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Explanation about Minnesota's New Acoustics and Looping Law

MNCDHH & stakeholders' next steps

12/4/2017 3:04:50 PM

An outline of white lines that symbolizes a human ear with a slash going through it. On the bottom corner is a

Perhaps you have seen this symbol around and wondered what it meant? This is the symbol that indicates that a room or location has hearing loops. Hearing loops are an assistive listening system that transmits sound directly to most hearing aids and cochlear implant users through a telecoil, which provides a direct sound feed from the speaker to the person without background noise.

The new law

During the 2017 legislative session, the Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans (MNCDHH) successfully lobbied for the passage of the bill that requires good acoustics and hearing loops in public meeting spaces in state-funded construction projects. This bill was signed into law as part of the capital investment bill. 

First came the acoustic standards for public primary and secondary schools

This is not the first time MNCDHH has worked on acoustic standards. Back in 2005, we successfully advocated for a law that requires school boards to consult acoustic standards when creating designs for new classrooms. This law creates an improved learning environment for students.

Minnesota schools love the improved acoustic standards. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the Acoustical Society of America, the average American student can only understand 75% or less of what is being said when they are in a classroom that was not designed with improved acoustical standards. When you consider that children are still developing language, having them try to understand their teacher's voice in noisy environments has a negative impact on their learning experience.

This new 2017 law has expanded state standards for good acoustic design in a whole new area.  

Good acoustics benefit everyone

Good acoustic design provides improved communication access for almost everyone. This is not just for people who are deaf, deafblind, or hard of hearing. People who can hear benefit too. Good acoustic design has two goals:

  • Minimize background noise (think about how noisy heating, air conditioning, and water running in pipes can be). This is also called ambient noise.
  • Minimize echoes in sound. This is also called reverberation.

By minimizing ambient noise and reverberation, it is much easier for peoples' voices to be heard and understood (especially for the people who are sitting in the back of the room).

Hearing loops benefit both hearing aid & cochlear implant users

Many hearing aids and cochlear implants have t-coils (telecoils) built in, which allows users to access hearing loops directly with the push of a button. Many people do not realize that their devices have t-coils so check your hearing aids or cochlear implants. You might even want to talk with your audiologist about t-coils. Hearing Loss Association of America has an online brochure with helpful information called, Get in the Hearing Loop.

In addition, hearing loops can also send sound to portable loop receivers with headphones. Attendees at an event can request the facilities' headphones to be able to access high-quality, clear sound (if they have loops installed where the event is located).

MNCDHH's responsibilities under this new law

The Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind & Hard of Hearing Minnesotans (MNCDHH) has two responsibilities under this law:

  1. Provide consultation for the implementation of acoustic design or looping
  2. Produce a report to the state legislature every two years that includes a list of the projects that applied for a waiver for these two building code requirements

MNCDHH is also creating resource documents and giving presentations to communicate to public and private agencies the new requirements and the industry best practices so that Minnesotans will experience the best that acoustic design and looping has to offer.

Watch for more information

More information will continue to be shared about hearing loops as the technology increases in popularity. Watch for future learning opportunities.

For example, our Deputy Director, Emory David Dively, is presenting at the Gov IT Symposium about hearing loops on December 6, 2017. Also presenting are Steve Walsh and Rick Korinek, who are the President and Vice President respectively of Midwest Hearing Loops.

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