At Christ Church, ALL Hear The Word
By JIM KEVLIN
In the beginning was The Word, but not everybody could hear it.
At Christ Episcopal Church over the past few days, a futuristic – in the U.S. if not in Europe – magnetic loop has been installed under the floorboards, allowing hearing-impaired parishioners with “T-coils” in their hearing aids to hear The Word with “incredible clarity.”
Those are the words of Angela Plowden-Wardlaw, who convinced the vestry to undertake installing “the absolutely best system for people who are hard of hearing.” It is the only system between Albany – one church in Delmar has it – and Binghamton, she said.
Friday, July 25, Tom Chapman, a technician from Shanahan Sound in Lowell, Mass. – the company has installed 50 systems in New England and New York in the past two years, including Boston’s Symphony Hall – was in the church, consecrated in 1810, hooking up the system.
In preparation for Chapman, the Rev. Mark Michael, the rector; sexton Michael Page and volunteers from the congregation, Antoine Bourbon-Parme, Kai Mebust and John Odell and his son, Jack, had squeezed through the crawl space under the sanctuary – there is a full cellar only under the altar – stringing the required cable.
Plowden-Wardlaw – she is hearing impaired herself, and she and her husband, James, are parishioners – proposed the idea to the vestry two years ago. In recent months, she found an ally in Heather Dickey, a Bassett Hospital audiologist who spoke to the congregation about the benefits of the new system.
The final step was the funding, and a gift to cover the installation was offered in memory of the three Cooper siblings who passed away since December 2012, Katherine L.F.C. Cary, Susan F.C. Weil of Cooperstown, and James F. Cooper.
Father Michael, who pointed out the Cooper family has been associated with Christ Church since its founding – the village’s founder, William, and famed novelist James Fenimore are buried in the churchyard – said the new system may allow the church to connect with its roots in another way: “This means more community groups can use this space. Churches were not just spaces for worship, but for community gatherings.”
The common type of hearing aid used in the U.S. is described by hearingloop.org as “in-the-ear loudspeakers.” These new “induction-loop systems” transmit a signal directly to “T Coils,” or “telecoils” contained in the most up-to-date hearing aids and cochlear implants. “It gives incredible clarity,” said Plowden-Wardlaw. “It’s like being blind and regaining your sight.”
Europe, where governments provide hearing aids to hearing-impaired citizens through their health plans, is much farther ahead in adopting the new technology, she continued. In London, taxicabs are looped, Michael said. “In Europe, it’s everywhere,” added Chapman. “If you go to a McDonald’s, it’s in the drive-thru.”
The U.S. has lagged because, given hearing aids cost $7,000, fewer people buy them. Plus, “a lot of people with hearing loss are older: They are resigned to not hearing,” Plowden-Wardlaw said.
Still, the Hearing Loss Association of America is determined to “loop America,” and the Albany chapter is particularly active, so the technology, novel today, may soon be much more available, she said.