RNID survey finds shop hearing loops 'not usable'

RNID mystery shopper
Image caption The charity sent mystery shoppers to 500 stores and businesses in several towns and cities

A quarter of shops and businesses in Scotland which display signs claiming to have hearing loops do not have a usuable system, according to a study.

A survey by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) sent mystery shoppers to 500 shops in Dundee, Glasgow, Paisley and Falkirk.

Some 132 shops displayed a loop sign but in 32 cases they were not working or staff did not know how to use them.

Hearing loops are a vital tool for the 168,000 hearing aid users in Scotland.

They transmit sound directly to the hearing aid user and filter out background noise.

Delia Henry, director of RNID Scotland, said: "Eighty per cent of shops were not accessible for hearing aid users at all, and in 25% of stores who promoted the fact they had a hearing loop, they either weren't working or weren't accessible for hearing aid users."

A portable hearing loop system can be bought for £200 but the RNID came across some stores where good intentions had not been followed through.

Ms Henry added: "In one store the staff proudly showed us that they had a loop but it was still in a box. The company had spent money to make the store accessible but they hadn't trained the staff how to use it. It was really a waste of investment."

The RNID was surprised to find communication specialists performed particularly badly.

All branches of Carphone Warehouse visited by mystery shoppers were found to be inaccessible to hearing aid users.

Image caption The survey found hearing loops in some shops were not working

Mystery shopper Ken Nicholson went to the company's Union Street branch in Glasgow. The hearing loop sign was clearly visible but when Mr Nicholson switched his hearing aid to the 'T' position he knew immediately it was not working.

Mr Nicholson said: "Shopping can be a difficult experience if you don't hear well, particularly in a noisy shop.

"Passing the time of day with people is OK but if you want to know something precisely and you're buying something important or expensive, if you're not hearing 100% it's a big disadvantage and an inconvenience."

A spokesperson for the Carphone Warehouse said: "All of our stores should have working induction loops installed and we will investigate the issue with this particular store immediately. We apologise in the meantime."

Staff training

Mr Nicholson said he had a similar experience at a branch of T-Mobile in Argyll Street. Despite displaying a hearing loop sign, staff told him they might have had one at some time but "probably hadn't got one anymore".

In a statement, T-Mobile said: "All T-Mobile's retail stores have hearing loops in place for customers with impaired hearing and we've set this as an internal requirement for all new store builds.

"We're sorry to hear about the incident in the Argyll [Street] store, where it's been reported that the hearing loop was not in service."

It added: "We've just recently completed a thorough staff education programme to ensure all employees are familiar with how the technology works and every customer has the best in-store experience.

"We will also be undertaking additional disability awareness training across our retail stores over the next few months."

The RNID is warning businesses they may be breaking the law by not having working hearing loops.

The Equality Act of 2010 places a duty on retailers to allow equal access to disabled and able-bodied shoppers.

Read a selection of your comments:

I find hearing loop systems installed in various shops in Belfast don't work for me. The reason is because they aren't always in use, staff don't know how to use them and I think they aren't suitable for my level of hearing loss. I am profoundly deaf and I use British Sign Language as my first language. I can also lip-read but I find it eye-sore to lip-read people. Therefore, hearing loop systems would be more suitable for older people who have a hearing loss due to their age, not for people who are deaf. Paul Stewart, Belfast, Northern Ireland

As a deaf person all of my life, I have suffered the consequences of having the "hidden disability". Even in today's so called awareness of all disability. To avoid getting on the massive soap box I have about being deaf, hearing impaired, could someone please tell me what would happen to the owners of these companies if there were no available wheelchair ramps or disability working dogs were not allowed in. I know - there would be hundreds of cases filed for discrimination and massive amount of public and government sympathy and something would be done. It would be too politically incorrect to do nothing. But for us deaf - no chance in a million years would anybody represent us as anyone who has no difficulty with their hearing cannot understand that this disability is on par in terms of limitations with any other disability. Let's hear it for deaf for a change please. Caroline, Portsmouth

What is amazing is that this is even news. Loop systems very rarely work properly, as any hearing aid user will tell you. Microphones are often in the wrong place, volumes too low, etc. This is a massive issue but has been for years. Lip-service is paid to disability access where hearing is concerned. Phil Shea, Kendal

Most induction loop systems are rubbish, I find it more effective to quietly draw the sales person's attention to my hearing aids by pretending to adjust the volume, and they'll instinctively speak up. Duncan Graham, Newcastle upon Tyne

I personally am very hard of hearing and very dependent on my hearing aid. When I see a hearing loop sign I never expect it to be functioning properly. There is one big problem here that never seems to be noticed. That is the fact that only someone wearing and using a hearing aid can advise if it is working properly and set at the right volume. So it is virtually impossible for the provider of the loop to know if it is doing anything or nothing! There should be some sort of gadget around to enable people with normal hearing to test the loops. Can anyone oblige? Richard Hoyes, Swanland

I see the sign displayed everywhere, though have not tried to get staff to use the system. What I would say is that sometimes staff can see you are struggling to hear what they say, and as I have a shaved head, it's quite obvious that I am wearing 2 hearing aids. I've never once had a member of staff offer to use the loop system. Companies will always claim that their staff are fully trained to use these things, but they very rarely are! David McGrath, Broxburn, Scotland

It is the same in Berkshire and London. In addition hotels and conference centres very rarely have a loop system and when they do, staff rarely know how to use them. The Reading, Chelsea and Southampton football grounds promote their conference rooms but none have working loop systems. Ken Hopkins, Reading

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