My grandma is 94 years old and, until recently, was still pretty much kicking it. In 2014 she got her first pair of hearing aids, because we noticed that her ability to hear was declining and affecting her living. After receiving her new hearing aids, my grandma noticed that she was still having difficulty hearing at mass. Along with my parents and whoever else was home that Sunday, she spent a few weeks testing out different seats to find the best acoustics. Still, she was unable to clearly hear the pastor and the choir. We had to hand her a hymnal that was already turned to the correct page for each song and reading.
After awhile, she just accepted her fate. I even think that she eventually gave up trying to follow along from memory and visual cues. She simply sat there, unable to participate in the mass. It is a very upsetting thing to see someone who used to attend mass regularly and be an active participant sit idly and watch the world go on around them.
It is very difficult to try and understand other people’s hardships. Oftentimes we can’t put ourselves in their shoes or in their mindsets. In this instance however, there is a video that (from my understanding) allows a listener to experience when people like my grandma hear at mass.
The device referred to in the video is called a hearing loop. A hearing loop is a wireless device that is placed in the floors of churches. The wires run beneath the pews, then transmit the sound to the telecoil device in a hearing aid. This removes the issue of sound reverberating off the walls and the issue of static. To the user, it sounds like the speaker (in the case of churches-the pastor) is talking right into their ear. The device dramatically improves sound quality and the overall mass experience. To learn even more about hearing loops, follow this link.
So my immediate question after learning about hearing loops was pretty simple- what parishes have one? Why doesn’t St. Anne’s? To try and learn a little more about hearing loops and general accessibility issues at my own parish, I spoke to Father Michael Caridi, who has been the pastor at St. Anne’s since July 2014. Since becoming pastor, the biggest change in regard to accessibility issues has been renovating the bathroom so that it is larger and wheelchair accessible. Father Michael is completely aware of the church’s lack of accessibility.
“First of all, as you can see our facility is terrible when it comes to handicap accessibility. It’s a shame and it’s way behind the times. As most parishes were sort of catching up in the past 20 years really nothing that I can see perishable has been done here.”
Hearing of his awareness was encouraging, which helped me lead into my personal experienced with my grandma. I was confident that she wasn’t the only one with these issues, since much of the parishioners are elderly. To my surprise, Father Michael already knew a lot about the hearing issues of people in the parish and about hearing loop systems. He said that they revamped the sound system, but it didn’t make a difference for the parishioners he spoke to. He also told me about a neighboring parish that had recently installed a hearing loop system.
St. Louise De Marillac in Upper St. Clair was featured in the Almanac for their new system. Those who use the hearing loop system have given positive feedback.
“I could hear perfectly,” [Sam Trentadue] said. “It was fantastic. For the first time in five years I was able to understand every word read or said.”
Reading the article and hearing about how influential the hearing loop system is was an interesting experience. I decided to reach out to St. Louise and try to learn more. Upon calling, I ended up getting connected with one of the families who played a large role in getting the system.
Barb Breier has a 41-year-old son with profound hearing loss. To a much greater degree than me, she has had to alter her mass experience to help her son. She has always done her best to equip him with the devices he needed and stay well informed. Since he has profound hearing loss, a hearing loop system doesn’t aid him as much as it would aid someone like my grandma. However, Breier knew that it was unfair to only consider these challenges from her son’s point of view.
About a year ago, Breier attended a meeting regarding installing hearing loops in iconic Pittsburgh locations. After a series of events, she joined a disability awareness committee at St. Louise. Through this committee, a generous donor, and a little bit of luck, the plans to install a hearing loop system were formed.
Since it’s installment, the parishioners affected by hearing loss have noticed the results. In regards to her son, Breier is aware that nothing drastic will change because of his level of hearing loss. Nonetheless, he still had positive feedback.
“His first big reactions was ‘woah’ like looking back to see ‘where is this music coming from?’ So the music was a whole new input for him.That I don’t even think he was are of.”
For him, this was an especially exciting realization because he enjoys music so much. After listening to the video from the beginning of this post, I had a difficult time imagining my experience at mass without the music element. You can listen to the full podcast (which I highly recommend) here.
Speaking with Breier and others, along with recalling on my own experiences opened my eyes to a whole new category of accessibility issues. Going to mass on Sunday with the family may be a chore, but there are people that don’t have the privilege of participating in a mass the way we do. For my grandma, it is something that was part of her entire life and as a result became part of mine. Attending mass with her became a learning experience as the typical “grandma and granddaughter” roles were reversed. I had to help her and walk her through the mass, just like had to be done with me when I was little. At times I may have found it inconvenient. Now, I beginning to realize that these moments are ones worth cherishing.