By Patrick Murphy
“Can you hear me now?”
That catchphrase — popularized by a national telecommunications company — is being asked, figuratively, by parishes in Fort Wayne, as they reach out to people with hearing impairment.
“People with hearing difficulty are an important part of our ministry,” said Msgr. Robert Schulte, rector at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The cathedral is one of two parishes that installed a new “looping system” just before Christmas to assist those with hearing impairments. Our Lady of Good Hope Church also installed the system recently; and another Fort Wayne parish, St. Jude, did the same in 2013.
“Among other things, the looping system eliminates background noise, so the user can clearly hear and enjoy the Mass,” said Msgr. Shulte.
The normal audio systems in churches are generally inadequate for the hearing impaired, even if an individual has a hearing aid,” said Robert DeNyse, an audiologist who consults with parishes about looping systems. Excessive reverberations and background noise often make it difficult for those with hearing challenges to understand the homily or to follow the Mass.
An estimated 48 million Americans with significant hearing loss, according to the website of the Hearing Association of America — including one in five teenagers. Two or three of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with detectable hearing loss in one or both ears, the website reports. Those close to the problem locally say said there is no reason to believe the local situation does not follow the national pattern.
One of those with hearing loss is Kate Jones, a member of Our Lady of Good Hope Parish who was born with a hearing disability that became worse as she grew older. “I was never embarrassed by my hearing aids,” she said. “God gave me this impairment for a reason. I will continue to work in whatever way I can to help individuals with disabilities.”
Jones graduated from IPFW, where she earned a masters degree in special education and taught school before becoming a stay-at-home mom to five youngsters. She is also a member of Building Inclusive Parishes, a group made up of churches on the eastern part of the diocese working to help individuals with disabilities.
Jones got interested in looping systems after attending Mass at St. Jude and being amazed at the sound quality. “I knew I had to get one at Our Lady of Good Hope Parish.”
Cate Forbing, a volunteer at the cathedral, also became interested in the problems of those with hearing difficulties after listening to Jones talk about how much more she enjoyed the St. Jude Mass because of the looping system. Both are members of Building Inclusive Parishes. “I brought the problem up to Monsignor (Schulte),” she said, “only to find out he was already interested in getting a loop installed.”
Initially, Msgr. Schulte was discouraged by the cost of looping systems, which generally entail installing wiring under the flooring. After comparing prices, however, he was able to get what he considered to be a good price, about $8,200.
Loops entail wiring that encircles an area, Msgr. Schulte said. “Anybody inside the circle can hear quite well, he said. “Anybody standing in the aisles (or otherwise outside the loop) can’t hear as well,” he explained.
Some details still need to be worked out. For instance, newer hearing aids have a setting that enables the user to tune into the church’s public address system, but older models require enhancement.
Flyers on the inside doors of the cathedral inform visitors about the looping system, and note that help is available for those with questions or who might need assistance adjusting their personal aids. In addition, at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, DeNyse and Forbing will host a second orientation session at the cathedral for those interested in connecting to the loop.
Thus far feedback has been positive, Msgr. Schulte said. “We regularly hear from parishioners who say they are pleased.”
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