Need to talk about a prescription at the pharmacy counter or ask the cashier a question during checkout? These everyday conversations in supermarkets can be frustrating for customers with hearing loss. That’s why Wegmans Food Markets has begun to install induction hearing loop stations in its stores at pharmacy counters, customer service desks, and designated checkout lanes.
Sixteen Wegmans stores currently have these hearing assistance systems -- at least one store in each of the six states where Wegmans operates. More will be added in 2016, working toward a goal of having hearing loop systems in all Wegmans stores by the end of the year.
Induction hearing loop systems work seamlessly to help people wearing a hearing aid or cochlear implant equipped with a telecoil (T-coil), to hear speech more clearly. The hearing loop takes sound straight from the source and delivers it right into the listener's ear. These systems are in wide use in European countries and are becoming more common in the U.S., where about 70% of new hearing aids and all new cochlear implants have T-coils, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America.
“The beauty of induction loops is that they’re so unobtrusive,” said Matt Sawyer, whose information technology team at Wegmans is working on the installation project. “They help those who can benefit, while others in the area are usually unaware of the hearing loop’s presence. Those with hearing loss don’t have to ask others to speak up because the system helps them hear speech more clearly.”
Over the last year, Wegmans piloted this technology at several stores near its headquarters in Rochester, NY, working with audio-visual specialist Joseph Barone to design and install the hearing loop stations.
Here’s how hearing loop systems work:A condenser microphone built into a service counter or checkout lane captures the sound of an employee speaking. A “smart” amplifier removes background noise and sends the clarified sound to an induction loop, which converts it into a wireless electromagnetic field. The T-coil in a hearing aid or cochlear implant acts like an antenna, picking up the signal and delivering the sound directly from the source to the ear.
“We began planning this project in earnest with the help of folks from the Rochester NY chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America,” said Jo Natale, vice president of media relations. “They helped us understand what a difference these systems can make to those with hearing loss. We set up a pilot project, and the HLAA members were our ‘test pilots.’ They gave us great feedback about what worked well and what didn’t. This year, our plan is to bring hearing loops to pharmacy counters, service desks, and one or more checkout lanes in every store.”
The standard sign that indicates the presence of a hearing loop (a line drawing of an ear with the letter T in the bottom right hand corner) will be posted in areas where loops are active.
“Very simply, we want to provide customers with hearing loss a better way to ask questions and get answers, comfortably and easily, when they’re in our stores,” says Natale.
Because each location requires a custom installation and training for employees on how to use the system to help customers, the rollout will happen in increments. Here are the stores that currently have induction hearing loops installed:
Chili-Paul - pharmacy
Mt. Read - pharmacy
Fairport - pharmacy and service desk
Calkins Road - pharmacy, service desk, and designated checkout lanes
Dick Road - pharmacy, service desk, and designated checkout lanes
John Glenn - pharmacy, service desk, and designated checkout lanes
Johnson City - pharmacy, service desk, and designated checkout lanes
Marketplace - pharmacy, service desk, and designated checkout lanes
Pittsford - pharmacy, service desk, and designated checkout lanes
Concordville - pharmacy, service desk, and designated checkout lanes
Downingtown - pharmacy, service desk, and designated checkout lanes
Warrington - pharmacy, service desk, and designated checkout lanes