The 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that an assistive listening system be provided for use in any space where audible communication is integral. Assistive listening systems transmit and amplify sound to help those with hearing loss.
While it may sound like ADA refers to large spaces like school auditoriums, gymnasiums and cafeteria, the most common type of assembly area in a K-12 school is actually the classroom.
According to the act, you must have at least two hearing-aid compatible receivers in all newly constructed or altered spaces. The number of devices required increases based on the seating capacity of the space. This is rarely enforced in schools. Many educators, and even the AV contractors that install such systems, are unaware of this aspect of ADA.
As a result, these systems are often not specified or installed.
“When we think ADA requirements, we think about wheelchair access,” says Cory Schaeffer, co-founder of Listen Technologies, a manufacturer of assistive listening products. “However, compared to 1.4% of the population in a wheelchair, 17% have hearing loss [based on the World Health Organization’s definition].”
According to Schaeffer, one of the reasons that awareness is so low is because many people consider hearing loss to be an issue that primarily affects the elderly. However, an estimated 12.5% of children and adolescents aged 6–19 years (approximately 5.2 million) have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise.
“Noise-induced” hearing loss is on the rise in this age group. The increase is often attributed to the constant use of ear buds or noise-canceling headphones used to listen to personal music, digital video players and other Smart Devices.
“We are seeing a rise in hearing loss with school age children for the first time ever,” Schaeffer says. “At 85 decibels or louder, kids begin to get permanent hearing loss. “This is a real problem because when children have this type of hearing loss, it cannot be medically or surgically corrected.”
Hearing loss can have a tremendous impact on a child’s education. According to information on the CDC web site, “even a small amount of hearing loss can have profound, negative effects on speech, language comprehension, communication, classroom learning, and social development.”
Fortunately, there are solutions already on the market that are designed to facilitate the specification and installation of assistive listening technology. According to Marc D’Agostino, a national AV Technology and Security consultant with D’Agostino & Associates, the hardware available is not specifically designed to integrate with this type of technology so installations can be unwieldy and overly complex.
The majority of the projects D’Agostino & Associates creates are bid specification documents for classrooms and larger assembly areas in K-12 schools.
“For schools, the goal is to incorporate technology that meets the ADA requirements while minimizing the hardware, space and installation requirements while staying within the budget,” D’Agostino says.
Although his company has no exclusive agreement with any specific manufacturer, D’Agostino often specifies a bundled speaker/assistive listening system from OWI Incorporated. The offering is the result of a partnership between OWI and Listen Technologies to reduce complexity and simplify installation. OWI, a manufacturer of advanced audio equipment, offers ceiling and wall-mounted speakers for schools that have several key advantages when used in conjunction with assistive listening systems.
The speaker has its own built-in amplifier and is designed to provide the necessary power to the assistive listening system through the connection, eliminating the need for an additional power source. The ceiling speaker, the AMP-ER2S6, is also Energy Star compliant.