Counter Loops in Singapore: Improving Hearing Aid User Communication
Counter loops provide a direct communication solution for individuals with hearing impairments who use hearing aids in an establishment. They allow customers to converse with staff members even in noisy environments such as shopping centres, where background noise can be overwhelming. In Singapore, developers can benefit from integrating counter loops into their designs to improve accessibility for hearing aid users.
A counter loop is an induction loop that can communicate with a hearing aid user in a known and well-defined position. Counter loops are effective at locations such as:
- Ticket Counters
- Reception desks
- Information or help points.
- Cashier counter
How does a counter loop work?
- An audio source usually would be a staff member who will speak into a directional microphone.
- The microphone captures the voice, converts it into a sound signal, and sends it to an Induction Loop Amplifier to generate a current to pass the signal into the Induction Loop.
- The Induction Loop, made from copper wire, would be located under the counter, producing a magnetic field.
- The magnetic field generated by the Induction Loop will be picked up by the Telecoil or T-Coil equipped with the hearing aid and must be switched on by the user. The Telecoil will then convert the signal into a sound directly fed into the ear canal, omitting the background noise and improving the intelligibility of the staff's voice.
Portable Counter Loops vs Fixed Counter Loops
Portable Counter Loops
The portability of moving around an induction loop would be the ideal product for areas with counters. Businesses would prefer the Portable Counter Loop as their go-to product due to its portability and ability to be used immediately.
Portable counter loops are a simple and quick solution because they do not need to be configured or initially set up before use. Staff members must know several variables that affect how well a portable counter loop works.
These factors include:
- The distance that they would have to be standing away from the device so that the omnidirectional microphone would be able to pick up their voice. Otherwise, the microphone might pick up ambient noise instead, which might cause the hearing aid user not to have an intelligible sound quality.
- The height of where the portable counter loop is placed so that hearing aid users can receive a comfortable hearing volume level – not too soft or too loud.
- There is a constant need to recharge the device before usage, and it has an auto shut-off feature after 10 to 60 minutes to prevent the battery life from deteriorating.
Also, since portable counter loops are always present in the line of sight of the retail staff and take up space, there is a much higher chance that the device might be kept or moved elsewhere where it does not obstruct operations, which may result in a lack of return on investment and may even be forgotten by staff that there is a portable counter loop system at all. This may even lead to the hearing aid user being unable to ask for assistance in the first place.
Fixed Counter Loops
The opposite of portable counter loops is fixed counter loops. As its name suggests, a fixed counter loop is a long-term fix that can be added to old or new counters. Despite being installed, fixed counter loops do not need to be adjusted or set up before use; a staff member must talk into the desktop microphone.
The hearing aid user has to be standing in front of the counter and proceed to turn on the T-coil function to be able to hear what the staff member is saying. And since the fixed counter loop is installed under the actual counter itself, it is a discreet and non-discriminatory way that hearing aid users can communicate easily to ask for assistance. Furthermore, since the fixed counter loop is hidden from sight, hearing aid users are not discriminated against.
Since the fixed counter loop driver does not operate on batteries, it is plugged into a DC power source, and users can choose to keep it on standby or use it on demand. Before the room with the fixed counter loop system can be utilized, it must meet the IEC 600118-4 standard. Staff should be properly set up and tested during the initial installation phase before being commissioned to be fit for use.
Overall, a portable counter loop scores a 5/5 on portability. However, it does require constant adjustments to ensure that customers with hearing aids can get an intelligible sound quality, which might not even meet the IEC 600118-4 standard, and that staff must recharge before every use. Since the portable counter loop is within the public's line of sight, it may be discriminatory to those wearing hearing aids.
On the other hand, a fixed counter loop checks all the requirements the portable counter loop lacks. Even though the fixed counter is not portable and only dedicated to a single counter desk, it meets the IEC 600118-4 standard, which hearing aids users will appreciate. Since it is hidden from the eyes of the public, hearing aid users will feel more included and will not feel discriminated against when approaching a counter staff.
Singapore's architects and building system developers can enhance accessibility and improve communication for hearing aid users by integrating fixed counter loops into their designs.
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