Spotlight Session: Juliette Sterkens on advocating for hearing-inclusive technology

accessiBe News

Juliette Sterkens joins accessiBe's Spotlight Sessions to talk about advocating for hearing loops and the work of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA),

accessiBe Team

Many people think that people who are hard of hearing can get by with just hearing aids. In reality, hearing aids don’t quite cut it for some situations, and additional technology is needed. Hearing loops are a type of assistive technology that picks up far-away sounds and transfers the audio directly to a person’s hearing aid. That’s cool, but how does it work exactly? The hearing loop gives off a wireless signal through its “telecoil” cables that are placed in a building’s ceiling or floor so that the hearing aid can tap into the signal and receive the sound. 

Juliette Sterkens, an audiologist and Hearing Loop Advocate for the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), promotes the value of hearing loops for people that might not know about them. Juliette travels across the U.S. to meet with HLAA Chapters and audiologists to get hearing loop projects started in their communities. 

We had the pleasure of hosting Juliette in one of our accessiBe Spotlight Sessions

Here are some top takeaways from this interview: 

1. Hearing aids are effective… but not effective as we think

“The average person doesn’t realize that hearing aids don’t restore hearing the way glasses restore vision. Hearing aids at best, correct hearing loss for about half… so half of the hearing loss gets corrected.”

There is still a lot that can be done to better include people with hearing loss in everyday situations and conversations. By understanding the many technologies that are actually available to people with hearing loss or audio disabilities and integrating them into our spaces and practices, we can create a more inclusive world for people who are hard of hearing. 

2. Some countries require hearing loops and others need to catch up

“In some countries, it’s mandated, and I’m specifically thinking of Australia and the UK, where they mandate that hearing loops are the go-to technology, In the U.S., the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t mandate that hearing loops are the go-to technology.”

Accessibility legislation has come to exist due to extensive lobbying by advocates and activists even prior to the 2000s. Accessibility technology regulations often take a lot of time and effort to go into effect. In the coming years, we hope to see other countries catch up with Australia and the UK to bring hearing loops into the legal requirements for all in public places of accommodation. 

3. A voice for hearing loops is needed to make a change 

“These hearing loops don’t get used unless people speak up, unless consumers speak up, unless audiologists teach the consumer how they can hear better in places where hearing aids don’t deliver.”

Access to information regarding assistive technology, especially when not yet popular - like hearing loops, is crucial when it comes to making it a global practice. That’s why supporting organizations like the HLAA are so important when it comes to educating the public, as well as the consumers who can benefit from hearing loops being installed in as many places as possible. 

4. Hearing loops are more accessible than businesses know 

“Anywhere there is a microphone used, a hearing loop can be installed.”

The telecoil technology can be installed in the ground or the ceiling and will open any door to a larger audience or consumer type that will enjoy being able to experience what a building or venue and its speakers or presenters have to say. 

5. Other types of technology are also ready and available 

“There’s other technology and it might be as simple as having an app on a smartphone or an iPad that captions everything you say so if you’re dealing with somebody hard of hearing, those apps are free of charge.”

People with hearing disabilities can also turn to tried and true phone applications that pick up audio and transcribe it into captions. These accessibility features and technologies go a long way and showcase how normalized inclusion is becoming, helping all people participate and contribute more to society.

Let it shine

Speaking with Juliette Sterkens allowed us to understand the impact that advanced hearing technology can have on the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. By integrating telecoil technology into our businesses and venues, we can implement inclusion practices that help create an accessible society for everyone. If you’d like to watch more Spotlight Sessions, you can find them all here.

If you are a disability advocate or have a nonprofit organization and want to share your story with the world, reach out to accessiBe’s Nonprofit Partnership Program so we can get to know you better.