Katherine Bouton

What I Hear

New York City and the Hard of Hearing

I love New York, but it has certain limitations for those with hearing loss.

Posted Feb 12, 2013

I love New York. I've lived in Manhattan for 45 years. Both my adult children grew up here and both now live in not-so-distant Brooklyn. My husband, Dan Menaker, was born here and still lives here. It's a great place to grow old. You don't have to drive, stores are in walking distance, it's flat, MetroCards and tennis permits are really cheap for the elderly (even those of us who don't think of ourselves as elderly still qualify for a senior Metrocard), takeout takes 15 minutes for delivery, museums and movies have senior rates. 


It's not such a great place for those with hearing loss. I've been arranging for some out of town talks associated with the publication of my book. I want the hearing impaired as well as the hearing to be able to follow the reading and the questions. In Seattle, for instance, Town Hall has been working with the Washington branch of the Hearing Loss Association of America to install a temporary looping system in the hall for my talk. Looping, described in a 2011 New York Times story by John Tierney, is nothing short of miraculous. If you have a hearing aid with a telecoil (and most do) you simply flip the switch to telecoil mode and -- amazing! -- you can hear the speaker as well as you once could before you lost your hearing. 

Looping is popular in the midwest and in Europe, as Tierney described in his article. But it has only limited distribution in New York and in much of the northeast. In New York, the Manhattan branch of the HLAA has arranged for C.A.R.T. at my talks. C.A.R.T. stands for Communications Access Realtime Translation, and what it means is that there is a live person typing as you speak, with the words displayed on a screen. C.A.R.T. operators type at lightning speed and they make very few errors. When they do, they almost always instantly correct the error. The work is so intense that they usually work in pairs, one spelling the other. 

C.A.R.T. is in some ways more advantageous for those with hearing loss. You don't have to have a telecoil, for starters. And for those who are Deaf and use ASL, the captions allow them to follow as well, without the need for an ASL translator. 

C.A.R.T. is great for presentations, but it doesn't work if you want, sayask an Amtrak employee how to find the track your train is on. Amtrak has now installed looping at its information booth, but until just a few months ago, the hearing-impaired traveler was left to figure it our for himself. 

I want to write more about traveling with hearing loss, but that's for another day. 

Meanwhile, New York City, Get in the Loop! 


These comments were posted on the now defunct blog on my home page katherinebouton.com

I'm reposting them here for others to see. 

I, too, have pondered about the relative lack of hearing accommodation in our fair, but noisy, city when compared with parts of the Midwest and Northwest. A major factor is the relatively small number of hearing impaired New Yorkers who speak up or out on the issue. Regrettably, some probably feel that you can't fight city hall in one of the world's largest cities.

It is also said that many hearing impaired people refuse to get help and many of those who do, and who wear hearing devices, choose not call attention to their hearing deficiency. Unlike people with other physical deficits, people with hearing loss do not stand out or evoke compassion and it is easier to struggle in silence than risk being perceived as a loudmouth or trouble-maker. 

For many years, the Americans for Disabilities Act has granted the hearing impaired the right to "equal access." However, unlike lawmakers in Great Britain and Scandinavian countries, where hearing loops have been required by law to be provided in places of public accommodation, our elected officials have preferred more voluntary approaches to the imposition of requirements on the private sector through legislation or regulation. 

Anyone wishing to join in advocating for change is invited to join our Hearing Loss Association's Hearing Accommodation Task Force. Just e-mail me at jerbergman1@me.com

I, like Jerry Bergman who commented above, am a member of The Hearing Loss Association of America. Here in NYC we are working hard to advocate for accessibility. I head up a committee that works toward getting public places looped. That means we educate venues about the installation of induction loop technology, a simple technology that works with the t-coils in our hearing aids and cochlear implants. Induction Loop technology (aka room loop, audio loop, hearing loop) is a simple way to help people hear better. It requires a wire, like telephone wire, an amplifier and a sound source (like a microphone, or stereo or TV). When the wire is installed around the perimeter of a room and hooked up to an amplifier and sound source, the sound goes from the sound source through the amplifier and then through the wiring, and wirelessly via a magnetic field that is created, the sound goes to the t-coil or headphones (if you don't have t-coils) and into your ear; all background noise is eliminated. Result: clear crisp sound. If you would like to learn more, please contact me at esemel13@hotmail.com.

I am looking forward to reading Katherine Bouton's new book. I have been following with interest all of her articles and interviews. Her story needs to be told; we need to raise awareness of hearing loss in this country.

Seattle is hardly ideal for those who are hearing impaired. I say that and would be happy to learn differently.
We have one auditorium that is looped, the Volney Auditorium at Virginia Mason Medical Center. Also several churches in the area are looped. While most art venues have assistive listening devices there are none that are looped.I am very happy that Town Hall is stepping up to the plate for Ms Bouton's reading and hope to attend. I have stopped attending events at Town Hall because their assistive listening devices have been less than adequate. They have an amplifier with one ear bud. On the other hand Seattle Arts and Lectures need to be commended for their work on the hearing loss issue. They have several lectures/readings that have CART technology and occasionally an ASL interpreter. I attended a beautiful Christmas program by the Seattle Men's Chorus a few years ago and they had the most artistic ASL interpreter that provided an interpretation that was truly choreographed ( an art form in itself). And they did a 'Silent Night' tribute to the deaf that was incredibly touching. Seattle still has a long way to go in accommodating the hard of hearing and deaf communities. We are, however, headed in the right direction.

Looping a community can be done but takes some tenacity. I speak from experience here but the change is so worthwhile. I also have reason to believe that it will excite all those involved with hearing care: the providers as well as the users. We all know the truth: hearing aids and Cochlear Implants have limitations due to the degree and type of hearing loss and the fact that users go through life hearing the world through microphones with limitations of their own. It is not anybody's fault – it is just the way it is. Telecoils allow the user to hear SO MUCH BETTER when used in a loop. See the rest of comments http://loopwisconsin.wordpress.com/

NYC will not address hearing loss until its Mayor does. The Mayor who has addressed sugar, smoking and a myriad of other issues will not wear his own hearing loss. How can he protect our ears and ensure we have effective access if he does not protect his own?

Janice S. Lintz, chair Hearing Access Program