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Hearing Assistance in venues


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Related, I (with a group of others) are working through the business plan for a community cinema, and on my list of questions we need to answer is our position on special customers.


Obviously, being a new build it will need to be wheelchair capable, but in a stadium seating house (or indeed an old-school sloping floor house) that provides problems which are too long to go into, but see here for the summary of what happened in the USA.


The building code requires us to have support for those with hearing problems, so a hearing loop is an obvious need. Digital cinema provides a discrete 16 channel audio format, and one of those channels is assigned to the "hard of hearing" track, which is a mono track, present on many movies, which has the dialogue more forward. If you don't have that track you fall back to a mix of the LCR channels.


But many movies also provide a descriptive audio track for the sight impaired, and if one supports that then it too needs to be distributed. Loop is already taken up, so need an IR or RF wireless system.


Yet another option is "rear view" subtitling option.


It all gets very complex very quickly, and this is just a cinema...

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I'd agree with that. Last week at church we were discussing the hearing loop as its currently emitting more hum than signal (I suspect the ageing amp has had it), and our resident doctor (an eye surgeon these days) voiced the opinion that most hearing aids these days don't have a loop decoder, and a lot of them can do a very good job on their own.


When I worked at Derby Playhouse we had 2 channels on the IR system, one hard of hearing feed and one that on select nights had a live audio description. Audience members could make use of a loop decoder or a headset as needed.

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I think the general trend now is to go IR not a loop


True - inasmuch the IR system can provide more than one audio channel, does not suffer overspill from adjacent rooms (think of multiplex cinema) and does not run the risk of being picked up by electric guitars etc. in theatre. However, IR systems can often be more expensive in terms of both initial cost and ongoing maintenance and management.


apparently the number of hearing aids with loop facility is getting less and less


For private, "vanity" hearing aids, this is probably true. In the ear canal devices often don't have the physical space. They are also less reliable, and the available gain tends to mean they are used by those with mild to moderate hearing loss. In some cases, the loop is just a feature that need programming, and the audiologist doesn't do it.


For all hearing aids issued by the NHS (and that's a pretty big number) all have loop receivers. These are "behind the ear" types.


The problem with the "hearing aids don't have telecoils" argument is how is the user going to receive the signal? For lower level hearing loss, IR receivers with stethoscopes might suffice, but who wants to share these?! Headphones might be OK, but might not work with an existing hearing aid, and give rise to feedback. Those with higher levels of hearing loss need the tailored, frequency dependent gain of their aid in conjunction with the assisted listening system. Therefore, the more common IR receiver is actually a neckloop - so the hearing has to have a telecoil.


Whatever the assisted listening technology used, unless the signal being fed into the system has an exemplary signal to noise ratio, it ends up being useless for those with anything less than mild hearing loss. I have yet to test a boundary mic or "rifle mic above the stage" type system that worked satisfactorily. In many cases, the mic was further away from the actors than the patron was. I appreciate that I'll sound like a broken record on this topic, but there is little point in sound engineers with golden hearing pronouncing that the assisted listening system works "just fine" when it provides audibility but not the necessary intelligibilty.


Lastly, ask any aid users whether they'd like to:


a) be able to just sit down in their seat, switch to telecoil and listen, or,


b) ask the usher for an IR receiver, hold up the queue while he or she finds one, asks if you've used one before, shows you the on-off-volume control, looks blank when you point out that it's already switched on, so the battery is probably flat (because it's not in its charger) go to your seat, confirm that the unit doesn't work, wait in the queue to ask for another, go back to your seat and squeeze your way past other patrons, find that that one is also shagged, and miss most of the dialogue?

At the interval, you tell the usher that IR receiver 2 didn't work, get the "you're a troublemaker" look, but get told that the duty manager will be informed. You then decide whether or not to sit through the second half and miss the dialogue or just go home.


Not quite sure how we got here from smoke effects, but that's my 2 pennyworth!





....our resident doctor (an eye surgeon these days) voiced the opinion that most hearing aids these days don't have a loop decoder, and a lot of them can do a very good job on their own.


