Assistive Listening Technologies and Wi-Fi—How They Work Together

11/15/2016 12:39:00 PM
By Tracy Bathurst

For the more than 360 million people worldwide who suffer moderate to profound hearing loss, venues must create a listening experience that is equal to that available to the general public. It’s not only the right way to accommodate hearing-impaired parishioners, patrons, and customers—it’s the law.

Today we’re seeing public demand for listening solutions that extend beyond the traditional assistive listening market. Wi-Fi-based personal listening solutions, while delivering excellent sound quality, are designed for the convenience of the venue—owners and managers no longer need to purchase and maintain devices. Instead, users download an iPhone or Android app to their smartphone and then select the audio channel that corresponds with the video they want to watch in a multi-display setting.

While these types of solutions can be used by the general public as well as the hearing impaired, it’s important to note that they were not designed to meet the ADA standards for assistive listening or comparable laws outside of the U.S., which require venues to provide an equivalent listening experience for the hearing impaired. While the audio latency associated with Wi-Fi technology is negligible, it cannot provide an equal experience for people with hearing loss. This limitation combined with the requirement to provide a specific number of assistive listening devices means that Wi-Fi is not an ideal solution for compliance. That said, there are applications where Wi-Fi-based solutions can complement an existing assistive listening system (ALS) that uses RF, IR, or induction loop technologies, giving all patrons or customers the best possible listening experience.

How does that work? Let’s take a quick look at the best applications for Wi-Fi based solutions and then discuss when they make a great addition to your assistive listening solution.

Applications for Wi-Fi Based Solutions for Personal Listening

Wi-Fi for personal listening is an exciting, emerging area that has a growing list of applications and the potential for many more. We are seeing ListenWiFi being adopted in venues for:

• Higher education, particularly in student unions, where multiple televisions are available and the student wants to select the audio channel for listening.
• Corporate fitness centers or lobbies with video walls. Employees or visitors choose the audio channel for the video they want to watch.
• Museums with multiple video displays throughout the exhibit. Visitors can select the audio channel that corresponds with the video that piques their interest.

The Right Listening Options for Any Audience

When you need to provide both hearing and hearing impaired audiences with audio options, adding a Wi-Fi personal listening solution to a venue with an existing ALS can be a cost-effective approach.
 
For example, a theater may offer a movie in multiple languages. As a theater, the venue is required to provide an assistive listening device to any hearing-impaired person. The ALS device provides equal access to the movie audio, but what about translations for the general public? Purchasing transmitters and receivers for the full audience that doesn’t need a device for assistive listening is quite an investment. But adding a Wi-Fi-based solution gives the ability to access different audio channels to anyone with an iPhone or Android device. This cost-effective strategy allows the venue to remain fully compliant and provides options that create exceptional—and equal—experiences for all moviegoers.

Tracy Bathurst, Chief Technology Officer, directs Listen Technologies’ efforts to design, build, and perfect the world’s most functional and innovative assistive listening, classroom audio, and conferencing solutions. Tracy joined Listen Technologies in 2011 and has held various leadership positions in his successful 20-year career in the audio/visual and technology industries.


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