There are startling statistics about hearing and hearing health from the World Health Organization in its 2021 World Report on Hearing. For example, by 2050, nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide are projected to have some degree of hearing loss.
For many of us, we take our hearing for granted. We go to loud concerts and listen to our AirPods on full volume. Over one billion people aged 12 to 35 risk losing their hearing due to prolonged and excessive exposure to loud music and other recreational sounds. So, it's clear that more and more people will be experiencing hearing loss in the future.
Accommodations for Accessibility
For those new to hearing loss (or about to experience it because of poor listening habits), listening fatigue happens in many social situations, including travel. Constantly being visually aware, straining to hear, and worrying about missing vital information makes navigating a journey on any transportation system strenuous for people. For someone with hearing loss, the strain is more severe. Struggling to hear increases the cognitive load in a person's brain, takes away from other cognitive functions, and leaves those with hearing loss exhausted.
Avoiding listening fatigue — and the embarrassment of making mistakes due to hearing loss — is one reason those with hearing loss may stop doing and going to places they love. The strain is too stressful, and they would rather stay home to avoid it all. The lack of accommodations can mean isolation from people and places for some with hearing loss. That social isolation can lead to other, more complex health issues, like dementia.
What About Hearing Aids?
Hearing aids are not like glasses. When a person wears a new pair of glasses, their vision is corrected. Ta-da, they can see. Hearing aids don't work like that. Most hearing aids need programming to amplify the specific speech sounds that individual users struggle to hear. Even then, hearing aids don't solve every hearing issue.4 Speech intelligibility is difficult in challenging listening environments with competing sounds like traffic, crying babies, other conversations, and even loud heating and air conditioning systems.
Assistive Technology for the Win
With so many affected by hearing loss, what accommodations are available? There are assistive listening systems specifically for transportation services to ensure patrons with hearing loss can hear next stop messages, important safety information, and other timely PA announcements. Providing assistive technology on vehicles and vessels and during scheduled tours allows individuals with hearing loss to relax, enjoy their journey, and not worry about missing important information.
One example of using technology to facilitate better experiences for those with hearing loss is GPS-triggered assistive listening systems. They work with a small server in the vehicle that transmits prerecorded, GPS-triggered next stop and safety information to passengers directly to their smart devices. Passengers download an app and use headphones or earbuds to hear the audio on their smart device, Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids, or cochlear implants. For the deaf, sign language videos can be played on onboard screens, supported by captioning.
GPS technology also allows operators to deliver the right information at the right time and place, and when the vehicle is stopped in traffic, drivers and guides can play additional stories or announcements.
Assistive listening systems provide a much-needed service for those with hearing loss. They can also enhance the experience for all passengers — with clear audio that tells a story and helps passengers engage. Additionally, they enable transportation operators to provide information in more than one language, which is crucial for those who don't speak English, provides a better experience for all riders, and often equates to higher rider satisfaction.
Not addressing accommodations for those with hearing loss could be costly. We've all heard about the New York MTA settlement and know the possible legal and financial implications of lawsuits. But there's also an added cost to the image of your business or brand. Today, more than ever, consumers focus on supporting companies that share their values.
Accessibility and inclusion matter, and helping people navigate despite their hearing loss (or other disability) is good for business. Plus, providing accommodations for equal access is the right thing to do.
About the Author: Jonathan Stanley is Chief Experience Officer at Listen Technologies, a leading provider of advanced wireless listening solutions, for 24 years. www.listentech.com