New tech­nol­ogy at Ne­wark theater helps hear­ing-im­paired guests

Cecil Whig - - ACCENT - By JOSH SHAN­NON

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-

NE­WARK

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.”

NE­WARK POST PHOTO BY JOSH SHAN­NON

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).

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