John: Dave welcome to our Speaker slot and perhaps we could start by asking you how you became involved with Hearing Loops?
Thank you, John. I became involved with hearing loops in my previous career as a journalist. I have been a journalist for more than 30 years and was editor of the Swindon Advertiser for four years when I met many of the current members of the e-club. More recently, I have been working in East Sussex running a series of newspapers there. One of these, the Eastbourne Herald, got involved with a campaign called “Let’s Loop Eastbourne”. The idea was to raise the profile of hearing loops and to campaign for their wider acceptance in commercial premises such as shops and banks, leisure facilities like libraries, theatres and the tourist information centre, as well as public buildings, for example churches, council offices, the railway station and even the local crematorium! The campaign was run in conjunction with a charity called Hearing Link, which is a national charity based in Eastbourne.
Hearing loops, by the way, are clever devices which help cut out exterior noise for hearing aid wearers. Most hearing aids have a Telecoil setting, and if the hearing aid is put to the “T” setting, then in a conversation, say at a bank counter or a post office, the person will be able to hear what is being said much clearer. There are portable loops, room loops – all sorts of gadgets and gizmos – which, when put together with a microphone and an amplifier, will make a world of difference to someone who is hard of hearing. It really does improve people’s quality of life.
So, the campaign proved to be a huge success and continues to be. I spoke at an international conference in the autumn about “Let’s Loop Eastbourne” and the charity was so impressed – they offered me a job!! Now I am Hearing Link’s user experience manager with the aim of continuing the good work in Eastbourne, but also promoting 12 pilot projects across the country during the coming year in Bournemouth, Southampton, Brighton & Lewes, Surrey, Swindon, Cambridge, Liverpool and Newcastle. There will be two projects in Scotland, one of which will be based in Stirling, one in Northern Ireland and a 12th in Wales, probably Cardiff.
John: Unlike some disabilities, the degree of hearing loss people suffer can vary enormously, how much of a problem is this in ensuring they get the right advice?
The advice which people receive about hearing loss differs greatly and as a separate piece of work I am working closely with audiologists – both those in the NHS and also private dispensers – to ensure we get consistency of quality when people are fitted with hearing aids and for their follow-up visits. There is a lot of choice out there with hearing aids, sometimes too much choice, and you can pay a lot of money for a state-of-the-art digital hearing aid. Ultimately it is important that people address their hearing aid issues early and get their hearing checked. Hearing aids can only work with the hearing you already have, so the earlier detection, the easier it will become to adjust.
John: Having my wife with a hearing aid, we both understand the problem of Shops and Theatres either not having the loop system or staff not knowing how to use it. How much of a problem is this and how can this be improved.
Working on the loop campaign has been an eye-opener. If you have got a moment, have a look at this BBC programme from Inside Out in East Anglia (it’s the first 10 minutes) and shows the state of the provision of hearing loops in Suffolk through a series of visits:
And while I am highlighting links, here is another one from the BBC’s Breakfast Time programme which illustrates the work we have been doing in Eastbourne.
The 2010 Equality Act says that those providing a service to the public should make reasonable adjustments to ensure that people with disabilities are not disadvantaged in accessing these services. The reality is that despite there being copious blue sticker signs on shop storefronts highlighting a loop has been installed, often it isn’t working and the staff have no idea where it is. The Act is pretty toothless, sadly – as useful as a chocolate teapot!
It’s a bit like walking into a coffee shop which advertises wi-fi, you switch on the laptop and you can’t get a signal. Most of us would go to the shop manager and ask why it wasn’t functioning. However, many people with a hearing loss feeling anxious and shy about their disability and choose to stay silent. Ultimately, this is a self-fulfilling prophesy since if the stores don’t know their loop is not working then they won’t do anything about it!
John: Without jumping on the bandwagon of knocking the NHS. How much of a part should they play in helping people who suffer hearing loss and how do you feel their input could be improved?
I think the NHS do a good job. I visited a hospital the other week to check on their hearing loops where the provision is not bad. I work closely with NHS audiologists in Eastbourne and Newcastle who are passionate about their jobs, but they are rushed off their feet with scant resources dealing with tens of thousands of hearing aid users in their areas. By the way, the figure nationally is around 10 million hearing aid users, or one in six of the population.
There is something called a loop benefit cycle which looks at those who benefit from a working hearing loop, from the hearing aid user, to the hearing aid manufacturer, the loop manufacturer, audiologists, businesses, architects, doctors….. The list is limitless. Ultimately it is about improving the quality of life, moving people who suffer with hearing loss out of isolation and part of their community. There have been some interesting studies recently about the links between hearing loss and dementia, because of this isolation, and with an ever-increasing elderly population this is something all aspects of society has to take seriously.
John: Having played Cricket, I am convinced some Umpires required a hearing aid. Thinking of Sportsmen and women, how much of a disadvantage is it having to wear a hearing aid, i.e. swimmers for example?
I interviewed the former rugby star and Strictly Come Dancing contestant, Ben Cohen recently. He discovered over a decade ago that he had declining hearing – this was soon after helping England to win the World Cup in 2003 when he was in his 30s. He ignored the hearing loss, even though it caused a few problems on the pitch, he said. However, it was a chance meeting with Sir Elton John, who is involved with a hearing aid charity in south-east Asia, which put Ben right and now he wears a hearing aid too. Hearing aids generally are very robust and work well. For a contact sport such as rugby, or something like swimming, it wouldn’t be right to wear a hearing aid, but when out running, why not?!!
John: Finally, how do you feel Rotary and our e.club can get the message out that help is available?
The interesting thing about hearing loss is that it touches all of our lives. We all know someone who wears a hearing aid or who suffers from hearing loss and I am hoping through both Rotary International and the e-club that we can spread awareness about hearing loss and hearing loops. It sounds trite, and I have mentioned this before in my interview, but this really is about changing the quality of people’s lives. Rotary as a movement has proved itself as great ambassadors and catalysts for change – I’ve seen it with this e-club club through its work with autism, which is another subject very close to my heart, which has been about creating awareness and changing people’s minds. I think the same can be achieved with hearing loss.
John: Many thanks Dave, I am sure all our members will want to support such a great Charity and thank you for sharing this with us.