Go to most public buildings, and you will see modifications intended to make them more accessible to the disabled: wheelchair ramps, automatic doors, and other provisions are a result of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which mandated that public spaces accommodate people with disabilities.
But there is at least one disability that the ADA accommodations have ignored: hearing. Despite the fact that hearing loss is a disability under the ADA, public spaces can be especially hard to use for people who have hearing impairments.
Hearing aids, while useful, tend to amplify background noise as well as the conversations for which they are intended.
A Hopewell-based company, Audio Directions, is producing devices intended to remedy this problem.
“There are close to 50 million people with hearing loss in the U.S.” said Nigel Gardner, founder and CEO of Audio Directions. “Hearing aids work very well except for noisy situations. If you go into a restaurant — and I understand this, by the way, because I have hearing loss myself — you can’t hear a darn thing because hearing aids amplify background noise as well.”
Audio Directions has developed products that take advantage of a feature that exists in most hearing aids — the T-coil, which allows the aids to receive radio transmissions. Audio Directions’ products allow speakers to talk into a microphone and send a signal directly to a person with a hearing aid. When the T-coil detects a signal, it turns off external amplification, so it’s like the speaker is talking directly to the person they intend. The signal is directional so it can be picked up by the targeted recipient and no one else.
For example, Audio Directions makes a mat that can be installed in locations such as banks and pharmacies. The pharmacist can talk into a microphone and the person on the mat can hear their voice in their hearing aids.
Audio Directions has installed equipment in the 9/11 Museum, the Holocaust Museum, Princeton Public Library, and other locations. It is also in talks with several area hospitals.
Audio Directions founder Gardner believes there is a huge market for audio assistive technology in public places, given that it is an un-acknowledged mandate of the ADA.
“I would say there is less than 1 percent compliance across the country dealing with people with hearing loss,” he said. “There has not been a major lawsuit to force people to pay attention to this. Enforcement is just minimal.”
The company recently received support after winning an investment pitch contest.
Audio Directions was chosen out of several area competitors in the “TechLaunch BullPen 16” event, in which a panel of investors gave out awards. First prize came with $15,000 of professional services and gave the company a ticket to pitch at Jumpstart NJ Angel Network and NJ’s Tech Council Ventures.
“The whole experience with TechLaunch and the BullPen was very positive. Although a seasoned entrepreneur I found the mentoring very helpful and I am sure it contributed to Audio Directions being the major winner at the event. The attendees included several investors, and I appreciated being able to get our company’s business opportunity in front of people who could help fuel the journey.
“I’m also grateful for the free legal and mentoring services as well as the opportunity to pitch to specific investment groups. I encourage anyone going through the challenge of growing an early stage business to apply for this program,” Gardner said.
Audio Directions, PO Box 370, Hopewell 08525. 833-234-4411. Nigel Gardner, founder and CEO. www.ad4h.com