There are numerous documents worldwide stating where and how hearing loops should be installed to comply with government legislation and regulations. Standards for the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom are detailed below.
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The United Nations published the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities as an international document promoting the rights of disabled people worldwide. This agreement acknowledges that every individual is of equal value, has the right to make their own decisions, and should be treated fairly and in a dignified manner.
This legislation has prompted various countries to develop their own rules for the rights of disabled people. Some of these individual country legislations detail specification on inclusion and use of assistive listening systems, whilst others have more general guidelines. In some countries the legislation is listing the use of specific types of assistive listening technologies, including induction loop systems.
The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) published the IEC 60118-4 standard to set clear guidelines for the performance of hearing loop systems.
This standard has been adopted worldwide as the authoritative reference for hearing loop system performance. Compliance to the IEC 60118-4 is a stamp of approval on set up quality level and performance of a system. From the perspective of a service provider, it confirms that compliance is in line with equality laws and that installed systems are fully compliant and commissioned correctly. This standard is not a legal rule, rather a norm referenced in architectural plans or building specifications.
The IEC 60118-4 ensures hearing loop systems produce a magnetic field at an intended and designed level, meaning an even magnetic field is delivered across the whole of the listening area. The best solutions are therefore provided for telecoil hearing device users. Also included are details about the expected field strength of induction loop systems so that they produce an optimal signal to noise ratio without distortion, as well as minimum frequency response levels for delivering optimal intelligibility. Measurements techniques, distances and methods are detailed in depth in the standard.
The document known as IEC TR 63079 in Europe and BS 7594 in the UK is a code of practice which details best practices for the provision of hearing loop systems. It covers a variety of topics, including audio inputs, suitable microphone types, loop antenna specification, cable types, signage, and testing and installation methods.
Whilst the performance standards of induction loop systems are specified in the IEC 60118-4, the IEC TR 63079 / BS 7594 gives recommendations and general guidance on design, installation, testing and maintenance. This code of practice specifies that an induction loop system should always be designed and installed by a trained (specialist) designer and installer.
Section 219 of the 2010 ADA Standards states that assistive listening systems are needed in facilities used for entertainment, educational, or civic gatherings where communication is integral to the space and audio amplification is provided, or where there is an occupant load of 50 or more people with fixed seating; this also applies to courtrooms.
25% of receivers, or no fewer than two of those available, must be hearing-aid compatible. Assembly areas served by an induction [hearing] loop do not need to provide hearing-aid compatible receivers.
The Equality Act 2010 combines a number of already established laws and states that everyone should be treated equally. Its goal is to protect people from discrimination and improve public services.
The 2010 Act replaced previous ‘anti-discrimination laws’, including the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), with a single document which empowers the law to tackle inequality situations which have an impact on disabled people. It accounts for age, sex and race.
The Act mentions provision of hearing loops, stating that “Service providers are required to make changes, where needed, to improve service for disabled customers or potential customers… and to provide auxiliary aids and services (such as information in an accessible format, an induction loop for customers with hearing aids).”
For service providers, it is important to note the reference made to “potential customers” to ensure issues are not only addressed within businesses. Environments should be provided which are inclusive and accessible for all. The Act states that service providers are legally required to provide environments of this type.
“The aim is for all people to have access to, and the use of, all the facilities provided within buildings.” – Section 4.1 of Part M
Part M is an Approved Document by the Department for Communities and Local Government which provides guidance on compliance with building regulations. It states that to obtain the full benefit of situations such as discussions or performances “a person with hearing loss must receive a signal that is amplified in both volume and signal to noise ratio,” and provision must be made for a permanent system in larger spaces.
Hearing Loops: Hearing loops, infrared and radio frequency systems are listed as commonly used solutions. Requirements of Part M are only met if “the presence of an induction [hearing] loop or infrared hearing enhancement system is indicated by the standard symbol,” demonstrating the importance of clear signage in buildings.
Entertainment, Education and Social Venues: Everyone should “be able to participate in the proceedings at lecture/conference facilities and at entertainment or leisure and social venues, not only as spectators, but also as participants and/or staff.” In buildings with entertainment or leisure and conference facilities, a solution such as a hearing loop must be provided to enable people with hearing loss to participate. This applies to hotels, schools, universities and community centres, as well as theatres and sports stadia.
Service and Reception Counters: A solution supporting people with hearing loss must be investigated for all buildings where service or reception counters are found. This includes many types of buildings, i.e. retail, worship, healthcare, transport, government and education.
Locations: It is not often sufficient to just address one area. When trying to meet the requirements laid out in Part M, it is important to consider that there may be many locations within a building where conversations or listening interactions take place. Focus on providing a good customer experience instead of simply providing the minimum required to comply with the regulations.
BS 8300 is a code of practice compiled by the British Standards Institution detailing the required design of buildings for meeting the needs of disabled people, and promotes equal access to services and buildings.
Whether you’re an architect, tender manager, store fit out provider, retailer or designer, the revised 2018 BS 8300 provides greater clarity on the appropriate level of provision and installation for hearing loops. It also heavily influences European and US standards.
A complete annex is included within the BS 8300-2 standard detailing hearing loop requirements. This annex covers hearing loop specifications, provisions, location variations, applications, best practice installation and maintenance, and staff testing and training.
BS 8300 also gives guidance on where hearing loops should be used, such as at help and refuge points, meeting rooms, halls, public sector buildings, cinemas, sporting venues, anywhere with points of sale and many more locations. It also provides instruction for microphone inputs and the various sound sources that can be selected for applications.
Specialists & Maintenance Required
There is a requirement for reactive and preventative maintenance of hearing loop systems using a provider with “specialist knowledge.” Staff training should be given to ensure staff knowledge of hearing loops, ensuring they can engage with individuals with hearing loss, and there should also be proactive staff testing using an appropriate testing meter.
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