavia. Many public venues in those countries have loops, including churches, airports, theaters and other places where hearing can be challenging.
“Because it transmits sound directly into your hearing aid, it delivers a nice, crisp, clear sound,” Dr. Shoup said. For a hearing aid wearer, “It’s almost like the sound from the microphone is being fed right into your ear.”
Mr. McManus, a retired businessman, knew a little about electronics and so decided to experiment, installing a loop with tape around the perimeter of the sanctuary, with help from fellow church member Doug Kilgore.
Dick Ridings, a member of Spring Valley since 1967, tried the system, and noticed a significant improvement.
“Before, I was having difficulty, not with volume but with comprehension,” he said. With the telecoil, “I didn’t have all this echoing and reverberating that destroyed my comprehension.”
When the church remodeled the sanctuary last April, the wire was permanently installed under the floor and new amplifiers were added. Mr. McManus estimates the cost of the loop system was under $3,000.
“There are companies that can put these in,” he said. “We just felt like we could do it ourselves.”
About 430 people attend Spring Valley each week; Mr. McManus isn’t sure how many are benefitting from the new system. He’s hoping to create a video to help people better understand and use the system. He did help one 97-year-old woman in the church figure out how to use the telacoil setting on her hearing aid.
“She was so thrilled,” he said. “She couldn’t wait to tell the minister that she could hear the sermon.”
The Rev. Mark Vowell, Spring Valley’s senior pastor, says he’s been involved in several remodeling projects in past appointments, and sees the advantage of the loop system over conventional (infrared or FM-based) assistive listening technologies, which require worshippers to wear special headsets. Some folks feel uncomfortable or conspicuous wearing the headsets, and those who wear hearing aids have to remove them in order to use the headsets.
The loop “really is a quantum leap forward, and it’s not exorbitantly expensive,” Mr. Vowell said.
A loop typically costs $2,000 to $8,000 for small to medium-sized worship centers, according to HearingLoop.org, a nonprofit website that advocates the technology. Very large facilities with lots of embedded steel might pay more.
“Most congregations’ loop systems will cost no more than what one of their members would pay for a pair of today’s high tech hearing aids,” the site notes.
With the remodel, Spring Valley also took a number of steps to improve the acoustics of the sanctuary.
“I’ve come to realize how much people are missing if they can’t hear,” Mr. Vowell said, adding that the induction loop is a “gracious addition” to the church, one that ministers to spirits as well as ears.
“We know that hearing loss is associated with social isolation and depression,” Dr. Shoup said. “I hear about people that stop going to church, because they can’t understand what’s being said.”
The American Academy of Audiology and the Hearing Loss Association of America have launched a “Get in the Hearing Loop” campaign to encourage churches and other public spaces to make their sound systems more accessible to the hard of hearing. Some 36 million Americans have hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, and about 1 in 4 of those—over 8 million—have hearing aids.
Both Dr. Shoup and Mr. McManus encourage churches to consider installing induction loops, particularly if they’re building, remodeling or revamping a sound system.
“It’s a simple, easy-to-manage solution,” she said.