The primary reason for the U.S.'s lagging adoption of hearing loops is that the technology is not a requirement for public venues, Myers says. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has, since it was revised in 2004, required public venues in the U.S. to offer assistive listening systems (ALS) for people with hearing loss, but it offers movie theaters, concert halls, sports arenas and other gathering places the option of installing hearing loops, providing neck loops (a wire worn loosely around the neck that's connected to a receiver and works with a hearing aid's telecoil like a mini hearing loop) or offering visitors a cigarette pack–size receiver that tunes into broadcast signals via FM or infrared waves. The latter comes with earphones (the hearing aid may need to be removed) and is generally borrowed from the venue for the duration of a performance or event.
The ADA's position is that no single approach works for every person and every venue. An FM system may be better than an infrared system in some open-air assemblies because infrared signals are less effective in sunlight. On the other hand, an infrared system is typically a better choice than an FM system where confidential transmission is important because it will be contained within a given space. "Differences in confidentially, interference, cost, installation requirements and operability make it impossible to simply use one type of ALS in every place," according to ADA guidelines.
Myers disagrees, pointing out that a lot of people with hearing loss are self-conscious about asking the staff of a theater or other venue for an earphone setup, whereas others are averse to using earphones worn by the general public.
Another stern advocate of hearing loops is Janice Schacter, chair of Hearing Access Program, an organization she started in 2002 to advocate for those with hearing loss, including her daughter. "The ADA refers to places providing effective communication for people who are hard of hearing, but no one knows what that means," she says. "I set out to find out what effective communication would be."
Like Myers, Schacter has successfully advocated for hearing loops. New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) last month approved hearing loops for any of its licensed drivers who wish to voluntarily install the technology in their vehicles. This came after a 13-month pilot program (.pdf), set up with Schacter's help, during which 15 taxis tested the technology. Another project in the works is the installation of hearing-loop technology at up to 642 information booths in the New York City subway system, says Schacter, who worked with Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office to launch the initial pilot test at the Wall Street station.