INSULATION & ACOUSTICS
NOVEMBER 8 | BUILDING PRODUCTS
a loss of current power and significantly impact a
hearing loop’s performance. Low frequency sounds
generated by a climate control system can also
impact the sound quality for users creating notable
It’s also important to understand what the space
is likely to be used for. Confidentiality may be an
issue – perhaps in a courtroom or consulting room.
Correctly positioning a hearing loop can make sure
sound doesn’t over-spill through to other areas.
The space may always be used by people who
are sitting down, in which case the loop must
be configured to provide a field of signal at the
appropriate height. The type of microphone used
depends on whether the speaker is positioned at a
podium or walks around the room.
It’s clear to see why hearing loops need to be
incorporated into plans at the earliest point. From
a design point of view, getting the best performance
could affect the positioning of other features in a
space, so planning is essential to avoid changes later
down the line that could result in a costly retrofit.
But alongside inclusivity and aesthetic
treatments there is a safety perspective to consider.
Enabling customers, users or employees to hear
clearly is vital in refuge areas, at information points
and via customer announcements.
The right loop for the right space
Large area loops are suitable for communal spaces
such as places of worship, theatres and concert
halls. Modern construction and the use of metal
reinforcement mean phased array configurations
using a number of smaller loops better counteract
metal loss and give a better listening experience
throughout the space with fewer fluctuations in
Counter hearing loops are used for short range
one-to-one communication at banking counters,
tickets offices or supermarket checkouts, while
portable loops can be taken to wherever a customer
or client needs to hear an individual clearly.
All of these have benefits for people with hearing
loss, regardless of whether they use a hearing aid
as ‘loop listeners’ can be provided so they can use
standard headphones to hear sound coming from
the hearing loop.
Until now, designers and architects have had little
guidance on how best to meet the needs of people
with hearing loss. “Reasonable adjustments” as
specified in the Equality Act are difficult to define.
This created huge inconsistency between what
equipment service providers were offering to their
hard of hearing customers.
Best practice for creating accessible environments
is specified in BS 8300 and revisions to the
document at the beginning of 2018 include, for the
first time, specific guidance for the appropriate level
of provision for meeting the needs of people with
For example, the guidelines state that every
self-service checkout in a retail outlet should
have a counter loop fitted. Places of worship are
recommended to ideally provide coverage for the
whole congregation but if this is not possible a
minimum of 50% should be achieved.
While these aren’t enforceable by law, they do
represent a clear code of practice against which
premises claiming to meet them can be measured.
The guidelines also heavily inform European and
Signage is essential, especially where 100%
coverage isn’t possible so users know where to sit
or stand to get the best reception. It too needs to
be incorporated into premises design as it needs to
be clearly visible and not obscured by parts of the
structure or decoration.
This needs to apply when a space is in use and
doors may be open, window treatments drawn
back or being seated alters a person’s sightlines.
Maintenance and testing
People using a space won’t always ask if there is a
loop provided or whether is it working. It is more
likely they will leave the premises and, if they can,
use an alternative service elsewhere that better
meets their needs.
A recent external audit of two hospitals’ hearing
loop provision found both premises were equipped
with a number of counter and portable loops.
However, fewer than 10% of those installed were
usable – they didn’t perform to a usable standard,
were broken, had been mislaid or staff didn’t know
how to use them.
This is a clear illustration of both the needs for a
correctly specified loop system and the importance
of regular maintenance and testing.
In many environments it can be frustrating to be
unable to hear clearly but in a healthcare setting it
can be life-changing.
Why it matters
Awareness of ‘hidden’ disabilities like hearing
loss is growing and initiatives like Purple Tuesday,
the UK’s first accessible shopping day, are putting
greater emphasis on the need for inclusivity.
The ‘Purple Pound’ is estimated to be worth
£249 billion to the UK economy, so there is a clear
business case for responding. But more than this,
there is a moral responsibility for premises to have
well thought out and fully functioning inclusivity
Plan large area loops into the
design to easily conceal cabling
beneath floor coverings
Portable loops can be taken to
wherever a customer or client
needs to hear an individual clearly,
such as in a consultation room