A VISIONARY group of representatives from large retailers and national and local disability groups got together to discuss plans for making Eastbourne the UK’s friendliest town for hard of hearing people.
Their discussions focused on induction loop systems, which is technology installed in buildings to make it easier for people who wear hearing aids to follow what is being said.
The event was led by three organisations: Eastbourne-based charity Hearing Link, the UK-wide organisation that works for and with people with hearing loss; together with leading induction loop manufacturer, Contacta, and independent induction loop expert Doug Edworthy.
Also part of the Loop Group are representatives from HSBC, Lloyds Pharmacy, ASDA, the Post Office and Everything Everywhere, in addition to Eastbourne Borough Council’s Disability Champion Councillor Janet Coles, and representatives from the local Disability Involvement Group and Eastbourne Access Group.
The group will work together to set out plans for ensuring working loop systems are available in Eastbourne’s key retail, public and community venues. Loop systems electronically transmit speech and sound directly into hearing aids and are relatively simple and inexpensive to install.
Although loop systems have been around for many decades, the quality of the systems and the understanding of how to maintain them is often poor, not just in Eastbourne but throughout the UK. This is impacting on people who need them.
Dr Lorraine Gailey, chief executive of Hearing Link, said, “One in six people in the UK has some level of hearing loss and about two million people wear hearing aids. Hearing loss can make communication incredibly difficult but it is particularly frustrating when something as simple as a loop system could improve it significantly but the loop isn’t in place or doesn’t work properly. This applies to customer service desks in banks, shops, theatres and other places that are part of daily living.
“The Loop Group has come together with the aim of establishing Eastbourne as a looped town of excellence, which other towns and cities can then seek to replicate. It is hoped that next year the International Loop Conference will be held in Eastbourne so this is an added incentive for local service providers to tackle the current situation.”
Andrew Thomas, business development director for Contacta, said, “This is an exciting project that we are delighted to have been involved with from the start. It is very encouraging to have so many high profile retailers wanting to be part of the initiative. As a group, we will aim to make significant improvements towards making Eastbourne a real example of how goods and services can be made fully accessible to hearing aid wearers.
“Many service providers have already invested in providing loop systems but the equipment often can’t be used because it requires some basic maintenance, is not switched on, or staff don’t know how to make it available. Properly working equipment is crucial if hearing aid wearers are to benefit from the technology.”
Councillor Coles said, “The council is 100 per cent behind the work of Hearing Link and others to ensure that Eastbourne leads the way in the provision of modern and well maintained loop facilities.
“The council is committed to making Eastbourne highly attractive to new businesses, investors, visitors and of course residents so we welcome the Loop Group’s meeting to raise awareness of the need for better loop facilities and the general needs of hard of hearing people.”
Hearing aid wearers and service providers can find guidance about loops and how to use them or how to install them, by going to www.hearinglink.org/loops.