Since 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act has helped make easier the lives of people with physical and mental disabilities.
But Kara Houston, a doctor of audiology who has worked at the Hearing Health Center in Naperville for 11 years, says a huge segment of the population is still largely being ignored.
“Statistics show that 1 in 5 people or 20 percent of the population currently living in the United States is facing some type of hearing loss,” she said. “We need to do more in this country to make hearing accessible to everyone, especially in public places.”
Houston believes the solution is to get every place from movie theaters and churches to restaurants and public buildings into the “loop.”
Many countries in Europe long ago adopted the technology in their facilities. It allows those with virtually any kind of hearing aid to hear what’s going on without competing with all the ambient noise.
“This technology has actually been around quite a while, and Europe has ‘looped’ facilities that range from churches to McDonald’s restaurants,” she said. “For some reason, introducing the technology here has fallen behind. New York finally started doing it, and it’s moved into Michigan and Wisconsin, and now we’re starting to get it in the Chicago area.”
Houston and others hope Naperville can become the next big player to embrace the technology.
Calvary Church in Naperville introduced it last fall as part of its $3 million capital campaign. Tom Loar, the church’s music pastor, said that with “better communication technology, we will be able to reach more people in our community with the clear message of the gospel.”
Houston said the loop technology “is more universal than Bluetooth, and eliminates echoes in the environment and ambient noise and provides a more consistent sound.”
“It’s built into the facility’s existing sound system, and a wire is connected around the floor, ceiling or walls and transmits sound electromagnetically,” she said. “The signal is then picked up by the telecoil in the hearing aid, regardless of whether it’s low or high tech.”
Naperville resident Michael Koulos, 58, a patient of Houston’s, said he installed a loop system in his home last fall and that it has made a world of difference in his family room where he watches TV.
“I was born with a congenital hearing loss, but it wasn’t until I was about 20 years old that I got a hearing aid,” Koulos said.
“The first 20 years were really a struggle for me in school, even if I sat in the front row.”
He said after researching the loop technology, he had it installed in his home in November. It only took a couple of hours. Koulos said the wire installation was put in beneath the floor via his basement, which is partially finished. The cost was less than $600.
“The technology has done wonders for me personally,” he said.
“There are symbols you’ll find on buildings that have it, and I definitely seek them out.”
Koulos said he has made inquiries with the city of Naperville about adding a loop after his son made a presentation in the council chambers, and he couldn’t hear him.
“I approached them about it afterwards and followed up with a letter about the benefits,” he said.
City Manager Doug Krieger said he is not aware of any impending plans to loop the council chambers but the “city is open to suggestions.”
“We do tell people that are hearing impaired to let us know before meetings, and we’ll provide someone who can help by doing sign language,” he said.
“But we’re always looking for better ways to serve the public.”
Houston said she believes making the technology common place is just as important as providing ramps and elevators for those in wheelchairs.
“With 20 percent of the population affected, you need to allow everyone the chance to hear,” she said. “We need to do a better job addressing this disability that affects so many people.”