PHOENIX – There are 48 million people in the United States with some degree of hearing loss. Friends, family, colleagues might not even notice this “invisible handicap”.
Many turn to cochlear implants or hearing aids, but they can’t do it all.
The Phoenix company OTOjoy install what are called “loopback” systems in the rooms, and for the hearing impaired, that makes all the difference.
Woman loses hearing due to meningitis
Imagine traveling, enjoying life, and waking up to a silent world. It happened to Tammy Collinsworth in 2015.
“My hearing was gone,” Collinsworth said. “They didn’t think I would live.”
She was 63 when she contracted bacterial meningitis. While it didn’t cost him his life, it took away the ability to hear.
“Not being able to hear anything and connect with your family and friends is extremely difficult,” she said.
But there was hope. Tammy eventually received cochlear implants, a surgically implanted neuroprosthesis that gives an altered sense of sound.
It worked for Tammy, but hearing aids and cochlear implants don’t always do enough for people who are hard of hearing.
“They don’t do much to help them hear clearly in groups,” OTOjOY officials said.
Typical technology amplifies all sounds, so in a church, theater or hotel lobby, the ambient noise of conversations, the opening of doors, the sound of feet – everything is heard at once.
Loopback technology offers a solution
A Phoenix company called OTOjOY is working to solve this problem with loopback technology.
“Inside almost every hearing aid and every cochlear implant, there is a small component called a telecoil,” said James Rowe, CEO of OTOjOY. “When the loop is installed, the sound is taken from the system in the place directly into the telecoil which is in the hearing aid.”
The loopback system only takes a day or two to install.
“It’s basically a flat wire that will go under carpets so that there aren’t any bumps, and you won’t even see anything after installation is complete,” said founder Thomas Kaufmann.
Members of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) have played a big role in attracting this technology to the United States.
Liz and Ron work for the group and remember hearing the loop for the first time.
“I could hear this speaker like it was standing 3 feet in front of me,” Liz said.
OTOjOY founder Thomas Kaufmann said he has installed 400 systems in Arizona and California, including ASU classrooms and Mayo Clinic buildings. He says 80% of all hearing aids and cochlear implants are compatible.
“It’s kind of the hard of hearing people to get the word out, but also organizations like HLAA to let people who are hard of hearing know that there is such technology,” Kaufmann said.
For people like Tammy, loopback technology is life changing. She even had her house cordoned off to better understand what is going on in her house and to do Bible study – something she did before she lost her hearing.
In the future, she hopes more places will decide to use it so that all people feel welcome, even those with the so-called “invisible handicap” of hearing loss.
“You meet people who are in the same boat as you and we can relate to each other,” Tammy said. “And it means so much to help you understand that you are not alone. You are not the only one.”
Learn more about OTOjOY: https://otojoy.com
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