New Survey Shows Many People Don’t Use Assistive Listening Technology

A recent survey conducted by the Committee for Communication Access in America sheds new light on who uses assistive listening systems and why. Read on to learn more about these findings, as well as the types of assistive listening systems available to improve your listening experience.

Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), assistive listening systems (ALS) have been mandated in many public venues, like theaters, lecture halls and churches. These systems provide users with a silent, wireless connection to a facility’s sound system, either through earphones or the telecoils in hearing aids, and they help many get more out of their listening experience. Unfortunately, millions with hearing loss don’t take advantage of these systems.

That’s why the Committee for Communication Access in America (CCAA) conducted a survey to investigate why people who have hearing loss don’t use assistive communication technology more often.

The goal of the retrospective survey was to collect reliable information on the preferences and use habits of hard-of-hearing people when utilizing assistive communication systems. That information could potentially enable providers of services to people with hearing loss to inform clients of the many benefits of the various assistive technologies and which systems are preferable. In addition to information and observations on assistive listening and captioning systems, the survey gathered detailed information dealing with hearing loss and device use. Survey highlights included:

  • Degree of hearing loss: 66% of survey respondents reported they had severe-to-profound hearing loss.
  • Age and years using hearing devices: 44% said they’d been wearing hearing aids or implants for more than 21 years, while 12% said they had been wearing hearing aids for 5 years or less.
  • Type of hearing devices used: 80% of respondents wore prescription hearing aids, while 2% had over-the-counter hearing aids.
  • Using Assistive Technologies: Experience, degree of hearing loss, and personally owned hearing devices all played a major role in the decision to use available assistive communication systems; depending on the type of ALS available, 37% to 69% of people with a severe-to-profound hearing loss reported always using an ALS when available.
  • Telecoil awareness: Overall, 52% of respondents were aware of their devices having telecoils.
  • Wireless connectivity: 83% reported having Bluetooth® capability with their devices and it was most often used for talking on the telephone.
  • ALS difficult to find: 26% reported that they were always looking for or requesting an ALS when they attended an event in a gathering place where they felt hearing could be problematic; unfortunately, 18% reported never finding it, and only 15% said they always or usually find it.
  • Another surprise from the findings was a preference for captions over an ALS by this very hearing disabled group.
  • The survey also reinforced the fact that hearing loops are the preferred ALS for the hard-of-hearing.

Types of ALS Available

Though this survey showed that many people don’t use ALS, there is a wide range of technology available. Some of this technology is accessible in the public domain at no cost, and some requires the purchase of an additional device. Here’s a brief description of the types of ALS available.


Telecoils are small copper coils that have been standard in most hearing aids for nearly 50 years. When used with a hearing loop, they can dramatically enhance the listening experience in public places by piping the sound directly to the hearing device.

Induction Loop Systems

An induction loop system uses an electromagnetic field to carry sound to the user’s hearing aids equipped with a telecoil. In this system, a loop of insulated wire, which can range from a small loop worn around the neck to a loop that encircles an entire room, is connected to a power source, an amplifier and a microphone. Loop systems are inexpensive as well as versatile, and are useful for a single telecoil hearing aid user or a group. Mobility is not an issue, as the user is not physically connected to the system; even non-hearing aid users can use the loop system with headphones or a receiver system. However, keep in mind that the listener must be within the confines of the induction loop to hear the signal.

FM Systems

Frequency modulation, or FM systems, use radio waves to transmit sound from the sound source to a receiver worn by a person who is hearing impaired. The FM system can be used with behind-the-ear hearing aids with special accessories and receivers that pick up sound directly from a microphone. The microphone can be set up in front of the person speaking or worn around the speaker’s neck.

FM systems are useful in many places, including:

  • Classrooms
  • Restaurants
  • Meetings
  • Nursing homes
  • Community or retirement centers

They are also used in theaters, places of worship, museums, public meeting places, corporate conference rooms, and convention centers. These FM signals are regulated and designated only for use by those with hearing loss.

Infrared Systems

A high-tech option that affords maximum privacy, infrared systems are like FM systems except that instead of radio waves, they transmit sounds using light waves. Since the light waves do not pass through walls, they are useful for situations in which privacy is needed, such as doctors’ offices and court proceedings, etc. Though they are often used for watching TV or in theaters, they have one major disadvantage: any object or person that comes between the listener and the emitter causes the signal to be blocked. Sunlight can also interfere with the signal, making these systems useful for specific situations.


Bluetooth hearing aids can wirelessly connect prescription hearing aids with many Bluetooth-enabled electronic devices. Bluetooth has many advantages. With direct streaming, it limits competing background noise and allows the listener to fully enjoy the sounds they really want to hear. Most hearing aid wearers get the greatest benefit when watching TV, talking on the phone, or listening to music. There are even Bluetooth accessories that allow hearing aids without Bluetooth capability to function with Bluetooth-enabled devices (examples include Widex ComDex, Phonak iCom, and ReSound Phone clip). In the coming years there will likely be more “open” Bluetooth-available systems in public settings as the technology advances.

Personal Amplifiers

A personal amplifier is basically a small box with a mic and a listening cord attached to it. Newer versions are all worn at ear-level. These are most useful for one-on-one, in-person conversations. The corded devices allow the person you are speaking with to attach the mic to their clothing so it can be plugged into a personal amplifier for clearer hearing, which can reduce some background noise. The newer ear-level worn personal amplifiers may work with smartphone applications. One advantage of personal amplifiers is that they are relatively inexpensive. Personal amplifiers are not as useful for situations that require the person to move around a lot. In addition, they are not as “aesthetic” because of their larger size and they lack flexibility in customizing physical and acoustic settings.

Fortunately, a wide range of assistive technologies are available. Be sure to talk with a doctoral-level audiologist about all the assistive listening systems available. An audiologist is an expert in both hearing aids, and assistive listening technology, and can make recommendations for your specific needs, and can best explain how each type of technology works, as well as any cost involved.

Schedule an appointment with a doctoral-level audiologist.