FAIRLAWN: Cheryl Shuttleworth used to rely on lip reading to understand the message at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron.
Those days ended earlier this year, when the church installed a hearing loop in the sanctuary.
“I am really grateful to the people here at the church for making it possible for me to hear everything,” said Shuttleworth, 60, of Sharon Center. “Before, I was missing things. But now, I can even hear the words to the music. I feel like crying every time I think about it.”
Shuttleworth, whose hearing loss has become more profound over the past 40 years, uses a hearing aid and reads lips. Late last year, she brought the idea of installing a Telecoil hearing system in the church sanctuary.
The Rev. Tim Temerson, pastor, said Shuttleworth’s proposal created awareness that the congregation could better serve people with hearing loss.
“We’re a community that prides itself on being inclusive and welcoming. Cheryl helped us to see that we weren’t as inclusive as we could be,” Temerson said. “The hearing loop is one way we are living out our mission to be an inclusive, welcoming community.”
Temerson said that other members of the congregation who use hearing aids have also benefited from the technology, which includes a wire loop being installed around the periphery of a room. The hearing loop radiates electromagnetic signals that are picked up by a tiny receiver built into most hearing aids and cochlear implants, called a T-coil. When the receiver is turned on, the hearing aid receives sounds coming directly from a microphone (which eliminates background noises).
The local church was able to install the hearing loop for less than $2,000 – thanks to Warren Brown, one of its members who was inspired to become a certified installer. Brown, of Tallmadge, now owns Brown Audio Service. Although the company specializes in hearing loops, it offers a variety of audio services, including the design, installation and maintenance of public address systems.
Brown’s first hearing loop installation was at the Unitarian Universalist Church in January. Since then, he has installed a half dozen throughout the state in churches.
“While looking into the technology, I discovered that there were only a few loops that had been installed throughout the United States and there seemed to be a need for someone in this area with the certification to install them,” Brown said. “I’ve always wanted to do something to make a difference and this is a way to help people with hearing loss keep their dignity. It has been life-changing for me to help people hear sounds that they couldn’t hear before. It’s a solution with dignity.”
Brown said the technology has been used for decades in Europe, where hearing loops are available in places, including airports, hotels, theatres, banks and taxi cabs. He said that 60 to 70 percent of the hearing aids and cochlear implants being used in the United States are capable of receiving the signals from a hearing loop.
A recent push by the American Academy of Audiology and the Hearing Loss Association of America promotes the installation and use of hearing loops, Brown said.
In addition to public places and businesses, loops can be installed in homes, and portable systems are available for automobiles.
Shuttleworth said she and her husband are planning to purchase a portable unit. She already benefits from a system in her family room, which allows her to hear the television without turning the volume up.
“My hearing loss made it difficult for me to be as involved in church as I wanted to be. Rev. Tim offers a lot of classes and I couldn’t really participate because I was always missing things,” Shuttleworth said. “Now, he is having classes in the sanctuary and I can come and be involved because I can hear everything clearly. This is such a warm, loving community and I can’t thank them enough for caring about me and others who have hearing loss.”
The church also continues to offer assistive-hearing headsets. Signs posted throughout the church inform visitors that a hearing loop is provided for hearing aid users. Plans are being made to install a loop in the fellowship hall.
Unitarian Universalists draw from all major world religions and have a wide range of beliefs and practices.
The local church, at 3300 Morewood Road, is handicap- accessible and offers viewing assistance as well. For more information about the church, go to www.uuakron.org or call 330-836-2206. More information about hearing loops can be found on Brown’s website, www.brownaudioservice.com or by calling 330-338-8550.