Does a Lack of Loops Drive You Loopy?

Hands up if your hearing aid has a T-setting. Hands up if you regularly encounter loops that are not working or not switched on? Frustrating, isn’t it?

I’m new to being a loop user. I never felt the need to use them before but as my hearing is deteriorating, my audiologist recently recommended I start using loops and she activated the T-setting on my hearing aid.

Off I went into the world, which seemed pregnant with possibilities of smoother encounters at customer service points and checkouts and an ability to access conferences and theatre performances.

Oh, how quickly I came crashing back down to earth from the reality of how poorly serviced we are in terms of loop provision here in England!

Here is an account of my first two weeks as a loop ‘user’ (and I use the term loosely because I never got to ‘use’ a single loop).


  1. Local supermarket

There was a big sign at the checkout indicating there was a loop so I switched to the T-setting — nothing. There was a long queue behind me and I didn’t feel comfortable asking the young man on the till if he could please switch on the loop. I had an inkling that he perhaps wouldn’t have known what it was or how it worked, otherwise I’m guessing it would have been on.

  1. Railway station — ticket counter

I switched to the loop as I approached the window: nothing.

Me: “Err, Your hearing loop doesn’t appear to be switched on.”

Response: “Other window.”

Me: “I beg your pardon?”

Response: “The hearing loop is at the other window.”

Me: “The one that’s not staffed..?”

  1. Home furnishings shop

There was a sign at the till saying to switch your hearing aid to the T-setting to use the induction loop. Hoorah! No. Again: nothing, nada, zip.

Me: “I wonder if you could help me. I noticed you have a hearing loop but I’ve just switched my hearing aid to the T-setting and your loop appears not to be working. Do you know if it’s switched on?”

Response: “Oh dear. It’s not working? It is on. We switch it on every morning when we open the shop.”

Me: “I’ve just had my T-setting activated and this is the third place I’ve been today that’s not had the loop working. I was interested to see if it would actually help me.”

She apologised profusely and said she would report the fault to Head Office.

  1. Different supermarket (same company)

All tills had loop signs. Surely this was going to be good! Despite the ‘Stand here to use loop’ sign being situated in a less than practical place for either packing your shopping or paying for it, I duly stood where indicated and flicked on the switch on my aid. Arrgghh! Again — just the buzzing sound but nothing coming through when I asked the lady if the loop was on.

I switched back to my normal setting and the lady serving me said, “Hearing Loop? We don’t have one.”

I explained about the sign and asked for her to call over someone who might know how it worked.

Supervisor: “They’re switched on all the time.”

Me: “Errr, it doesn’t seem to be working then.”

Supervisor: “Well, we don’t know that unless somebody tells us. Sorry about that.” And off she went.

  1. Different supermarket

Same again: till, sign, no signal.

Me: “Errr, would it be possible for you to switch the hearing loop on please?”

Cashier: “We don’t have one.”

Explains sign.

Cashier: “I don’t know anything about it. I don’t work down here.”

Clearly, she was an apparition.

A supervisor was called who duly arrived with the instruction booklet but despite their best combined efforts, they never got it working.

And there’s more

There was also the saga in the bank where the portable loop was last used in 2007, and unsurprisingly wasn’t working when they got it out of the cupboard for me to use. The counters had no loops. And also the case of me being invited to speak at an event – to speak about my experience of sudden deafness and my use of social media to combat isolation – to find that my request for a loop or PA system had been ignored, which meant I couldn’t hear the other speakers’ presentations – but they’re blog posts in their own right!

Finally, a couple of weeks later, I was in an optician’s and I spotted a portable loop on the floor behind the counter, plugged in and charging up. I tentatively asked if I could try the loop as I had had my T-setting activated but had yet to use a working loop and I was beginning to wonder if it was the aid that was faulty.

I had to explain to the staff what the loop was and how it worked but it did work. It was quiet and they had no equipment to test it and, customers had to identify themselves as deaf in order to use it – but it did actually work. It wasn’t my hearing aid at fault; it was every shop and service provider I’d visited up to that point.

With the exception of the final supermarket mentioned here, I wrote to each of the companies mentioned in this post and was assured the loop would be on next time I visited. I’ve been back to the station and found this not to be the case but I haven’t been back to the other places yet and, possibly, I won’t go back at all.

Are loops as poorly maintained where you go?  Do you mention to staff when they’re not working?  When loops are working – how much do they improve your customer experience?

And if you have a few minutes, to take part in Pascal‘s survey of hearing loop use.

6 thoughts on “Does a Lack of Loops Drive You Loopy?”

  1. All the time! It is especially annoying when you call or check a website in advance and the location claims to use the technology. Then you get there and either nobody knows how to turn it on (if they even know it exists), or it doesn’t work. This is especially frustrating when field trips were planned on the promise of appropriate technology. I now check out the location myself in advance. Very rarely is it on when I first visit, though I have had places figure out the technology in time for the trip now that I have started checking, but this is more the exception than the rule.

  2. In my nearly 2 years in the UK since 1999 I’ve been greatly helped by hearing loops, especially in larger area venues (worship places, auditoriums) where hearing would otherwise be a challenge. But I’ve also benefited from hearing loops at post office windows and in a London taxi. And in my home community in the USA, the hearing loops we have in most auditoriums and worship places (and my home TV room) seem to work virtually flawlessly . . . and have greatly enriched my life, by enabling my hearing aids to serve an important second function as wireless, customized, in-the-ear speakers.

  3. I know your frustration. Thousands of people need access to publically available hearing assistance technology for many listening situations in multiple environments every single day. Technology alone is not the solution but it is certainly the first step. Until we call for systematic change and address the needs of providing access for the society of PWHL instead of placing the burden of how to hear on the individual, we will never be able to achieve universal public hearing access for all. Kudos to your audiologist for activating your telecoil. It will take patience and perseverance by determined hearing device users such as yourself to lay the infrastructure foundation for universal hearing access. Thank you for patronizing venues that offer hearing access. Let venue managers know you are there because they offer that level of accessibility. Compliment their efforts and work with them to ensure their loops are working. Tell them what it means to be able to communicate effectively and participate in civic discussion. Universal hearing access won’t be accomplished overnight, but with dedicated individuals willing to step up and speak out, we can create awareness to alleviate the stigma by providing publically available hearing access in the workplace, transport, healthcare, education, government, entertainment . We can change the culture to create hearing friendly, communication accessible communities now and for generations to come.

  4. Service point hearing loops that are either not working or simply not switched on is a big issue for the reputation of the technology with hearing aid wearers.
    The problem mainly stems from the nature of the Equality Act 2010 legislation, which demands that the technology is present, but falls short of stating that it must actually work to any sort of standard. Crazy!
    This provides companies and service providers with an incentive to go for the cheapest option that causes them the least amount of hassle to roll out, and this requirement is all too often satisfied by purchasing ‘Portable’ hearing loops. Portable hearing loops aren’t suitable for that application and shouldn’t be used. They are issued without staff training, get unplugged and put in a cupboard by people who don’t know what they’re for and often get put in a position that will provide no genuine benefit over what the hearing aid can deliver on its own.
    The solution is simple – fixed service point loops with desktop microphones. That should be wired to be active as soon as a cash register is turned on so no-one has to ‘remember’ about them and when installed properly they provide a good, clear signal.

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