Facility managers seeking to meet the advisory access and mobility guidelines in Australia for commercial projects should consider installing a high-quality hearing loop with a well-thought out design, writes RICHARD NEALE.
With effective planning, the inclusion of correct systems and technology in contemporary space, such as museums, music venues and meeting rooms will ensure hearing impaired visitors and staff receive the best possible audio coverage, improving communication and the overall experience.
Assistive Listening Systems Technology (ALS)
There are three types of listening technologies that can be installed into commercial buildings for hearing impaired visitors and staff: FM systems, infrared systems and Audio Frequency Induction Loop Systems (AFILS).
Each system will have advantages and disadvantages, however the most attractive system for AV consultants or specifiers to install is the AFILS. The advantage of installing this system in a commercial building is due to the AFILS ability to transmit directly to the telecoils in hearing aids and cochlear implants, meaning no additional equipment is required for the user.
By providing a direct delivery of audio signal to the user’s hearing aid, it provides a discreet alternative and eliminates the stigma of wearing devices such as headphones, receivers and neck loops, which are typically required by other assistive listening systems.
It is estimated that 70 to 80 percent of all hearing aids have telecoils installed, so to install AFILS which will transmit directly to a user’s own hearing aid or cochlear implant enhances their experience by optimising the audio signal they receive.
It’s not just the user who will benefit from this type of system. Businesses will also benefit, by removing costs associated with product maintenance and hygiene management of third party wearable devices used with other systems.
Current technology around assistive listening provides a great solution for businesses to really improve the user’s experience in situations where background noise reduces the ability to understand speech or enjoy music.
Improvements in hearing loop driver technology
Over the last five to ten years, hearing loop driver technology has improved to include class-D digital amplifiers, which provide ultra-efficient power consumption and advanced digital signal processing (DSP) circuitry, offering improved automatic gain control and high frequency compensation. This improvement in technology now provides the user with life-like speech and first-class music reproduction. Advanced features like this can be found in Contacta’s V7, V12a and V14 loop drivers.
Although the technology used in assistive listening systems isn’t new, Contacta is constantly looking at ways to develop solutions to include advanced technologies and improve the user’s experience. Specifying newer loop drivers with DSP technology will offer greater frequency response, noise filtering and improved automatic gain control.
Specifying assistive listening in new commercial buildings should be carried out at design stage, so that implementation is supported at the appropriate time during building works.
For any type of the assistive listening systems used in commercial buildings, it is important that facility managers and designers ensure that the system meets the requirements set out in the Australian Standard AS1428.5-2010: design for access and mobility, as referenced in the Building Code of Australia (BCA).
Assistive listening systems, which include audio frequency induction loops, are a requirement of the BCA. The Australian Standard is very specific in its criteria for assistive listening systems in a variety of applications, and can be easily referenced for detailed information.
Some of the requirements for ALS covered in the standard include:
- public meeting areas.
- counters used for the provision of customer services, e.g. checkouts, receptions, ticket windows and bank teller windows.
- meeting rooms where there is the potential for more than five participants, e.g. conference rooms, auditoria, theatres, places of worship and sporting venues.
- public transport – induction loops are now installed on train platforms throughout Australia.
- emergency warning systems, PA systems in an office and public spaces.
New and existing fit outs
For new fit outs, facility managers are advised to arrange a site survey to determine the suitability of a hearing loop before installation.
Design layouts are also required for audio frequency induction loops to determine the desired outcomes and to design a matching solution – this is where Amber Technology and Contacta can assist.
While most installations will work alongside other equipment, any loop design must consider the amount of electromagnetic background noise as well as some musical equipment, such as guitars with magnetic pickups.
Facility managers should also ensure correct signage is on display to alert hearing aid wearers of the presence of a hearing loop.
Hearing loops can be installed in existing buildings under or on top of flooring, or in a ceiling cavity. A common installation is to install under carpets using flat copper tape – Contacta offers a range of sizes to suit the requirements.
Often the retrofit solution can be a portable loop, which is a lightweight and compact unit incorporating the loop, a microphone, the loop driver and a battery pack. These can be used in one-to-one meeting situations, but may also work with small groups. The Contacta Portable Loop has the capacity for an external boundary microphone to be plugged in for greater coverage.
For one-to-one communication applications, the Contacta over-counter loop solutions are a very simple retrofit. The loop is incorporated into the sign and is ideal for retail applications with counter services like supermarket checkouts, shops, hospitality, retail banking and queuing or client service applications. The loop incorporated into the sign ensures minimal use of valuable space at point of engagement. The user simply needs to stand near the sign to receive the audio signal being delivered.
Contacta also has an under-counter loop system in the range. This is typically used when there is easy access under the counter, again, in most cases, a simple retrofit. The solution is completely out of sight and all that is required is a sign to inform potential users of the ALS facility.
When specifying or installing assistive listening systems, facility managers are advised to follow the below pointers to ensure hearing impaired staff and visitors are receiving the best possible audio coverage.
- Provide effective signage to alert people that a hearing loop is available. The signage layout is standardised for all hearing loops and easily recognisable.
- Ensure source material being from a microphone or auxiliary audio is free of distortion and background noise.
- Install loops that don’t meet the required standards and therefore provide a bad user experience.
- Let the hearing loop fall into disrepair. This technology is very reliable and requires little maintenance, however, it is important to periodically check that that equipment is turned on and working as intended.
Why should businesses install hearing loops?
Hearing is a mainstream health issue that affects the lives of many Australians. Today, one in six Australians suffer from some degree of hearing loss. The Hearing Care Industry Association (HCIA) predicts that this will increase to one in four by 2050.
Hearing is fundamentally linked to a person’s ability to communicate, affecting the way they are able to interact with society, their opportunities to participate in education, employability and relationship building.
Facility managers should ensure new and existing commercial buildings are installing high quality hearing loop systems to meet the Australian Standard, so that the organisation can assist with improving day-to-day communication for hearing impaired Australians who use hearing aids and cochlear implants.
Bio: Richard Neale is the general manager for Amber Technology, one of Australia’s largest distributors of high technology equipment solutions for commercial and residential applications. Richard has more than 20 years’ experience across the professional audio, commercial AV, IT, networking and telecommunications industries.