Yes, aids are very clever these days with multiple DSP channels etc. yes, they can sometimes make things better. Do NHS aids have telecoils - yes they do, and I'd expect a doctor to be aware of that. Is it better than having the dialogue from a soundtrack or radiomic transmitter straight to the ear with the bespoke amplification and equalisation of the aid, and getting rid of room artifacts and background noise. No it isn't. I appreciate that there is a spectrum of disability, but this idea that users don't really need loops anymore is a fallacy. It is true, however, that EMI at ticket offices, service counters and even cinemas and theatres can be problematic to the extent that telecoils cannot work satisfactorily. Bluetooth would be a nice system, but that connects via ... a neckloop! The current draw is too great for it to be integrated into most aids.


When I worked at Derby Playhouse we had 2 channels on the IR system, one hard of hearing feed and one that on select nights had a live audio description. Audience members could make use of a loop decoder or a headset as needed.


That's a system we've tested. It is fed from mics above the stage. I'm afraid that for many aid users it is utterly useless. I've asked if the desk could actually be connected to the IR system...


All the student "assisted listening system" projects I've supervised over the past 10 years have shown that all ALS have the capability of proving excellent intelligibility. They have also shown that the vast majority of counter type (ticket office) loops simply do not work and many cinema and theatre systems range from mediocre to useless. But hey - they've got a sticker to say they're DDA / EA compliant, right?




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Whilst on the new topic, (whatever will S'25 make of us?) of hearing aids v theatrical dialogue...TR in Plymouth has a Senny IR two channel install.


Dedicated staff (both ways) have a part of the box office counter to set up our stall so to speak. Patrons are not in the way of the ticket buyers/collectors. There is an IR tx in the foyer so every set is issued working...to the Patron's satisfaction, before they enter the auditorium.


There is a choice of loop or headphones in each pack plus an antiseptic wipe. Batteries are in the charger unit all the time, apart from when being used, so are fully charged before use. The batteries are inserted into the rx packs and the kit tested long before the perf.


The old hands in the audience turn up long before doors close so as not to cause any disruption to their fellow patrons. New folk are given the choice of loop or 'phones depending on preference or their 'aid. They can have a micro lecturette from ourselves or there is an instruction sheet in large print or Braille in the pack.


So, it is possible to manage a "loop" system with virtually no fuss at all.


(Quick aside for them as interested...when we have a signed perf it is not unusual to hear the occasional outburst of polite laughter...the signer is signing a few jokes to identify "his/her" target audience. Did you know too there are dialects in signing? I'm told Bristol is different from Exeter and both are different to Plymouth.


Even more intriguing was to learn that some deaf folk will follow their favourite signer to where they are on duty just so they can obtain maximum enjoyment? Must like their jokes???


As for captioning you need to be very fast and accurate to retype the dialogue into the caption machine programme. This because the TR caption display is, if IIRC, only 36 characters wide and three lines "deep". Took me two weeks to translate My Fair Lady cf the ex office ladies who could knock out a script in an afternoon. As for following the dialogue when Alfred does his quick speeches my eyes were streaming what with checking the lappy screen, hitting the space bar, and then checking the caption display because of the latency effect. Never again.


Interestingly(?) some non disabled punters do complain about the caption screen flashing at the edge of their vision...so much for sympathy then. Probably gets a bit wearing for the management to respond to "why were we not told?" with the "all captioned perfs are clearly listed in the brochure", every time they get a complaint.


Ditto the effort required for the Audio Described perfs; masses of detail before the up and very strict "rules" about describing the action onstage. You must not spoil a "surprise" by overdoing the detail. Plus you must keep up with the action so that the patron "gets" the way the play is going at the same time as the rest of the audience, as in try to avoid the "Corporal Jones effect".)

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So, it is possible to manage a "loop" system with virtually no fuss at all.


Well hats off to you Ramdram, as you appear to have covered all the bases. I trust that the input to your IR system is similarly well thought out and tested?

It should be noted that you do this as a specific voluntary activity, and that you have a good technical background. Often the FOH staff are a) multitasking and b) do not understand ALS technology. Your situation is not always the norm.


As for signers - yes there are dialects and regional variations as you would expect with any language, just as there are some signers who are nicer to follow than others!



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Spot on SL. I gather such is not always the norm...the thrust of my argument was that given the resources the management issue is not too onerous.


TR has been mentioned in dispatches for their "ancillary" technical services. TR is fortunate too in that there is a fairly wide volunteer catchment area. Catchment as in ability...some of these captioning ladies can type about 4 million words a minute sort of thing and have really thorough knowledge of MS Word and the captioning prog.


