One of the comparisons he makes to Europe is that people often find it easier to use because they understand how to use it. And the reason they understand it is because there’s a lot of information at the stop and it has been standardized.
“We’re trying to standardize the information for people in the United States, he says. “We’re trying to bring the European standard over here.” Being able to travel to any city and knowing how to use the information there is something to help people use systems. “You could do that all around the country; you could go to any system,” Wood says. “It’s incredibly liberating for people.”
New Option for Hearing-Impaired
Another area where it’s big in Europe and could be a way to reach riders in the U.S. stations comes from technology to help people that are hearing impaired.
A telecoil allows those with hearing aides to turn off the normal hearing aid microphone and not hear the surrounding noise, only a magnetic signal, so they can hear what they need to more clearly.
An induction loop allows the sound to be transmitted to the rider by a magnetic field. The current flows in the wire then creates a magnetic field around the wire. A small coil in the hearing aid receives the magnetic field. The listener needs to be within the area of the loop.
Jonathan Zeier of Zeier Associates explains why churches and auditoriums are the easiest place to install a telecoil system. “If you took the piece of wire and you ran it around the whole room and didn’t worry about if it was aesthetically pleasing, that in effect could be your coil.
“Then you just put an amplifier to the front. Those people are going to be sitting down, you know roughly where they are going to be.”
The challenge with public transportation is in not knowing exactly where the people are going to be, he says. “You’re going to have 7 feet tall people and you’re going to have people riding in wheelchairs; there’s this huge gap.”
For people to benefit from the amplifier, they have to be in somewhat close proximity. And Zeier explains that it’s in waves, so it’s going to be stronger in one point. “So if you fix it that it’s strongest for someone in a wheelchair at ADA height, the person who is 6’2”, they’re going to have to bend down to get the benefit.”
When coming from overhead or on the floor, he explains that there is a curtain-effect. So instead of it coming out from the wall to hit you, the signal is coming down to cover you, providing for a much bigger diameter to stand within.
As people travel and are using an agency’s system, they typically aren’t paying attention to where they are standing or where their head is or where their ear is cocked.
For the successful implementation, Zeier says agencies have a number of responsibilities:
- Informing riders that the service is available
- Clearly marking areas where the telecoils are located
- Making use of existing infrastructure in older installations
- Arrive at a standard setting and height to meet ADA and NFPA
- Not having to show riders where they have to position their heads for the best reception, but rather an entire area they can feel comfortable in using
When determining where to lay the loop, there are certain areas that make it more effective. Zeier mentions that they can be susceptible to electrical interference or steel.
Right next to trains, for example, the really high voltage destroys the magnetic field in the inductor of the telecoil. Though he adds, “But there are not too many areas where that happens because usually they try to keep people away from there.”
Certain steels will also kill the magnetic field, he explains, so you have to watch what type of steel you’re using. But with the testing that’s been done, there isn’t any overhead piping that would interfere with it.
With Europe pushing on it much harder and finally requiring it, according to Zeier, he says that the technology is being looked at now in the United States more. “It usually starts on the East Coast or the West Coast and then works its way in.”
He also explains that agencies have to look at the volumes of ridership to see where it makes sense. “With that many more people going through New York or going through Boston’s MBTA or going through SEPTA, you’re going to have that many more people so that many more people with hearing problems.”