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  • Charlene Coetzee

Hearing better at the theatre

Many people suffer the frustration of struggling to hear dialogue when attending the theatre.

Even with premium hearing aids, people may still struggle to hear clearly. This is in part, due to the hearing aid microphone reach that is only 2 meters, and the stage that is much farther away.

Theatres on the whole offer help to support the hard of hearing but clear information and access is often a challenge. Here’s a quick guide:

Theatres use one of three systems to help with hearing.

1. Induction loop systems

An Induction loop system uses electromagnetic signals from wires in the floor or in the walls to send the sound from the stage directly into hearing aids that have a Telecoil function. There is no need for an external device. It is activated instantly by switching the hearing aid to the T-position.

An induction loop system delivers excellent sound but it is costly to install and not suitable for multi-level venues. And therefore, it is not the first choice for theatres.

2. Infrared systems

Infrared systems use invisible light waves to send the sound from the stage to a receiving device that is usually on a neck loop. The neck loop then sends the signal into headphones (sometimes earbuds) or straight into your hearing aids provided the hearing aids have a telecoil setting. If not, the user will have to remove their hearing aids and use the headphones (or ear buds) instead as headphones worn over hearing aids often cause it to squeal (feedback).

Infrared is easier to install and less costly compared with induction loops and can provide simultaneous audio descriptions for blind people. It is the most popular choice for theatres.

3. Digital Assistive Listening Systems

These relatively new systems use Wi-Fi signals to send sound from the theatre’s sound system to a smartphones via a Smartphone App. Users then use their own headphones to hear the sounds from the stage directly in their ears, or for some Bluetooth-enabled hearing aid users, the sound is streamed directly into the hearing aids. The Smartphone App also enables the user to make personal adjustments to the sound.

Digital Assistive Listening Systems also known as BOYD or Bring Your Own Device are becoming increasingly popular especially in the current Covid climate. It works best with iPhone and premium brand Android phones but is known to have latency issues with more basic smartphones.

The best advice in a nutshell

Find out in advance which type of hearing support the theatre you plan to visit offers and plan accordingly:

  1. If it is infrared, ask if they offer telecoil neck loops to use with your hearing aids.

  2. Make sure you ask which are the best seats for clear transmission and book a receiver headset in advance (there is usually a limited supply).

  3. Wear the neck loop over clothes for ideal performance.

  4. Don’t be misled by theatres displaying the T-coil sign assuming you can only switch to telecoil on your hearing aids. It is highly likley they use infrared and telecoil only refers to the transmission of the signal from the receiver around the neck into the hearing aid. You most likely still need a induction neck loop reciever.

  5. If the theatre offers Bluetooth technology, download the necessary Smartphone App in advance and make sure you have sufficient battery power for your phone and for your hearing aids as Bluetooth connection is demanding on battery power.

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