As summer draws to a close, many schools are completing renovations and classroom additions. According to information from Listen Technologies and OWI, many schools are unaware of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements that relate to hearing impaired students. The ADA mandates that schools install assistive listening devices in every newly constructed or altered classroom or assembly area.

According to the ADA, which was updated in 2010 and went into full effect in March 2012, no fewer than two hearing-aid compatible receivers are required in all newly constructed or altered spaces. The number of devices required increases based on the seating capacity. The Act stipulates that for new construction, each assembly area where audible communications are integral to the use of the space, an assistive listening system must be installed. Assistive listening systems transmit and amplify sound to help those with hearing loss. This requirement applies to K-12 classrooms, as well as to larger areas such as school auditoriums, gymnasiums, and cafeterias.

Listen Technologies reports that many schools and the AV contractors that install such systems are unaware of this aspect of the ADA and, as a result, these systems are not always specified or installed. According to Listen Technologies, when most contractors think of ADA requirements, they think primarily of providing wheelchair access.

According to Marc D’Agostino, a national AV, technology, and security consultant with D’Agostino & Associates, the hardware available to install assistive listening systems is not specifically designed to integrate with the type of technology required by the ADA, so installations can be unwieldy and overly complex. D’Agostino notes that the majority of the projects his company undertakes are for classrooms and larger assembly areas in K-12 schools.

“For schools, the goal is to incorporate technology that meets the ADA requirements while minimizing the hardware, space, and installation requirements and staying within the budget,” says D’Agostino.

Although his company has no exclusive agreement with any specific manufacturer, D’Agostino often uses a bundled speaker/assistive listening system from OWI Incorporated. The bundled product is the result of a partnership between OWI and Listen Technologies that aims to simplify these types of installations, says D’Agostino. OWI, a manufacturer of advanced audio equipment, offers ceiling and wall-mounted speakers for schools that can be used in conjunction with assistive listening systems.

The speakers have their own built-in amplifier, so no external amplifier is required. Also, the units are designed to provide the necessary power to the assisted listening system through the connection, eliminating the need for an additional power source. The ceiling speaker, the AMP-ER2S6, is also Energy Star compliant.

According to OWI, its speakers have the built-in line out required to interface with an assistive listening system using a simple, three-wire connection. The hardware includes the OWI-KSTM-LT-84 transmitter-radiator from Listen Technologies, as well as the required receivers.

The OWI receivers are designed to interface with the telecoil built into the majority of hearing aids and cochlear implants. The receivers are small devices (about the size of key fob for a car) and come with an integrated neck loop/lanyard that transmits wirelessly to the telecoil.

The bundled package from OWI has the option to specify infrared (IR). Most schools opt for RF (radio frequency) for wireless because it costs less and is more readily available. However, RF covers wide areas and this can cause signal interference with nearby classrooms. IR-based systems, on the other hand, transmit signals through direct line-of-sight only. This means that IR signals in one classroom will not interfere with the signal next door even if they are the same frequency.

D’Agostino adds that school security is top of mind these days, and schools may appreciate the fact that the speaker can serve double-duty and eliminate the need for a separate, dedicated PA speaker.

Regardless of the technology or systems installed, there are many incentives for schools to stay current with the ADA requirements for hard-of-hearing people in its classrooms and larger assembly areas. Listen Technologies notes that schools that fail to comply may receive complaints, which can now be filed online with the Department of Justice. Schools may incur the costs necessary to rectify the problem in addition to paying fines from $55,000 to $150,000.

For more information about the OWI assistive listening systems, visit the OWI website. Additional information on ADA compliance may be found on the Listen Technologies website.

Statistics on hearing loss in children:

  • About 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Data listed on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website reveal that 14.9% of children 6-19 years of age have low- or high-frequency hearing loss of at least 16-decibel hearing level in one or both ears.
  • A CDC study that followed school-aged children identified with hearing loss into young adulthood (21 through 25 years of age) found that about 40% of young adults with hearing loss identified during childhood reported experiencing at least one limitation in daily functioning.
  • According to the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (January 2004), children who are hard of hearing will find it much more difficult than children who have normal hearing to learn vocabulary, grammar, word order, idiomatic expressions, and other aspects of verbal communication.
  • Data on the ASHA website shows that the number of children with disabilities, ages 6–21, served in the public schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B in the 2000-01 school year was 5,775,722 (in the 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico). Of these children, 70,767 (1.2%) received services for hearing.
  • Data on the ASHA website also reveals that as many as 738,000 individuals in the US have severe to profound hearing loss. Of these, almost 8% are under the age of 18.


Sources: Listen Technologies; OWI; World Health Organization (WHO); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC);  American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities

Photo credit: © Jelena Miljkovic |