Q&A: Apryl Lamberti, Almo pro AV business development manager

Tim Kridel quizzes Apryl Lamberti, pro AV business development manager at Almo on how integrators can best serve people with hearing difficulties.

TK: What are some marketplace trends in assistive listening? For example, are there any verticals where demand is particularly high or increasing? If so, what’s driving that demand? I would think that higher education is one partly because a lot of college students damaged their hearing as teenagers with MP3 players and because a lot of older adults have gone back to school after losing their jobs in the recession.

AL: We’re seeing demand increase in assistive listening systems (ALS) in several areas, particularly in the private sector in places like houses of worship, corporate conference rooms and even elder care or independent living facilities where systems may not be mandated by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. Instead, ALS are being driven by principals, executives and others who realise the advantages assistive listening can have on improving the experience or encouraging participation for their patrons, employees or guests. For example: ALS dramatically improve a parishioner’s experience to connect with a congregation where architectural elements and acoustical challenges make houses of worship a particularly difficult to hear. Large corporate clients use ALS to encourage participation in meetings and group discussions where it can be otherwise challenging to keep up with multiple conversations and background noise. Elder care or retirement homes use ALS to boost self-confidence which encourages participation in group activities and social interaction where residents may have otherwise become withdrawn, which can have serious implications to mental and physical health and wellness. One major reason for the rise in these trends is the aging population and workforce, and another is hearing loss with younger population thanks to the MP3 player age we live in where permanent damage to hearing loss is a result.

Higher education is also an area where sound reinforcement systems like the Listen Technologies, ListenPoint are needed. A type of ALS, this solution provides sound reinforcement throughout the space by amplifying the audio of the instructor’s voice/lesson via installed speakers in the room rather than a head-worn speaker or transmitting audio directly to a hearing aid. This technology is proven to improve test scores in the K-12 market but has also become a trend in the higher-Ed vertical as the benefits resonate with all ages.

TK: What are some technological trends in AV products for those with hearing loss? For example, are Listen and other vendors that Almo distributes adding certain new types of features to their assistive-listening products? If so, what needs/capabilities do those features address?

AL: Integrating smart phones with AV technology is definitely a trend we’re continuing to see. Barco ClickShare is one example for collaboration and presentations. Another great one is ListenWiFi from Listen Technologies where the user downloads the ListenWiFi app, connects to the Personal Listening WiFi network and the audio can then be delivered from any channel (TV set) right to their smart phone. This is a great way for those with hearing loss to fit-right-in in a crowd, this doesn’t require special equipment or headset or any stigma associated with even wearing a hearing aid. Simply pretend you’re listening to a call or having a phone conversation or use ear buds on your own phone and that’s it. Another benefit of ListenWiFi is that it’s even great for those without hearing loss. Think of a fitness centre or sports bar environment where we all have a hard time hearing what’s on TV number 32, for example. This solves all of that and provides a convenient solution that we already have on hand.

TK: Most adults now own a smartphone. Sennheiser’s CinemaConnect is an example of how facilities can leverage those devices to help patrons with hearing loss and reduce the need for specialized devices. Do you see a trend toward using smartphones and other user-provided devices? If so, what are the pros and cons? For example, in the case of smartphones, one challenge might be getting users to install an app, and that’s assuming they have a phone whose operating system version is new enough to support that app.

AL: There is definitely a trend towards user-provided devices and smart phones, however, like anything, it has its challenges. Some of those challenges include ensuring sufficient signage is posted with instructions on how to connect, providing training/support for new associates who might interface with local patrons trying to get connected, and maintaining signage through construction updates/renovations and TV replacements/upgrades.

TK: In your experience, what’s key for designing an effective assistive-listening system? For example, what questions should integrators and consultants ask? I would think that content types (e.g. music versus spoken word), system scalability/flexibility and reliability for wireless systems would be three things to consider, but I’m open to suggestions. And are there any common pitfalls and ‘gotchas’ that can trip up an assistive-listening installation?

AL: The most common pitfalls of assistive listening systems typically result from poor planning, which almost always goes back to the driving factors for ALS implementation. If driving factors were simply to meet code compliance regulations, often a facility will purchase the most basic possible solution available with little regard for future expansion that could help us better prepare them for long term growth plans. The more information we know upfront about an application and how the client will use the system and how the needs may change over the next few years will help us design an ALS that can provide more extensive functionality, such as language translation services for example (many people don’t realise what Listen’s leading technology is capable of). Depending on construction plans, we’ve had situations where the client was only first considering radio-frequency assistive listening but as we learned more about the application it became apparent that a hearing loop was really more suited to the needs of the client. As a result, we were able to help our partner present the long-term cost savings of not having to administer and replace lost or damaged equipment every few years and demonstrate how dramatically improved the quality of life would be for patrons who are mostly outfitted with hearing aids to participate in social events without missing a sound.

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