updated 12/27/2006 5:19:10 PM ET 2006-12-27T22:19:10

Air travelers who use hearing aids will find it easier to learn what's going on at Gerald R. Ford International Airport, beginning next year.

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Improvements to the public address system will add technology that lets flight announcements be transmitted directly into hearing aids with a special receiver.

Maggie Smedley, whose parents are deaf, said the hearing impaired face serious challenges when they fly.

"Many don't dare go to the bathroom or get any food because they might miss when the flight is going to board," Smedley, director of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service in Grand Rapids, told The Grand Rapids Press. "They become as dependent as children."

The technology, known as a hearing loop, lets small receivers pick up sounds directly from a microphone, television or telephone. The receivers are available in more than half of hearing aids and Cochlear implants.

"This is sort of to hearing aids what Wi-Fi is to a laptop," said Hope College professor David Myers, who has written about hearing loss. "It becomes a customized in-the-ear loudspeaker."

The technology is widely used at British airports, Myers said.

"If the airport does this, it would be a national model," he said.

The idea to add the technology to the airport's new public address system happened after Aeronautics Director James Koslosky read about it in a magazine.

The airport planned to spend $115,000 upgrading public-address software anyway, and Koslosky said he decided that adding a hearing loop would be a natural move.

Koslosky invited Vic Krause, a hearing-aid user and former state representative, to talk to the Aeronautics Board at a recent meeting.

"I met with 12 people (with hearing loss) to talk about this issue, and every one of them has had some kind of experience where they've missed a flight or didn't know where to go," Krause said.

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