BAR HARBOR — Councilors approved purchase of a hearing assistance system for town council chambers at their June 16 meeting. The induction loop system was recommended by Zachariah Stern, a specialist from the Maine Center for Deafness, who conducted an assessment of the room during a visit last month.
Former councilor Enoch Albert and his wife, Sharon Knopp, have been working for several years to improve accessibility to public meetings for the hearing impaired and anyone who finds it difficult to hear in that space. The system also will improve access and participation for the Planning Board, Appeals Board, public hearings and other boards that meet in the council chambers.
The estimate to purchase and install the system is under $5,000, Town Manager Cornell Knight told councilors. That amount was set aside in the town budget in 2012 at Albert’s request when he was serving on the council. At that time, Steve Cornell, the town’s technology systems administrator, got an estimate for a $15,000 system, and the council planned to add to the fund every year until the system was purchased. Additional money was never added, but the technology has improved in the years since and become less expensive.
“We were really happy with Cornell Knight’s reaction when we went to him with this,” Knopp said. “He realized the importance, that this an access issue. It’s as important as having an elevator.”
She avoided attending meetings in there for years because she got frustrated not being able to hear, she said. “Other people had also told me they couldn’t hear, even some who don’t have hearing problems.”
The system, an induction loop and receiver, connects to the room’s existing sound system and microphones. It sends an electromagnetic signal that can be picked up wirelessly by many brands of hearing aids. A few small receiver units with headphones also will be available for people with incompatible hearing aids or no hearing aid.
“Hearing aids are configured for each person’s hearing loss,” Knopp said. They amplify only the frequencies that the person has difficulty hearing, which results in much clearer sound than simply making something louder.
Training will be important for everyone adapting to the new system, Albert said. People who want to use the devices may need to arrive at the meetings early to get set up, as technicians are busy during the meeting itself supervising recording and broadcasting. It’s also important for the people speaking to use the microphones, he said.