Hearing Assistance Options in Australian Buildings

hearing augmentation systems in public spaces

Ensuring accessibility for all individuals, including those with hearing impairment, is a critical aspect of creating inclusive environments in public spaces. One in six Australians currently experience hearing loss and by 2050 this number is expected to increase to one in four due to an ageing population. In Australia, various hearing assistance technologies are employed in buildings to facilitate communication and accessibility for people with hearing difficulties. Currently there are three main types of hearing augmentation systems currently used in most public spaces; hearing loop systems, infrared systems and wifi connectivity systems.

Hearing Loop Systems:
Hearing Loop systems, also known as induction loops, are widely used in Australia to assist individuals with hearing aids or cochlear implants. These systems work by transmitting sound directly into the user’s hearing device through a magnetic field. The loop is constructed from copper tape or wire placed under the flooring in a designated area. An amplifier generates a current into the copper which creates the magnetic field. To utilise a Hearing Loop, individuals switch their hearing aids or cochlear implants to the “T” or telecoil setting, enabling them to pick up the magnetic signal. A study found that 86% of hearing aid users prefer using hearing loops over other assistive listening devices.

One of the significant advantages of Hearing Loops is their compatibility with most hearing aids and cochlear implants equipped with telecoils. They are particularly effective in spaces with controlled environments, such as theatres, lecture halls, and meeting rooms. However, proper installation and maintenance are essential to ensure optimal performance and coverage within the designated areas.

Infrared Systems:
Infrared (IR) systems are another prevalent option for hearing assistance in Australian buildings, particularly in larger venues like conference centres, cinemas, and museums. These systems use invisible infrared light to transmit audio signals to receivers worn by users. Unlike Hearing Loops, IR systems do not rely on magnetic fields, making them suitable for environments where electromagnetic interference could be an issue.

One of the notable advantages of IR systems is their ability to provide secure and confidential communication since the signal is confined within the infrared spectrum. Additionally, they offer high-quality sound transmission and are compatible with hearing aids equipped with telecoils or dedicated receivers. However, line-of-sight limitations and the need for direct visibility between transmitters and receivers can pose challenges in certain settings.

WiFi Connectivity:
With the advancement of technology, WiFi-based hearing assistance solutions are gaining traction in Australian buildings. These systems utilise wireless networks to transmit audio signals directly to users’ smartphones or dedicated receiver devices. By connecting to a designated WiFi network, individuals can access real-time audio streams or pre-recorded content tailored to their hearing needs.

WiFi connectivity offers flexibility and scalability, allowing for easy integration with existing infrastructure and compatibility with a wide range of devices. Users can adjust volume levels and customise settings through dedicated mobile applications, enhancing their overall experience. Moreover, WiFi-based systems can facilitate multi-channel audio distribution, catering to diverse user preferences within the same space.

“Without… assistive devices I would be a “visitor” to these discussions, not a true participant and, therefore, not fully engaged. The removal of barriers to participation enables me to contribute to my full capacity as an equal member of society.” – Ruth Warwick, President of the International Federation of Hard of Hearing People.

Significant development is occurring in hearing technology with the launch of Auracast broadcast audio using Bluetooth LE. The new assistive listening technology has been designed to overcome the challenges of traditional options through the creation of an easier and more affordable solution that maintains high audio quality.

Auracast has also been designed for personal audio use in public spaces. The Bluetooth LE audio technology broadcasts multiple audio streams simultaneously to an unlimited number of devices. 

To learn more about Auracast and Auri, powered by Auracast, read our article here

In conclusion, ensuring effective hearing assistance in Australian buildings requires careful consideration of the available technologies and their suitability for different contexts. Whether it’s through traditional Hearing Loop systems, infrared technology or WiFi connectivity, the goal remains the same: to create inclusive environments where individuals with hearing impairments can participate fully and engage in communication with ease. By embracing diverse hearing assistance options, building owners and operators can contribute to a more accessible and inclusive society for all Australians