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Willing And Able

With such a wide variety of public spaces that currently require assistive listening systems in order to comply with regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the variety of systems themselves and the constant advancements made to them is equally important. The technology has come a long way since the act's inception in 1990, and has opened several avenues for the hearing impaired, but has also created new options for people without hearing difficulties.

Wireless systems where sound is transmitted over an FM signal have been used successfully for some time in applications where a wide area of coverage is needed. These systems tend to be an affordable option for locations that do not require a secure transmission; schools and museums are some of the most popular users.

Many schools now offer assistive listening systems that improve classroom learning not only for hearing impaired students, but also for the entire student body. Listen Technologies offers several options that can improve classroom learning, including the LT-700 portable transmitter, which can wirelessly broadcast the voice of a teacher or tour guide to a number of compatible assistive listening devices, allowing for both portability and use in temporary applications.

Sennheiser's DirectEarSAS soundfield amplification system also provides flexibility in classroom situations. With 1,280 frequencies, the DirectEarSAS provides interference-free performance by avoiding signals from outside radio stations or adjacent classrooms. The benefit of such systems to all students is becoming apparent. "Every student is assured intelligibility, regardless of his or her seat," noted Denise Lavoie, product manager, Sennheiser audiology and IR Systems. "This, in turn, increases attention span, concentration and retention."

As in classrooms, museum tour guides may use transmitters to better communicate with patrons. Sennheiser has developed the GuidePort system to further enhance the tour experience by delivering pre-recorded audio programs in addition to live audio. The system, beneficial to visitors with or without hearing loss, includes a headset and receiver that responds to strategically located transmitters in different zones in the building. When the visitor enters a new zone, the receiver is triggered to play the corresponding audio information. The system also allows for a live tour guide to communicate with a group without disturbing the pre-recorded segments being heard by others in the area.

Situations with multiple language needs in addition to aiding those in need of hearing assistance, such as churches and courtrooms, have found infrared (IR) systems to their advantage. Multiple-channel IR systems can provide a different language choice per channel, and because the signal is restricted to the room in which it is contained and cannot pass through objects such as walls, these systems also provide a higher level of security. The 4-channel WIR SYS 4 Language Interpretation System from Williams Sound provides up to 11,000 square feet of coverage, and allows the user to select from up to four languages that may be translated simultaneously in a courtroom. The receiver also corresponds with an included neckloop that can be used with the telecoil in a user's hearing aid.

Williams Sound's 2-channel IR system had previously been designed for hearing assistance, but has come to be used widely in U.K. movie theaters for the visually impaired: one channel provides the film's audio track, and the other plays an audio description of the action taking place.

"In the U.S. the sense is that there will be a push for audio description," said Chad Engel, communications manager for Williams Sound. "It is starting to happen, and I think in the coming years it will become the standard. By offering audio description, it brings in customers the theaters couldn't cater to before."

As improvements continue to the considerable range of systems currently used in assistive listening, including the increased use of digital systems, the move towards better encryption for security, and the potential for wireless improvements via Bluetooth technology, everyone, regardless of ability, is bound to experience the advantages that these systems will make available.

Mary Bakija is a writer and editor with more than 15 years of storytelling experience. Bakija is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Library and Information Science to help others find and tell important stories that might otherwise be lost, and to ensure those stories are preserved for future generations to see.