Sandeen, who is president of the Friends of Stillwater Public Library, was sitting in the front row during a Civil War presentation at the library, but she couldn’t hear the speaker — even with her hearing aids in.
The gentleman next to her had the same problem.
“I couldn’t believe it was that hard to hear, and I had hearing aids,” Sandeen said. “It was after one of those that I went back to my audiologist and said there’s something wrong here.”
The audiologist, Dr. Mary Kochendorfer of Stillwater Medical Group, explained it wasn’t an issue with the hearing aids, but a combination of factors that caused the problem, and she also told Sandeen about “hearing loops.”
Hearing loops broadcast a high-quality signal directly to “T-coils,” which are found in many hearing aids and cochlear implants. To connect to the system, users simply press a button on the hearing aid or remote control device, such as a cell phone.
When she learned about hearing loops, Sandeen brought the information to the Stillwater Public Library Foundation’s board, of which she was a member at the time. After extensive research and fundraising, the foundation was able to pay for a roughly $25,000 system to be installed in the Margaret Rivers Room at the library. It was tested July 6.
“I almost cried when I realized I could hear,” Sandeen said after the test. “I heard more than I expected to. … I didn’t realize how much I was missing.”
Now, a presenter need only speak into the microphone, and anyone in the room with a compatible hearing aid can tune into the loop to hear.
The Margaret Rivers Room can also be divided into two smaller sections with loops that function independently. The smaller section also has microphones positioned above the table to pick up voices, so everyone can hear during a meeting.
“To stay connected and enjoy the benefits of hearing loops most people can use their current hearing aids,” said Dr. Jennifer Reynolds, of Reynolds Audiology in Woodbury, a donor to the project. “Ask your audiologist if your instruments have a telecoil program and if it does, ask to have it activated.”
Reynolds said if someone has a properly fitted hearing aid, the hearing loops make a “huge difference.” One reason is that even the best hearing instruments are designed to pick up sound at a maximum of 6 feet or less, she said. That’s a problem in large group settings.
With a hearing loop, if the speaker’s mouth is 6 inches from the microphone, listeners can sit anywhere in the room, and it will sound like the speaker is only 6 inches from their ears.
“One of the things I hear from my patients is they stopped going to community programs because they couldn’t hear,” Reynolds said. “This allows people to continue connecting in their community and continue going to the events.”
Reynolds said the technology is at least 50 years old and is popular in Europe and New York.
“Here in the Twin Cities, it’s becoming more popular as we work hard educating our patients,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds’ Woodbury office is looped, and a few locations in the Stillwater area use hearing loops, such as First Presbyterian Church’s sanctuary, and the theater and chapel of Boutwells Landing.
Melissa Brechon, interim director of the Stillwater Public Library, believes the Stillwater’s is only the second public library in the state to install the technology.
“None in the Twin Cities have it, as far as I know,” she said.
She’s enthusiastic about the addition.
“I just think it’s wonderful to be able to offer that to people and that no one with a hearing aid will ever have to miss out again,” she said.
As more people hear about the feature at Stillwater Public Library, Brechon expects to see the meeting space booked more often.
Eventually, Brechon said, the library would like to add more hearing loops.
“We want to put it in the children’s story room next, because there’s children that don’t hear and also their grandparents, and then we want to put it into one of the conference rooms,” she said.
Mary Ann Sandeen, said the Friends of Stillwater Public Library was happy to donate to the project because it will have widespread impact.
“Everybody knows somebody that has difficulty hearing,” Sandeen said. “There is so much misinformation about hearing lost, and it’s profound. It isn’t just old people. There are a lot of children with problems, and this is an opportunity to help everybody to share an informative experience. … I feel so lucky to be part of it.”
The public is invited to learn about and experience the hearing loop during a launch event at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 19, in the Margaret River Room at the library, which is located at 224 Third St. N.
Even those who don’t have hearing aids can experience the system through special headsets that tie into the loop and connect to headphones.
For more information, go to stillwaterlibraryfoundation.org.
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]