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Assistive Listening Systems

What are they and who needs them?

Our sense of hearing is as precious and complicated as our sense of sight. Unfortunately, our hearing degrades with age and exposure. As we get older, our ears become increasingly less sensitive to higher frequencies and volume levels. Anyone at any age can suffer from hearing loss because they were exposed to loud sounds for too long. Hearing loss can also result from a one-time exposure to a very loud event (like a gun being fired next to your ear or even very loud music (live, or via speakers or even headphones)).

Regardless of how a person has lost their hearing, there are devices that can help them in most cases. Assuming the person doesn't have profound hearing loss, often a hearing aid can help. The problem with hearing aides is that they can't distinguish between what you want to listen to and what you don't want to listen to. That is, both the desired sound and the noise is amplified equally. This is especially bothersome in an environment like a restaurant or other public place where there are many people. It also applies to church sanctuaries.

Imagine going to a movie theater to watch the latest hit movie. Once the movie starts, the screen isn't filled with pictures, but just "snow". How exciting would that movie be? Would you stay and listen to it? In the same way, many people who are hard of hearing show up at church, only to sit and watch what goes on because they can't clearly hear what's going on.

A solution for people with hearing loss (regardless if they use hearing aides or not) is the use of an assistive listening device. The most popular ones are wireless FM receivers with an earbud or pair of headphones. The user has a small "radio" receiver which they can clip on their clothing or hold in their hand. A single or double earbud or pair of headphones is plugged into the unit. A volume control allows adjustment for different people.

The other part of the system is the radio transmitter--this is the unit which "broadcasts" the audio signal to the multiple receivers. This receiver is connected to an audio output of a sound system. To best control the volume level out of the mixer, a compressor/limiter is needed. This helps reduce the amount of volume changing the users need to do. (The compressor/limiter also keeps the input of the transmitter from being overloaded, thus distorting.)

Every church that has a sound reinforcement system should have an assistive listening system. The cost is minimal and it can help change people's lives.

To people who are hearing impaired, giving them an assistive listening device invites them to participate in the service again.