After years of struggling with the sound quality of many UCSB lecture halls, students who are hard of hearing can now enjoy a clearer, more understandable listening experience with the recent installation of a hearing ‘loop’ system at Campbell Hall.

Launched by the Independent Living Resource Center and the Hearing Loss Association of Santa Barbara, the system was installed by audiologists at Otojoy, a Santa Barbara-based company that specializes in hearing conservation and amplification products. The installation includes a string of copper wire that sends electromagnetic signals to receivers that are built into most hearing aids and cochlear implants, allowing for clear sound without the interference of background noise.

The project launches the ILRC and Hearing Loss Association of Santa Barbara’s “Let’s Loop Santa Barbara” public awareness campaign, which aims to make Santa Barbara the most hearing accessible city in California.

Individuals who are hard of hearing are oftentimes unable to attend events in venues that make listening to lectures or performances additionally difficult, according to Kase Martis, who is a hearing loop advocate for the ILRC. Martis also said students who are hard of hearing also frequently face these difficulties when attending classes in large lecture halls.

“What we’re hearing in the community is that many people who are unable to hear actually don’t attend lectures or performances, because they’re not able to understand what’s happening,” Martis said. “So this becomes no longer enjoyable and essentially inaccessible for them to be in the community and participate.”

Founder of Otojoy Thomas Kaufmann, who received an M.S. in physical chemistry from UCSB, said his company is preparing to set up sound loop systems in Santa Barbara venues like the Romero Theatre, Granada Theatre, Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara Zoo and the new Discovery Pavilion.

“Once the loop in Campbell Hall is being used and people start sharing their experiences, I’m sure there will be many more venues in town that install these hearing systems,” Kaufmann said.

The university‘s installation of the hearing loop will not only increase Campbell Hall’s accessibility to the approximately 18,000 hearing impaired in Santa Barbara, but will also set a precedent for installations on a much wider scale, Martis said.

“Essentially, we want to make Santa Barbara a model loop community to create access for the hearing-impaired,” Martis said. “I think that UCSB is setting a huge example, not only for our local community, but statewide and nationwide.”

Hearing Loss Association of Santa Barbara Co-Leader Claudia Herczog said the Hard of Hearing community represents 17 percent of the national population — a larger number than the combined population of people with all other disabilities. Furthermore, the community is growing due to a generally aging population, as well as other causes for impaired hearing — such as young people listening to loud music, an overall noisier environment and the impaired hearing of servicemen returning from the Middle East, 20 percent of whom have this condition.

“We have curb cuts and ramps for the wheel chair bound, braille for the blind, sign language for the deaf. Let’s not ignore the Hard of Hearing,” Herczog said in an email.

Kaufmann said the hearing loop’s elimination of issues like echo and reverberation will allow for an effortless listening experience, in place of what had previously been a struggle for the hearing impaired.

“I think people that sit in lectures and have to listen are completely covered in sweat because they have to work so hard to understand the words,” Kaufmann said, “But with [the] hearing loop, they can understand every single word.”

Kaufmann said the difference in sound quality produced by the loop can potentially allow individuals who are of hard of hearing to have the same prized, enjoyable experiences every other person is able to engage in.

“I just had a gentleman this morning … he was over 90 years old and had his caregiver was with him, and she wasn’t quite sure if [his hearing aid] was on or off, or if he could hear the music that I was playing,” Kaufmann said. “And he said, ‘You can tell when it’s on, because then I’m smiling.’”

No other assistive listening service matches the sound loop’s ability to provide such an enjoyable and accessible experience for the hearing-impaired, according to Herczog.

“It will enable us to hear through our hearing aids by the touch of a button. Without it, we will have little or no listening experience,” Herczog said. “To date, there is no other system that equals its quality.”

With loops installed in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Michigan and New York, local campaigns like “Let’s Loop Santa Barbara” — in addition to national campaigns like the National Hearing Loss Association and American Academy of Audiologists’ “Get In the Hearing Loop” — are advocating for eventual sound loop installation in venues across the country.

A version of this article appeared on page 1 of the June 26th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus