New technology at Newark theater helps hearing-impaired guests
Special from the Newark Post
— For people who are hearing-impaired, going to the theater can be a frustrating experience. Even with hearing aids, the distance from the speakers to their seats and extraneous noise in the room make it hard to discern what the actors are saying on stage.
For Linda Heller and Betty White, it was enough to force them to give up their tickets to the Chapel Street Players in Newark.
However, thanks to a recently installed hearing loop, both women planned to be in the audience Oct. 7 when the venerable community theater kicked off its 82nd season.
“I’m looking forward to coming to shows,” White said earlier that week.
A hearing loop consists of a wire that surrounds a theater or other room and transmits sound electromagnetically. The sound is then picked up by the copper telecoil inside most hearing aids and cochlear implants.
“It’s like a ramp for people in wheelchairs,” said Heller, president of the Hearing Loss Association of Dela-
ware. “It allows access to the sound system.”
Other systems, such as receivers that use FM or infrared technology, exist to assist the hearing-impaired in theaters, but none come close to the convenience or clarity of a hearing loop system, Heller said.
With a hearing loop, no extra equipment is needed. A person simply has to push a button on his or her hearing aid to switch to the telecoil.
“Just walk into the theater, sit down, turn on the T switch, and you’re in,” Heller said, adding that it’s also a better option for people who don’t wish to draw attention to their hearing impairment. “The beauty of this is you don’t have to stick out.”
Though they use decadesold technology — a telecoil’s main purpose is to help the person hear when using a telephone — hearing loops only recently have begun to catch on in the United States, Heller said. They are more common in Europe.
Several prominent theaters nationwide have installed hearing loops, and in New York City, subway information booths are also fitted with the technology.
About a year ago, the Hearing Loss Association of Delaware launched its Let’s Loop Delaware project, which aims to educate consumers about the telecoil in their hearing aids and encourage public venues to install hearing loops. Many people aren’t aware the technology is in their hearing aid, Heller said.
The group’s first victory came in July when Gov. Jack Markell signed a law requiring hearing aid dealers and audiologists to educate customers about telecoils and hearing loops. New and renovated libraries in Delaware will soon be equipped with hearing loops, and the University of Delaware recently installed a hearing loop in one of its theaters.
Chapel Street Players’ project began when White mentioned hearing loops to her friend, Renee O’Leary, who has been involved with the theater for more than 50 years and is known for appearing in every one of CSP’s annual fundraisers.
O’Leary took the idea to the theater’s board and volunteered to fund the $6,200 project in memory of her late husband, Jack, who used a hearing aid. The project also includes several headsets for people who don’t have hearing aids but could benefit from amplified sound.
“I try to do something every year to help. I said, ‘well there’s an inspiration,” O’Leary said. “We’re not just talking about seniors. Many children also are hearing impaired.”
The theater has a sign in the lobby informing patrons about the hearing loop and plans to include instructions on how to use it in the program.
White is thrilled to be able to return to the theater and grateful to her friend for the donation.
“I thought it was very nice of her to think about it,” she said. “Most people don’t know about hearing loss and what we have to deal with.”
Linda Heller (center) and Betty White (right) are excited to once again be able to attend shows at the Chapel Street Playhouse, thanks to a hearing loop the theater installed recently. The upgrade was funded by longtime CSP member Renee O’Leary (left).