HEDON TOWN COUNCIL is going to bring in ‘expert ears’ to assess its existing hearing loop system. The move was agreed last night after continuing controversy over the effectiveness of the system and whether it is one that respects the dignity of hard-of-hearing and deaf people.
In early April this year, it looked likely that a proposal by Councillor Sarah Rommell to update the existing system was going to be successful, but when the Finance & General Purposes committee discussed the issue on the 24th April and discovered that the existing loop system had cost over £3,500 and was considered to be ‘top-range’ at the time of its purchase, then councillors said they wanted more information on the specifications of both the old and new proposed systems. They also said that they would like the existing system to be tested by a group of people with hearing-aids.
The issue was brought to the council’s Property Committee last night. A quotation had been received by the council for the installation of a system that would update the existing system, but councillors expressed concern with some of the terms and conditions it contained. But the major issue remained one of whether the existing system, which involves wearing a hanging head-set, actually caused offence or humiliation to the user.
On the Hedon Blog, and repeated at the meeting last night, Councillor Rommell said:
“I strongly believe those with hearing problems should have access to a hearing system that they find dignified. One that doesn’t make the user feel humiliated. The present system involves the user wearing a ring around their neck which can be upsetting to some users and causes embarrassment. There is a modern system out there that is invisible to the onlooker and clearer for the user. This T loop system is used widely everywhere nowadays.”
Councillors who hadn’t used the system previously had a chance to last night. The large rifle-microphone was placed on the table and members passed head-sets around and two councillors sat in the public seats to test the system. While they seemed satisfied with the results, it was realised that the experience of councillors with good hearing was not any convincing test of the system.
The Town Clerk Mrs Joanna Richardson had received information from charity Action on Hearing Loss who had advised the council that it was obliged to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that its services were accessible, but the council had ‘already made those adjustments’ with its existing system. The existing system was ‘compliant’.
A determined Councillor Rommell again expressed the view that the existing system was humiliating for users:
“If people want to come and listen or take part in council meetings, they shouldn’t be made to wear something they feel uncomfortable with. Also if that system is the one we’re proposing to use if the town hall gets its wedding license – are we really expecting wedding guests or the bride to put a hoop on like cattle! We shouldn’t humiliate users.”
She declared, in response to other councillors who expressed concerns about being diligent with council finances:
“If it’s a financial problem, and we’re worried about the costs of upgrading the system – I’ll fund-raise for it myself!”
After a heated discussion, the council agreed to invite Action on Hearing Loss, who the Chair of the Property Committee Cllr Allen Marshall referred to as the ‘expert ears’ to come and test the existing system and give the council advice on the matter. It was also agreed to invite Mr Jim Uney to be involved in any testing of the system. Mr Uney claims that the council’s existing loop system is ineffective and doesn’t work!