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placeholder April 6, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 7   •   Oakland, CA
Not all parishes have devices
to help the hearing impaired

Julisa Salcedo shows one of the listening units at the Cathedral of Christ the Light.

When John Bybee goes to Mass at St. Anne Parish in Walnut Creek he is one happy man. He can follow the liturgy in its entirety because he can do something most of us take for granted — he can hear it.

He can hear clearly because his hearing aids are linked to the loop system used at the church. The system is an assisted listening device that allows those who are hard of hearing or living with mild to moderate hearing loss to hear more clearly.

The assisted listening device was installed in the church about 10 years ago, said Bybee who, along with his wife, Virginia, have been parishioners at St. Anne for some 25 years.
The loop system is made up of a looped cable or cables which is installed or placed around a room or building. When the cable generates a magnetic field it is picked up by the hearing aid.

"It's a great system because it cuts out the background noise," Bybee said. "All you can hear is the priest talking — it's as if he was sitting next to me."

Before the presence of hearing devices, background noise — like a group of people talking next to you — all but drowned out the voice of the priest for the hearing impaired. Whole conversations can be reduced to muffles or certain words are likely to be missed.

The Diocesan Directory, produced by The Catholic Voice, lists just a handful of churches in the Diocese of Oakland that are equipped with assisted listening devices: Holy Spirit/Newman Hall Church in Berkeley; All Saints Church in Hayward; St. Perpetua in Lafayette; St. Monica in Moraga; both churches in the Catholic Community in Pleasanton, and St. Anne in Walnut Creek.

Check with your own parish to see if it is equipped with listening devices.

Newer churches are more likely to have an assisted listening device because "they are a core item for the construction of churches, not the existing ones," said Alex Hernandez, diocesan director of facilities and services. "So unless a parish hears about it and wants to do it, it does not get done."

Loop systems are one of many examples of assisted listening devices found in churches. An alternative, found at the Cathedral parish, is comprised of a receiver that transmits sounds to portable devices that resemble old Apple iPods, complete with ear buds.

Why care about assisted listening devices? Although no one can say why, most people slowly lose some hearing as they age, some more than others. Approximately 17 percent (or 33 million) people in the United States, according to statistics from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, lose their hearing.

The boomer generation — those born between 1945 and 1964 — are fast becoming the generation of the hearing impaired. Hearing loss among boomers is thought to be the result of prolonged exposure to loud noises at places like rock concerts or construction work. Illness, accidents, heredity also contribute to healing loss.

And then there are those like Father Robert Herbst, OFM Conv., who grew up living with a hearing impairment. The Franciscan friar who serves as Judicial Vicar, moderator of the curia and chancellor for the diocese, has had a long connection with the deaf community in the diocese. He is also very connected to the hearing community and he doesn't wear a hearing aid. He said that the deaf Catholic community use American Sign Language (ASL) and they mostly don't use assisted listening devices.

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