Access PEI installs new system to help Islanders hear clearly

Access PEI has installed speech transfer systems in two of its locations to help customers hear through the protective equipment required by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speech transfer system helps amplify conversations for those with hearing loss

Daria Valkenburg, co-president of Hear PEI, says people with hearing aids that have telecoil functionality can also dial in to hear staff directly in their ears. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

Plexiglass and masks have become a part of everyday life on P.E.I., but for people with hearing loss, those safety barriers create another obstacle to communication.

"That's making it very difficult for a lot of people to actually comprehend what is being said — some people can't hear," said Daria Valkenburg, co-president of Hear P.E.I. 

"I basically limit where I go. So for businesses that don't have a system where I can hear out there, unless I have to go, I don't go. So basically that's what it's done is it's limited me."

To help those with hearing loss, Access PEI has installed speech transfer systems in Charlottetown and Summerside.

Two stations are set up with the device in Charlottetown. There is a microphone on either side of the station, with speakers on the customer-facing side providing extra volume when needed. There's also a function that allows certain hearing-aid users to connect directly.

The system has a microphone and speakers so that people on either side of the plexiglass can hear clearly. (Travis Kingdon/CBC )

"It also has a telecoil, which means that the person speaking has their voice going instantly into the hearing aid or the cochlear implant, meaning that it is completely accessible," said Valkenburg. 

"There is such a clarity of sound that it's unbelievable."

With that method, all the background noise is eliminated, only delivering the audio coming out of the microphone — handy for busy, noisy places like Access PEI, said Valkenburg. 

The booths that are equipped with this new technology are marked by a universal hearing loop symbol.

For those who don't have a hearing aid with telecoil, people can get a hearing loop device that allows users to dial into the frequency and hear it through headphones.

'Seemed like a natural fit'

The pilot project came about after Access PEI reached out to Hear P.E.I. to see what it could be doing to better serve that community. 

Mark Arsenault, director of Access PEI, says he hopes to expand the pilot project to all locations on the Island. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

"It just seemed like a natural fit for us in an attempt to make our sites more accessible, to create a more inviting experience," said Mark Arsenault, director of Access PEI. 

"They don't have to speak loudly, you know, from a privacy perspective.… It's just your own voice level and their own voice level. So, nobody shouting or anything like that." 

While it is just a pilot project right now, Arsenault said he'd like it expanded across the Island.

"Then we'll look at it from there and see whether or not we need it in every stall or is it just one or two per site, so that we can make sure that we can serve that part of the population perfectly well."

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