I have not seen the input equipment to the IR tx but the sound reinforcement feed must originate from a separate "atmos" mic above the pros somewhere. Separate to the stage relay to backstage that is.


The Audio Described cubicle (sound proof) is right behind the last row in the stalls. There is a gooseneck "desk" type mic with PTT (press to talk) so that the mic is live only when necessary. Ergo the listeners do not have to hear "unnecessary" sounds such as the pages being turned, or throat clearing say.


Cobbled into the Senny kit itself (I presume this is the case) is the facility for identifying the two channels, eg "Welcome to TR. You are tuned to the Audio Described Service (or, Hard of Hearing Service). This is repeated until almost curtain up on the Hard of Hearing channel.


The Audio Described channel is opened perhaps 15 mins before the show goes up during which time the background to the play is described and perhaps a potted history of the cast.

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NIce sound in the assistance system always reliws on nice sound being fed into the system, hence the "forward sound" mix in movies.


I remember an old thread about assistance sound on Broadway and it was said that some patrons have their own receivers and were upset when the system was changed. SO what other systems are in use locally? Could you use the same system?


As ever the system is just a black box, it should work, but no-one from the staf will actively monitor it for level and clarity, unless really forced - which is why the usual problems occur.

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IIRC, there's options for desk input or fall back onto a mic in the roof.


Not all of the shows in the TR have sound re-enforcement systems, (I've seen a couple where you had to be dead silent to hear the actors, some of the best work I've seen there as it happens) so it's very handy to have a good pickup. I've not paid much attention to the positioning or model of the mic if I'm honest though.



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There is a certain irony I suppose with ref to audio quality from theatre IR systems. The theatre headsets (I have seen) could not be considered hifi in any sense and are not padded. They are very basic in terms of customer comfort or for excluding "outside" noise. This simplicity of style might be for ease of sanitizing the kit???


I have not heard of any complaints from patrons on the sound quality issue pers se, or complaints from patrons who happened to have sat next to a person using the headphones. I infer that there is minimal intrusive sound bleed.


What can happen with IR systems is the problem of "line of sight". We have discussed this a while back but for new folk the issue is that if the IR signal path is blocked then the sound simply vanishes.


I did a few tests a year or two back and found that if you were at the very back of the stalls, well under the overhang of the balcony, and, stuck behind a large person or a lady with "big" hair then it took a moment or two to find a signal. Sometimes this meant holding up the IR rx for the entire performance to ensure it was aimed at a tx. The kit is designed to be worn necklace style and relies on picking up sufficient signal.


(Speculation Mode) I presume further that if a theatre has several IR tx to provide ample cover across the entire auditorium there could be issues of a rx picking up different signals (slightly out of phase so to speak) and having an effect on the sound "quality". Looks like another question for the tech bods.


It occurs to me now we are on the subject that if there are any announcements to patrons apropos emergency procedures that there might (must?) be an "override" facility to interrupt the assistive sound feed. I have never been around when/if this facility is tested but will ask the house tech bods what the procedure is.


Small J is quite correct in that not all shows (in TR) have the captioning/hard of hearing/audio described service or are signed. The patrons are expected to peruse the show brochures to find which service they require and book accordingly.

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Just my 2p on this.


We have both an induction loop (ampetronic) and an infra-red 2 channel (sennheiser) system here.

Both systems are on all the time, they are fed from the show relay system which consists of:

3 x rifle-style mics in the auditorium, these are then balanced, combined, then the signal is put through a compressor/limiter which delivers a clear, completely intelligible audio signal whether it's a single person on stage talking (no PA), or a large musical in full flow.

We also caption our own shows here, also do audio description (through IR system only).


There is no way of knowing how many people use the induction loop system, but we know they're out there as we occasionally get nice letters saying how clear it all is!

We have trained our FOH staff on the 2 systems as there can be some confusion between the 2 and many a time the 2 systems are incorrectly referred to, (e.g. Can I get a headset for the induction loop? - me, No, the headsets are for the Infra red system)

Of the feedback we have had, many customers like to switch their hearing aid to the T position and not have to ask for a headset, as sometimes customers don't want to ask, or don't like to wear a headset or individual neck loop as they feel embarrassed to wear them.


In my opinion, the quality of the sound from the IR system is superior, judging on what I can hear through my tester headset versus the IR headset.

