A simple two-way communication system makes one-on-one and group communication easy, and streamlines translation for non-English speakers.
Crown Center for Senior Living, a nonprofit independent living community in St. Louis, MO, is using technology to help residents overcome communication difficulties due to hearing loss and language barriers.
The organization has adopted a communication system, ListenTALK, that enables two-way, portable communication among groups of people, promoting better meetings, group activities, and more. It also facilitates easier translation for residents who speak Russian or Mandarin.
“When people stop being able to hear well, and feel they’re not able to participate, they often just withdraw, leading to loneliness, leading to depression, to anger, and it even can affect them cognitively,” says Laura Greenberg, community engagement manager at Crown Center.
Greenberg explains how the pandemic exacerbated communication difficulties: “Isolation and masking made them more apparent,” Greenberg says, “even in small group meetings with our social workers or activities groups, people were limited from participating. When you’re masking, you lose all the lip-reading opportunities that you [might] do consciously or unconsciously, as well as facial expressions and visual cues, in addition to muffled voices and social distancing, all things that made it worse.”
Adopting this system demonstrates Crown Center’s commitment to quality service to residents. The system includes individual receivers with headsets that connect all members of a group, within a range of about 300 feet, to hear each other clearly. Conversations are encrypted to ensure privacy. Crown Center now has 30 receivers and headsets for listening only, and another 16 two-way headsets with microphones that enable residents to be heard by the group. As more of its 240 residents return to group activities, the organization will purchase more units to accommodate demand.
A grant from the Jossem Memorial Fund of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis supported the purchase of the system, which is used as needed in everything from one-on-one meetings to movie nights that dozens of residents attend.
Resident Rise Gilliom is a fan of the new system.
“I ran the book club before the pandemic, and we had two people who attended, whose voices were just so soft,” Gilliom says. “You can only ask people to repeat themselves so many times. And now we use this device and everybody can hear everyone so clearly, it’s just unbelievable.”
Greenberg points out that hearing aids, for all their benefits, don’t necessarily work well in all situations, especially when a lot of background noise is present.
Gilliom agrees: “Before we had this equipment, there would be opportunities for programs that I simply wouldn’t go to because I knew I wouldn’t hear it very well. I do use hearing aids and I also have an augmentative hearing device, but none of those worked for me as well as this does.” She says she removes one or both of her hearing aids while using the headset and the sound is excellent.
Improving Multilingual Communication
Because three languages are spoken at Crown Center, the system accommodates multiple simultaneous translations. Each translator (whom Crown Center brings in on a contract basis as needed) gets a two-way headset, and the system can be configured so that Russian speakers and Mandarin speakers can be tuned into their own translations in real time.
“The great thing is the inclusiveness this allows,” says Greenberg. “This is a great community, even with the language barriers, which everyone does their best to work around, but for everyone to be able to […] know more of what’s going on in the moment is exciting.”
For users with newer hearing aids that feature “t-coil” technology, a special neck-loop/receiver can send a broadcast signal straight to the hearing aid.
Crown Center is just starting to use ListenTALK on field trips of up to 15 people on its bus–which is fitting, as it was created as a tour guide system.
The system may also be useful later this year, when Crown Center will open Staenberg Commons, a new community living center as part of a major building project on the campus. The new 12,500-square-foot community center will be built into the first of two new five-story apartment buildings, and will be open to older adults from the surrounding area as well as Crown Center residents.
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