When Jesus preached, I am pretty sure everyone could hear him. Whether he spoke to five or 5,000, every word went directly into the ears of his followers. I guess we could call that a miracle. Fast forward 2,000 years, and we find that a lot of people just can’t hear what the preacher is saying.
Well, our government believes that everyone should be able to hear the word of God (obviously, that’s not the real reason). So, in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed into law. Over the last 20 plus years, the ADA has been expanded several times and there are now some very specific guide lines for Assistive Listening Systems—also known as ALS.
To tell you the truth, I have never worked with a church that offers ALS for those who are hearing impaired (or challenged), even though there are laws on the books that require such systems. I won’t bore you with the details of the law but you can check out table 219.3 of the ADA if you like. It will tell you how many receivers you will need per number of seats in your church.
At any rate, let’s look at the ALS and ALD (Assisted Listening Devices) that are now available and what may be coming in the future. There are quite a few. The assisted listening market includes houses of worship, conferences, schools, tours, museums. etc. Basically, these listening systems consist of a transmitter and one or more wireless receivers—it’s the same as a personal monitor system.
The idea is to put the service (or more importantly, the sermon) directly into the ears of the listener. It is up to the mixing engineer to decide what instruments and voices will be sent to the transmitter and ultimately, to the listener. The only difference from a personal monitor system is that the listener cannot control their own mix—only the volume of their mix. Ideally you want a single transmitter that has the ability to drive a whole lot of receivers.
Now that we know what we have here, let’s look at some companies that currently manufacture these devices. I have never used any of these, so I am making an educated guess as to what would be good in my church and hopefully in yours. Also, it’s important to note that as of July 11th 2013, the FCC allows both 72MHz and 216MHz for translation and assisted listening use. This now gives us a larger playing field when it comes to these systems.
Starting with a relatively inexpensive system, he have the Nady ADL-800. Transmitting at 75.9MHz this unit will support an unlimited number of receivers within a 300 foot radius. The receivers are lightweight belt-packs that will easily fit in a pocket or clip to clothing. They featuring an LED indicator, power/volume wheel and (supplied) ear buds and will accommodate any consumer headphones. The Nady system falls into the under $500 hundred category and comes with four receivers. ?
Next we have the Sennheiser 2020-D-US. This digital RF system includes a rack mount transmitter with 8 separate channels and front mount antenna plus 5 digital headphone receivers. These headphones have the receivers built in. You also get a battery charger case and ADA signage kit. This package is loaded with buckets of items and features but comes in at over $4000. ?
I personally like digital, as it can carry a signal flawlessly, but it will cost you. If you are interested in a line-of-sight infrared set-up, I would consider the WIR TX925 SoundPlus 2-channel Infrared system by Williams Sound. This is a nicely designed system with a powerful IR emitter that comes in white (especially for the church market). The receivers are the belt clip/pocket type and can run on alkaline or rechargeable batteries. Williams Sound designed this product to operate in small, medium and large facilities. Coming in at under $2000 you get a lot of technology for the money. ?
I also like the Try Listen FM ALS. This unit transmits the signal at 72MHz , which is received by three portable FM digital receivers and 3 sets of ear-buds. Of course you can add as many receivers as you like and if ear-buds are not your thing, headphones work equally well these receivers. The digital belt clip receivers look solid and stylish. They feature large on/off volume controls and an LED screen. This outfit falls in the $1000 range and, like all these systems, comes with a signage kit that lets’ the congregation know you have complied with the ADA and listening devices are available. ?
The last system I researched started with the Gentner TX-37A transmitter which can transmit on 37 FCC frequencies. The transmitter features the patented Aphex Aural Exciter, compression and limiting. The enhanced signal is sent to the Gentner digital receivers. This receiver has an LCD display, large on/off and volume controls, built in pocket/belt clip, wrist strap and ear bud. And the two AA batteries claim 40 hrs+ of use.?
There are many other systems out there so it was hard to narrow it down to these five. I looked for ALS in the various modes Digital, FM and Infrared. You will have to decide what is best for your particular house of worship and what features you will need. As far as the future of ALS, the laws are on the books but it is really up to you as to how how you will accommodate those in your congregation who are hearing impaired. It is really a matter of the heart not the law. Everyone who visits your house of worship deserves to hear the Word.