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A special logo denoting that hearing loop technology is present adorns space in front of the sign
at Banner Elk United Methodist Church. Photo by Jamie Shell

Originally published: 2012-11-20 10:17:30
Last modified: 2012-11-20 10:17:30

Local church first to offer unique system to assist hearing impaired

Jamie Shell / (

A segment of churchgoers at Banner Elk United Methodist Church now have the opportunity to get "in the loop," so to speak.

The church is the first in the county to implement a "loop" system for those who are hearing impaired, and has had the technology installed for more than a year.

The system, in widespread use across Europe since the 1990s, has made its way to America as a way to help those hard of hearing to better listen to sounds from individuals without the distraction of surrounding noise or the concern of being too far away to hear what is being spoken from a distance.

"The wiring is hidden in our sanctuary and forms a loop around the room, and anyone inside the loop wearing a hearing aid with a telecoil, or T-coil, will detect it," explained the Rev. Dan Brubaker from inside the sanctuary at Banner Elk United Methodist Church. "The loop brings the sound from the microphone directly into the listener's ear rather than extraneously through the speakers."

Hearing loops currently are in use in Europe in homes as well as many public buildings, including train stations, banks, theaters and numerous additional locations where those who are hearing impaired might need assistance. The system is currently in use in the United States at Phoenix International Airport.

In its 2009-10 reviews of hearing aid models, Hearing Review Products reported that 126, or 69 percent, of 183 hearing aid models—including all 38 in-the-ear models and 29-of-30 conventional behind-the-ear models—came with T-coils. Brubaker explained, however, that newer, smaller, in-the-ear hearing aid devices carry insufficient T-coils compared to the outer ear, less aesthetically pleasing models.

"Until around the 1990s, 20 to 30 percent of all hearing aids had the T-coil technology built in. When companies began to make smaller hearing aids for inside the ear, they did away with the T-coil," Brubaker said. "The T-coil is about the size of a dime, maybe a bit smaller."

Brubaker was passionate about the church installing the hearing assistance technology in part because of people close to him who deal with the difficulty of hearing loss.

"My mother-in-law is hard of hearing. She has an aid that she can hang around her neck and connect to her television so she can turn the TV on at a reasonable loudness. She also uses a device at a table with a microphone, and also has coil technology in the form of a cushion to sit upon," Brubaker added. "She has been an advocate for those hard of hearing for many years, and she suggested the idea to me."

The hearing loop technology was installed at the church at a cost of approximately $2,000. Presently, three members of Brubaker's congregation utilize the hearing loop during worship services, but other hearing-impaired individuals have experienced the technology upon visiting the church.

"We had one lady worship with us who learned we had the technology. When she returned to Florida, she visited her doctor and asked her doctor about it. The doctor was excited to hear it and he prescribed her a hearing aid with the T-coil. She has since returned and worshiped with us and told me it is wonderful to be able to hear everything clearly with no problems," Brubaker added.

The technology came to be a pleasant surprise for one local resident, as Brubaker told of a recent Banner Elk Kiwanis meeting that took place at the church.

"The mother of Ann Swinkola came to the Kiwanis meeting here, and my wife turned on the microphones and hearing loop system for the guest speaker. When the speaker began, she perked up because she could immediately hear everything because she was wearing the appropriate hearing aid," Brubaker said. "She spoke with the folks next door at Banner Elk Presbyterian Church and they are having it installed as well."

The hearing loop technology serves as a ministry to churchgoers and visitors alike who need assistance in hearing facets of weekly services. Brubaker sees the system as a way to make it simpler for those with hearing impairments to participate and attend services without feeling left out or like they have missed something that was said.

"The people I've talked to that have used it told me that for years they sat and couldn't hear sermons, basically attending services for the fellowship aspect," Brubaker explained. "We're trying to get the word out to audiologists and others that this technology is available, and that it doesn't cost that much to have the system installed. The more places that have it, the more places that folks who need it can hear."