By Eleanor Bradford – BBC Scotland Health Correspondent
A quarter of shops and businesses in Scotland which display signs claiming to have hearing loops do not have a usuable system, according to a study.
A survey by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) sent mystery shoppers to 500 shops in Dundee, Glasgow, Paisley and Falkirk.
Some 132 shops displayed a loop sign but in 32 cases they were not working or staff did not know how to use them.
Hearing loops are a vital tool for the 168,000 hearing aid users in Scotland.
They transmit sound directly to the hearing aid user and filter out background noise.
Delia Henry, director of RNID Scotland, said: “Eighty per cent of shops were not accessible for hearing aid users at all, and in 25% of stores who promoted the fact they had a hearing loop, they either weren’t working or weren’t accessible for hearing aid users.”
A portable hearing loop system can be bought for £200 but the RNID came across some stores where good intentions had not been followed through.
Ms Henry added: “In one store the staff proudly showed us that they had a loop but it was still in a box. The company had spent money to make the store accessible but they hadn’t trained the staff how to use it. It was really a waste of investment.”
The RNID was surprised to find communication specialists performed particularly badly.
All branches of Carphone Warehouse visited by mystery shoppers were found to be inaccessible to hearing aid users.
Mystery shopper Ken Nicholson went to the company’s Union Street branch in Glasgow. The hearing loop sign was clearly visible but when Mr Nicholson switched his hearing aid to the ‘T’ position he knew immediately it was not working.
Mr Nicholson said: “Shopping can be a difficult experience if you don’t hear well, particularly in a noisy shop.
“Passing the time of day with people is OK but if you want to know something precisely and you’re buying something important or expensive, if you’re not hearing 100% it’s a big disadvantage and an inconvenience.”
A spokesperson for the Carphone Warehouse said: “All of our stores should have working induction loops installed and we will investigate the issue with this particular store immediately. We apologise in the meantime.”
Mr Nicholson said he had a similar experience at a branch of T-Mobile in Argyll Street. Despite displaying a hearing loop sign, staff told him they might have had one at some time but “probably hadn’t got one anymore”.
In a statement, T-Mobile said: “All T-Mobile’s retail stores have hearing loops in place for customers with impaired hearing and we’ve set this as an internal requirement for all new store builds.
“We’re sorry to hear about the incident in the Argyll [Street] store, where it’s been reported that the hearing loop was not in service.”
It added: “We’ve just recently completed a thorough staff education programme to ensure all employees are familiar with how the technology works and every customer has the best in-store experience.
“We will also be undertaking additional disability awareness training across our retail stores over the next few months.”
The RNID is warning businesses they may be breaking the law by not having working hearing loops.
The Equality Act of 2010 places a duty on retailers to allow equal access to disabled and able-bodied shoppers.