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How hearing loops can assist congregants experiencing hearing loss

Ibrahim (Ib) Dabo, Director of Enterprise Business Systems for Global Ministries. Photo courtesy of the United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Ministries.
Ibrahim (Ib) Dabo, Director of Enterprise Business Systems for Global Ministries. Photo courtesy of the United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Ministries.

Hearing Loops Significantly Improved My Understanding of Speech

“T-coils” (or telecoils) and “hearing loops” came across to me as such technical terms that I never took the time to learn about them (how ironic for someone who works in the information technology field). Yet these are some of the most amazing technologies available to people with hearing loss.

When I experienced hearing loops for the first time — seven years after I started using hearing aids — it completely revolutionized my world of hearing. The clarity and proximity of speech is one I never imagined. It significantly improved my understanding of speech and increased my confidence to communicate in challenging settings.

Before this amazing experience, I met with Juliëtte Sterkens in July 2021. Juliette is an audiologist and hearing loop advocate with the Hearing Loss Association of America, who shares expert advice on the installation of hearing loop systems in places of worship. Midway through our conversation, Juliette asked, “Does your hearing aids have t-coils?” to which I responded, “What’s t-coils again?”

That seemingly bizarre yet astonishing moment for me resulted in taking on Juliëtte’s advice to check with my audiologist if my hearing aids came with t-coils and then activate it. Thankfully, it all worked out beautifully. A t-coil is “a wire that is installed inside many hearing aids and cochlear implants to act as a miniature wireless receiver.”

Once my t-coils were activated I wondered why none of the audiologists I had seen over the years ever told me about the technology meant to significantly improve my hearing in challenging circumstances, where hearing loops are available.

Imagine going to church year after year and unable to understand the Word being preached. So was the case for me and I wondered why I struggled with my faith. I did not know what I was missing until I experienced new sounds through my hearing aids and with hearing loops.

Experiencing Hearing Loops for the First Time

In fall 2021 I attended a Board Meeting of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). Inside the HLAA headquarters in Maryland is a state-of-the-art conference room equipped with a hearing loop system. Once I switched my hearing aids program to t-coils mode and heard the crisp sound that came through for the first time, I lit up with joy and excitement like a kid who had just been handed a bag of candy. I exclaimed: “Wow! Amazing.”

Such is the experience I desire for everyone who can benefit from hearing loop systems. It reduces stress and isolation, enhances understanding of speech, and boosts self-confidence to communicate effectively.

The Future and Why We Must Work Together

What I have experienced with hearing loss and the use of technology drives my passion and advocacy work for the installation of hearing loops in places of worship. It is a reason I am engaging with leaders in The United Methodist Church and other denominations in collaboration with HLAA to install hearing loops in their places of worship.

People experiencing hearing loss also truly and fully need to experience the Spirit of God at work through His Word. Faith comes by hearing and hearing of the Word of God. And if we cannot understand the Word of God in church, then, in essence we are denying God’s children the opportunity for their faith to be fully nurtured, especially if the place of worship has the capacity and resources to install hearing loops.

Even beyond the church, I believe places like airports, conference centers, and hospitals should consider installing hearing loop systems.

And I encourage audiologists to do a better job of educating consumers of all the features that come with their hearing devices. Special thanks to the audiologists who already do so.

There’s truly beauty in hearing sounds well. For someone who had unknowingly tackled hearing loss for at least 15 years before my diagnosis, I know what it feels like to finally hear sounds clearly. And what’s even better than hearing sounds that truly nourishes our faith in places of worship? I certainly hope we can seize this moment to work together and count all of God’s children in with the opportunities they need to understand speech clearly.

For information about hearing loops and church installations funded by DHM grants, visit the Assistive Technology section at our website.

Ibrahim (Ib) Dabo is the Director of Enterprise Business Systems for Global Ministries, the global mission agency of The United Methodist Church. Also a motivational speaker, Ib is a commissioner for the Georgia Commission for the Deaf or Hard of Hearing and Board Member for the Hearing Loss Association of America. Visit his website at www.IbDabo.com to learn more about his work. Originally published by the United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Ministries, a unit of the General Board of Global Ministries under the title "How Hearing Loops Revolutionized my  World". Republished with permission on ResourceUMC.org.