New technology helps city council member

Published on Thu, Dec 22, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Something remarkable happened at Clark Cotner’s first Blaine City Council meeting as a council member.

Thanks to newly installed technology in the city council chambers, Cotner, 64, could clearly hear the discussions. The remarkable bit? Cotner has been hearing impaired since his early 20s.

“For the first time since I was 24, I heard everything that was said at a public meeting,” Cotner said.

Cotner has spent the vast majority of his adult life wearing hearing aids and reading lips in order to understand people. He lost his hearing after a friend fired a gun next to his head while sitting in a parked car.

Since then, Cotner said like most hearing impaired people he’s met, he has grown weary of continually asking people to repeat themselves or look directly at him so he can read their lips. He said hearing disability in general is most likely seldom talked about for this reason; those with the disability become involuntarily silent.

“When you’re deaf for a long time, you learn not ask people to do things,” Cotner said. “You just get tired of asking people to repeat themselves.”

After Cotner ran unopposed for former city council member’s Alan Black’s seat, Blaine staff tried a number of methods to help Cotner hear better at city council meetings. None of the solutions worked efficiently, until Cotner suggested a device called a hearing loop.

The hearing loop is connected to the council chamber’s microphone system and broadcasts a signal that can be picked up by Cotner’s hearing aid. The city payed $942 for the loop installed in the council chambers. With the device running, Cotner said not only could he hear better than people sitting in the back of the meeting room, he could hear them talking to each other.

Most new hearing aids have switches called t-coils, which allow them to pick up signals from hearing loops. According to a 2009 survey in “The Hearing Journal,” 58 percent of hearing aids on the market come equipped with t-coils, up from 37 percent in 2001. Chances are if an individual buys a moderately priced hearing aid, it will come with a t-coil.

Hearing loops, which run the gamut in price from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, can be designed to fit most sizes of public meeting spaces, including large auditoriums and churches. Cotner said Blaine city staff are planning to install a hearing loop in the new city council chambers in the Banner Bank building. A hearing loop circling the new council chambers would allow anyone in the meeting room with a t-coil-equipped hearing aid to hear better.

“It’s unlimited where you can use [hearing loops], and it’s not that expensive,” Cotner said.

Since becoming hearing impaired, Cotner said he has become a bit of crusader for the rights of the hearing impaired. He hopes the installation of a hearing loop in the Blaine city council chambers will encourage other public meeting venues in the area to follow suit.

For more information about hearing loops, visit www.hearingloop.org.