In Edmonton church, system helps hearing-impaired stay in the loop

Published May 17, 2018
The Rev. Anthony Kwaw, rector of St. Timothy’s Anglican Church, chats with technicians installing the church’s new hearing loop. Left to right are Kwaw, Lee Ramsdell and Paul Benson. Photo: Contributed

When St. Timothy’s Anglican Church, in Edmonton, had a hearing loop installed in its nave and chancel, Maurice Snelgrove noticed the difference right away—and he wasn’t even on the same floor.

Hearing loops, sound systems that help enhance sound quality for users of hearing aids, have been becoming increasingly popular in recent years. St. Timothy’s, a number of whose parishioners use hearing aids, had a hearing loop installed this March and used for the first time at the church’s Easter service this year, says rector the Rev. Anthony Kwaw.

Lee Ramsdell, one of the technicians who installed the system—and president of Edmonton’s Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA) branch—says St. Timothy’s is the first church he knows of in the city with a hearing loop. Despite the many advantages offered by hearing loops, relatively few churches in Canada have them, he says.

Snelgrove, who wears a hearing aid in each ear, felt the hearing loop’s effect for the first time when he was in the church’s basement, counting money from the collection plate with a fellow parishioner. He suddenly seemed to hear someone else speaking.

“I said to the friend I count with, ‘Did you say something?’ ” Snelgrove says. “I said, ‘Somebody’s talking to me.’ ”

To his surprise, Snelgrove realized his hearing aid was picking up, “loud and clear,” the voice of Kwaw as he spoke upstairs.

For Snelgrove, the incident illustrates the dramatic difference the hearing loop has made in the quality of sound received by many of the church’s hearing-impaired people. Many find, as he has, that it’s made a big difference in their ability to follow sermons.

“It has helped us a great deal,” he says. “My hearing has increased about 40% when it’s working.”

It has also been a big help to hearing-impaired members of the church’s choir, he says.

Hearing loops are meant to overcome a problem often encountered by users of hearing aids in large rooms or group settings: distinguishing sounds can be difficult for them, because of the background noise their hearing aids pick up. In a setting equipped with a hearing loop—a cable that runs around the perimeter of the space—the person speaking uses a dedicated microphone. The signal from the microphone passes through an amplifier to the loop, which creates a magnetic field. This magnetic field is then translated into audio via the users’ hearing aids.

For hearing loops to work, users’ hearing aids need to be equipped with activated telecoils, or t-coils—devices for boosting certain kinds of signals.

In a hearing loop-equipped system, audio signals from a microphone (1) pass through an amplifier (2) to a cable (3) that runs around the perimeter of the room. The loop creates a magnetic field that is translated into sound for users of hearing aids (4). The hearing aids themselves (6) must be equipped with activated telecoils or t-coils (5), devices for boosting certain kinds of signals and passing them on to the ear (7) as sound. Graphic: Ampetronic Ltd.

Kwaw says church leaders had been aware for a while that some people in the congregation were having trouble hearing and understanding services, but they had not considered installing a hearing loop until a parishioner heard about them for the first time at a meeting of the CHHA.

The church’s vestry decided to contact the CHHA about having a hearing loop installed on a trial basis. The CHHA arranged for installation of the loop near Christmas-time 2017. A survey of users found high rates of satisfaction with the device, and at a church meeting in February, it was unanimously decided to install a permanent hearing loop, Kwaw says. The system was installed after less than a week’s worth of work, for a total cost of about $6,900, Kwaw says.

Its installation has been well worth the cost, he adds, since it’s allowed some of the church’s most long-standing members to listen and understand services without feeling frustrated, and it will likely benefit more of the congregation as people age.

“The feedback has been excellent,” he says. “It’s been one of the best ministry-enabling projects in our parish.”


  • Tali Folkins

    Tali Folkins joined the Anglican Journal in 2015 as staff writer, and has served as editor since October 2021. He has worked as a staff reporter for Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His freelance writing credits include work for newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and the former United Church Observer (now Broadview). He has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree in Classics from Dalhousie University.

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