INSULATION & ACOUSTICS
Counter hearing loops are used for short range
BUILDING PRODUCTS | NOVEMBER
Buildings are increasingly being designed to be ‘inclusive’ spaces that
everybody can use, but the requirements of the largest group within
the disabled community oen go ‘unheard’. Andrew Thomas, from
Contacta Systems, looks at how – and why – designers and specifiers
should meet the needs of the hearing impaired.
Accessibility has long been a focus
for design, making sure people with
a range of needs can enter and use
buildings and public spaces. But as the
demographic of the population changes, the focus
has now shifted to ‘inclusivity’; making spaces
welcoming to the needs of all, rather than setting
specialist facilities aside.
Designers and architects are well used to meeting
the needs of the physically disabled with accessible
doorways, grab rails in toilet facilities and lowered
counters. But the largest group within the disabled
community is people with hearing loss.
One in six people in the UK (over 10 million)
have some form of hearing impairment. More
than half of these are over 65 so with an ageing
population this number will only increase. In
fact, the NHS estimates that by 2031 a fifth of the
population will be hearing impaired.
There is an obvious financial as well as
reputational impetus to get it right for clients and
meet the needs of this significant group. As almost
half of them wear a hearing aid, the most effective
method of doing this is by installing hearing loops.
‘Universal’ assistive listening
Hearing or ‘induction’ loops are developed to
international standards on performance and
universality. While there are other assistive listening
technologies currently developing, the advantage of
an induction loop system is that no matter where
in the world a building is situated or customers
and employees come from, the loops will be
compatible with a wearer’s hearing aid or cochlear
The hearing loops work by cutting out
background noise and amplifying the sound a
person wants to hear. They convert speech or music
picked up by a microphone into a magnetic signal.
This is transmitted by a loop aerial and is picked up
by the telecoil in a wearer’s hearing aid where it is
converted back to its original sound.
Hearing loops are essential to any build
project meeting the Equality Act 2010 and Part
M of the Building Regulations. These require
premises to make “reasonable adjustments” for
those with disabilities if they are at “substantial
disadvantage” to others, and “for all people to
have access to, and the use of, all the facilities
provided within buildings.”
The best performing hearing loops are those
which are not an off-the-shelf subsequent solution
added at completion but the ones that are specified
at the earliest stage in order to give listeners the
best experience – and the client the best reputation.
These can also last far longer on-site.
Hearing loop design
Every hearing loop installation should comply with
IEC 60118-4 to meet the internationally agreed
performance standards. Specialist advice is key in
order to make sure these are achieved and people
can enjoy the benefit the loop is there to provide.
There are many factors that affect which
application is right for the space, so a professional
assessment of the building is key to having a system
that does the job for which it’s intended.
The size of the space the loop needs to cover
is the first element to consider. Systems designed
for large environments such as theatres or lecture
halls involve a significant amount of wiring either
around the perimeter of the space or in several
smaller ‘phased array’ loops.
Secondly, the fabric of the building needs to be
understood as well as the location of features such
as power sources and air conditioning systems.
Metal in the floor structure, for example, can cause