Conferences aren’t what they used to be. From sit-downs around a table to video sessions with call-ins from around the world, new technologies have made it possible to connect people in more ways than ever. There is now a range of new assistive listening equipment for conference rooms to help the estimated 15% of the population with hearing loss participate fully.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that most conference facilities provide technology to support those with some degree of hearing loss (our full article on ADA requirements and where they do and don’t apply is here.) But it’s safe to say that in most conference situations, you will be required to provide at least two assistive listening devices.
Listening Challenges in Conference Settings
Conference facilities, particularly those designed without assistive listening requirements in mind, can present a number of acoustical challenges. These include:
- Distance from the sound source or speakers
- Background noise (shuffling of papers, chatter, etc)
- Poor room acoustics that create excessive echo and reduce signal to noise ratio
- Need to interface with other audiovisual equipment (for example teleconference equipment or translation equipment)
- Need to quickly install and break-down audio equipment in different areas (portability and interoperability)
All of these combine to make it difficult for hearing-impaired individuals (even those with hearing aids) to participate and contribute to the discussion.
When Hearing Aids are Not Enough
Although hearing impaired participants 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.
From community meetings to executive suites and everywhere in between, our mission at Assistive Listening HQ is to help match you with the right assistive listening equipment for your specific needs. Over the years, we’ve helped hundreds of corporations with their A/V needs. Here are some of the most popular options for assistive listening support for conferencing.
If you’re ready to speak with someone and get a custom quote for your situation, just head over to the quote page by pressing the button below. We’ll review your situation and put together a custom system that’s right for your needs.
For more technical info on our most popular systems for conference applications, please read on.
Assistive Listening HQ Assistive Listening Solutions for Conferencing
The PPA range of FM equipment is one of the most popular solutions for conference settings. The FM transmitter receives its signal directly from the existing AV sound system. The broad-cast signal can be picked up by matching PPA receivers and reusable headphones. As needed, the receivers are charged (or battery swapped) and wiped down with an alcohol pad between events.
Other considerations for using FM Assistive Listening systems in conference settings:
- Ideal for large venues (up to 1,000 ft range)
- Easy to install (no need to remodel structure)
- Integrates fully with existing sound systems using standard connectors
- Listeners can sit anywhere within range
- Cost-effective (~$100 per additional listener)
- Works indoors, outdoors, and through ceilings
- Complies with 2010 ADA guidelines
- Users typically 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 digital solutions
- FM broadcasts are not secure: anyone with an FM scanner and some degree of technical know-how can pick up the signal.
Wi-Fi 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 from their App store (Apple or Android). It will automatically receive the WaveCAST transmission once connected to the venue’s Wi-Fi network. 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.
Other considerations for using Wi-Fi Assistive Listening systems in conference settings:
- Ideal for small to medium venues
- Easy to install
- Integrates fully with existing sound systems
- Wi-Fi feed can be password protected
- Listeners can sit anywhere (no line of sight needed)
- Cost-effective (especially when most listeners use their own smartphones to listen)
- Complies with 2010 ADA guidelines
- Digital audio processing settings for voice and music
Hybrid FM/Wi-Fi Systems
Want the best of both worlds? The FM Plus system (coming in 2019) from Williams Sound is the world’s first hybrid transmitter able to broadcast FM and Wi-Fi audio simultaneously. With FM+, you get the 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 Conference 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 facility-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.
Diviwave transceivers allow for one or two way wireless audio communication through wearable “on-person” devices. This has the advantage of mobility and flexibility for parties involved as the technology is not ‘hardwired’ in a venue / conference room. So Digiwave is ideal for conferencing ‘on the move’ through a plant where there may be a high noise component with a group.
Considerations for Digiwave Assistive Listen-ing Systems in Conferencing Settings:
- Ideal for high noise environments like a factory or production line — reduces background noise
- Allows for conversation between conference facilitator and participants
- Allows the conferencing participants to move around
Hearing Loops / Induction Loops
A hearing loop (AKA an audio induction loop or telecoil system) is an assistive listening system for use in an auditorium where conference participants with hearing aids that have ’T-coils’ are automatically ‘tuned in’. The sound is transmitted to the listeners through a cable that runs around the perimeter of the coverage area. The hearing loop provides a wireless signal that is picked up by compatible hearing aids or cochlear implants.
Other considerations for using hearing loops in conference settings in conference settings:
- Cuts out unwanted background noise
- No need to use a receiver/headset ( for those with t-coil hearing aids)
- Sound goes directly to the t-coil compatible hearing aid
- Hearing loop coil is hidden from view
- Unlimited number of users within the loop area
- Requires a major renovation of the floor area to install (ideal for installation during a renovation).