Assistive Listening Devices for Churches and Houses of Worship

Welcome to our in-depth guide for purchasing assistive listening devices for churches and houses of worship.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 15% of the US population over age 18 reports some trouble hearing. Churches and other houses of worship serve people through every stage of life. Hearing loss increases significantly after the age 0f 60, meaning that the aging of  the baby boomer generation will increase the proportion of congregations who need hearing help. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) carves out an exception for churches and other religious facilities. However assistive listening systems are frequently found in the main worship space as well as associated classrooms and meeting rooms within the facility. What’s more, both Texas and California building codes mandate that religious facilities provide assistive listing support, a requirement that goes farther than the federal requirement.

Church Acoustics

Church and other worship facilities present specific acoustical challenges for the hard of hearing populations. Large, high ceilinged rooms create a “boomy” sound that magnifies the effects of hearing loss. More specifically, there are some issues specific to the worship setting that make listening particularly difficult for those with some degree of hearing loss. These include:

  • Large distance from the sound source, resulting in poor audibility
  • Background sounds, caused buy the congregation, acoustics, or music can create a high signal to noise ratio, making it hard for those with hearing loss
  • Poor acoustics caused by the specific geometry of the room(s)
  • Need to serve “overflow” patrons in other rooms away from the main worship area.

Why Public Address (PA) Systems and Hearing Aids are Not Enough

Although congregants that have hearing challenges may have hearing aids, the hearing aids themselves are often not enough to ensure that the message can be heard if there is significant background noise. This is because some hearing aids tend to amplify all sound —contributing to the problem. While most worship facilities are technically exempt from ADA requirements to provide assistive listening support, it is still useful to refer to those guidelines as a minimum level of support for the hard of hearing population. Over the years, we’ve helped hundreds of faith leaders with their A/V needs. Here are some of the most popular options for assistive listening support in a religious setting:

FM Transmitters and Personal Receivers

The PPA range of FM transmitters and optional personal receivers offers solutions to fit a wide variety of needs. The FM transmitter receives its signal directly from the main mixer board. The broadcast signal can is picked up by matching PPA receivers and reusable earphones distributed to the audience members, usually when they enter the worship area. As needed, the receivers are charged (or battery swapped) and wiped down with an alcohol pad.

Considerations for Selecting FM Assistive Listening Devices for Churches:

  • Ideal for large venues (up to 1,000 ft range)
  • Easy to install (no need to remodel structure)
  • Integrates fully with existing sound systems
  • Listeners can sit anywhere within range
  • Cost-effective
  • Works indoors, outdoors, and through ceilings
  • Complies with 2010 ADA guidelines
  • Users cannot use their own listening device (eg smartphone); they typically use facility-provided FM receivers
  • FM signals can be subject to interference from other electronic equipment nearby and have a generally lower quality of audio signal than, for example digital systems

Wi-Fi Based Assistive Listening Systems (WaveCast)

WaveCAST is a Wi-Fi platform designed for settings where high-quality sound is required for streaming audio in real-time to smartphones and tablets. With WaveCAST, the listener downloads the WaveCAST application form their App store. It will automatically receive the WaveCAST transmission once connected to the venue’s WIFI. WaveCAST WIFI based also offers a more discreet Assisted Listening Solution as only those that are connected to the venue’s WIFI (which can be password protected) can ‘tune in’. What about users that do not have smartphones or do not want to download the app? WaveCast receivers are also available, so they can be provided to individuals who are not able to listen via the app.

Considerations for Selecting Wi-Fi Assistive Listening Devices for Churches:

  • Ideal for small to medium venues
  • Easy to install
  • Integrates fully with existing sound systems
  • Listeners can sit anywhere
  • Cost-effective
  • Complies with 2010 ADA guidelines
  • Digital audio processing settings for voice and music

FM / Wi-Fi Hybrid Solutions

Want the best of both worlds? The FM Plus system from Williams Sound is the world’s first hybrid transmitter able to broadcast FM and Wi-Fi audio simultaneously. With FM+, the customer gets both for little more than the cost of an FM-only solution. End users listen with either an FM receiver or their own smartphone  using a free app downloaded from the App store on iOS or Android. In addition to this flexibility, the FM Plus system offers exceptionally clear audio over both FM and Wi-Fi using onboard digital signal processing.

Considerations for FM / Wi-Fi Hybrid Assistive Listening Systems in Worship Settings:

  • Very high quality audio (on-board digital signal processing)
  • Listeners have the choice of using their own Wi-Fi device (such as a smartphone) or a church-provided FM receiver
  • Easy to install (no need to retrofit facility)
  • Listeners using the smartphone option will need to download and install an iOS or Android app.

Hearing Loops / Induction Loops

A hearing loop (AKA an induction loop or telecoil system) is an assistive listening system where the sound is transmitted to the listeners through a cable that runs around the perimeter of the coverage area. The signal is transmitter through a magnetic field directly to the listeners’ hearing aid. for use in a facility where congregants with hearing aids that have ‘Telecoils’ are automatically ‘tuned in’. The hearing loop provides a magnetic, wireless signal that is picked up by the hearing aid when it is set to ‘T-coil” (Telecoil) setting.

Considerations for Hearing Loop Systems in Worship Settings:

  • Direct feed from church mixer eliminates unwanted background sounds.
  • No need for receiver (for those with T-coil hearing aids).
  • Sound goes directly into the T-coil compatible hearing aid.
  • Hearing loop coil is hidden from view.
  • Unlimited number of users (within the system zone).
  • Requires a major renovation of the floor area to install (ideal for installation during a renovation).

Hi – I’m Will and I started this company to help you find the best assistive listening equipment for you.

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