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Huntington system brings hearing-impaired into the loop

Halesite resident Len Urban, standing, with Huntington Supervisor

Halesite resident Len Urban, standing, with Huntington Supervisor Frank P. Petrone at Town Hall on Jan. 14, 2016. Urban urged the town to install a system to help hearing-impaired citizens who attend town meetings. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

The Huntington Town Board room is now in the loop.

Town officials have installed hearing and listening assistive technology in Town Hall that works with hearing aids and cochlear implants to increase hearing ability. It’s commonly called a loop system.

“It’s going to provide an opportunity not only for seniors but people who use hearing devices,” said Town Supervisor Frank P. Petrone. “It’s a service that we can provide.”

Huntington’s is the only town hall in Suffolk to have this system. North Hempstead also has it, town officials said.

Mark Tyree, director of general services for Huntington, said the system consists of a copper wire that has been installed in the floor throughout the room that’s connected to a control box and existing audiovisual equipment.

“So when a person walks in with a hearing aid or cochlear . . . their hearing is instantly increased,” Tyree said.

Len Urban of Halesite, who was instrumental in getting the system installed in Town Hall, said for two decades he was frustrated when attending various town meetings because he was unable to understand board members on the dais and citizens speaking with their backs to the audience.

In 2013, he got a cochlear implant and decided to see what listening devices were available. Then he began doing research and working with the town to get the best listening assistive technology.

“I’m delighted that the town did this,” Urban said. “It allows me to hear and it will allow me to participate and not hesitate and be self-conscious.”

For those who do not use a hearing instrument but still need assistance, the town can provide a lanyard and headphones for use during a meeting.

The cost of the equipment, including seven lanyards and headphones, and the November installation by Miller Place-based North East Hearing, was $8,800.

The wireless technology works by magnetically transferring a microphone or TV sound signal to the receivers in hearing aids and cochlear implants as it cancels background noise.

“Louder is not better,” said Karen MacLennan, owner of North East Hearing, referring to a misconception about the best way to help those with impaired hearing. “This system shortens the distance between the person with the hearing instrument and the sound source so whatever sound is picked up at the microphone goes directly into the hearing instrument.”

Town officials have delayed planned upgrades to the Town Board room — where Town Board, zoning, planning and other meetings are held — including new flooring; rewiring for sound, TV, phone and network communications; new seating and carpeting; and increased seating capacity. The one thing officials decided to move ahead with was the hearing loop.

“We’re always looking to do things better to provide better opportunities for our residents, whether it’s services in Town Hall or outside Town Hall,” Petrone said. “This is interesting because not only is it a service, it gives them an opportunity to partake in proceedings going on in that room and enhances any kind of transparency we are looking to improve.”

Other notable public facilities with the loop are the Museum of Modern Art, the Mets’ Citi Field, Yankee Stadium and The New York Botanical Garden.

Who will be served

About 20 percent of Americans, 48 million, report some degree of hearing loss.

At age 65, one out of three people has hearing loss.

Sixty percent of people with hearing loss are either in the workforce or in educational settings.

While people in the workplace with the mildest hearing losses show little or no drop in income compared to their normal hearing peers, as the hearing loss increases, so does the reduction in compensation.

About two to three of every 1,000 children are hard of hearing or deaf.

It is estimated that 30 schoolchildren per 1,000 have a hearing loss.

Source: Hearing Loss Association of America

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