June 25, 2012

Indian Trails, MDOT launch ‘hearing loop’ tech in fleet

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Indian Trails Inc. teamed up to install "hearing loop" technology on a fleet of 17 motorcoaches, operating 34 scheduled routes, that serve passengers throughout Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas.

"I'm quite sure this is the first American bus line with hearing loops," said David G. Myers, a professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland, Mich., who has hearing loss and is one of the nation's foremost advocates for hearing loops.

"The Indian Trails/MDOT installation of hearing loops on intercity buses is a model of transportation accessibility for the entire country," added Myers, who runs the website www.hearingloop.org.

The motorcoaches with hearing loops are operated by Indian Trails Inc., a family business based in Owosso, Mich., with a 100-year history of innovation. Previously, it was the first company to install two-way radios, video monitors, stereo sound systems and Wi-Fi on a fleet of buses.
For tens of thousands of Michiganders, the Indian Trails routes are their only way to connect with the national transportation network of airports, Amtrak and Greyhound.

Hearing Loop Systems and Contacta Inc., of Holland, Mich., assisted with the custom design and engineering of the loop systems. MDOT also installed hearing loops on a pilot basis at bus stations in Saginaw and Bay City.

Hearing loops are important to many of the estimated 1.4 million Michigan residents who currently have hearing loss, a number that is expected to double in 10 years. About 11% of the general population has significant hearing loss, and one-third of people are 65 and older.

"This is proven technology that represents an enormous improvement in the on-board experience of many of our passengers who are hard of hearing," said Gordon Mackay, president of Indian Trails. "The cost was relatively low ― about $800 per bus ― and very little maintenance is needed. We would eventually like to see it installed in all of our motorcoaches and in all bus stations."

Hearing loops are based on a simple technology that enables hearing aids equipped with "telecoils" or "T-coils" to amplify a single source of sound (telephone, television, PA system,  etc.) instead of amplifying all sounds, as ordinary hearing aids do. Nearly 70% of hearing aids in the U.S. are already equipped with telecoils, which are just tiny coils of copper wire.

The hearing loop is a wire that runs around a space (living room, auditorium, church, airport terminal or bus interior) and is attached to the sound source. The hearing loop transmits those sounds to the telecoil in a hearing aid electromagnetically, while surrounding noises are screened out.

"Because hearing aids work far better when a hearing loop is available, and because hearing loops are common in Great Britain, Scandinavia, Australia, and New Zealand, I'm often asked why more of them haven't been installed in the U.S.," says Myers. "The answer is that our federal disability laws require most public facilities with 50 or more seats to provide unspecified assistive listening devices ― which they tend to do by letting visitors borrow earphones and pocket–size receivers that tune into FM broadcast signals or infrared waves."

Myers says that after years of campaigning for them, loop installations are picking up speed in Michigan and across the nation.

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