Coverage of our loop is great throughout the whole auditorium, whilst even though we have 8 IR transmitters, if you get someone with big hair in front of you, the line of sight issue may still be a problem, but it's not something I've come across in my venue.

When it comes to evacuation, as both systems are connected to the show relay, the evacuation announcements are heard through both systems without any changeover, and this is how it should be. Any emergency evacuation life system should not rely on someone having to flick a switch to make sure the announcement goes through the induction loop or IR system IMO.


I've not heard or experienced any phasing problems due to using many IR transmitters, I can walk around the theatre quite happily and move in and out of range of transmitters and not notice any difference, or breaks in transmission.


Back to David's OP though, it does depend on your regional building code. In the UK there is no regulation or guideline that says you need to install either an induction loop or IR system, - from the 'Equality Act 2010' (UK) "Businesses also have an obligation to make reasonable

adjustments to help disabled individuals access their goods, facilities and services."


So I would look at the options available to you, and it may be that an IR system might be the best here, with several channels. Look at the cost of installing this, and more importantly maintaining it over a period of time (say 5, 10 years) (IMO an IR system cost a lot more to maintain when you take into account the cost of replacement headsets, batteries, IR radiators etc.) And perhaps more importantly, speak to any organisations or customers who will be using the system for guidance. We've got a good relationship with the Royal National institute for the deaf RNID, and they have been most helpful to us in making sure we're doing what their members would like. As I said earlier, it's difficult to know how many people use the induction loop, but from RNID information it's probably more than we think! And have a good show relay with a decent compressor limiter on it, as this will get you out of all sorts of trouble if you want to get the film soundtrack onto your assisted listening system!


cheers, Dicky :)

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Ref the comments above on the inclusion of t-coils and the installs of induction loop systems. As always in life there is rather more to stuff than meets the eye on first inspection.


Seeing as how my mother wears, very recently fitted, NHS 'aids, Siemens Impact L to be exact, gave me the ideal opportunity to examine a pair, or rather the manual, at first hand. The manual makes no mention at all of a t coil.


These particular 'aids can be programmed to operate in five different modes, selected by toggling through the modes via a "programme button". However, this selection function is optional and I noted in the case of my mother this option has been disabled by the audiologist. You get a manual which records what programmes, if any, have been activated, and her aids are simply set to "automatic".


SL might find this of interest because it seems that not all NHS 'aids are in fact equipped with a t coil; a particular range may be equipped with a t-coil, but not necessarily a particular model within said range. (I presume this is to do with the physical size of the ear and if the wearer is a child?) I learnt this quite by chance from here:




(disregard any ref to tinnitus, it is the remarks from folk who have discovered (after the fitting) they have no t coil facility, in their particular model of NHS 'aid, which are pertinent...and there is a passing comment on theatre or ANY other loop systems.)


So it appears that, quite by accident you might say, folk are being supplied with newer (more high tech) kit with less functionality. Plus, in the case of my mother the audiologist has further reduced that functionality by not programming her 'aid to its full capabilities.


Mind you, my mother is nearly ninety, in full command of her faculties but is a bit of a techophobe, which is why, probably, the audiologist went for the easiest option for all concerned.


So, whilst a theatre might be doubly blessed with IR and loop systems it may be that the loop system becomes redundant over time owing to decisions made, for quite sensible reasons, by a well meaning third party.


With IR systems it might therefore be prudent to always advise the "new" patron the best way to use the system is to wear the headphones and experiment with the level controls.


And, for those interested, I gather that 'aids might in future be equipped with Bluetooth. Perhaps the next generation of 'aids are engineered solely with Bluetooth. Bluetooth can be used with some 'aids but (irony alert) relies on the 'aid being equipped with a t coil, or DAI (this is a US site so the pricing aspect is not really applicable):



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As mentioned a few posts back, the very smallest aids don't have telecoils, but typically the NHS don't do small hearing aids. When they researched moving to the digital versions, they wanted reliability and in the ear types were deemed far too problematic. If you want a telecoil on your NHS aid, they will provide one. Given that for most assisted listiening systems to work properly, the aid must be part of the signal chain (so as to give the necessary bespoke eq & amplification), so the signal has to connect either by a direct connection shoe, inductively, or - as is the latest trend - via Bluetooth. The latter isn't deemed to be a necessity for those with hearing loss, so NHS users would have to pay for the extra facility... So without a telecoil it's very unlikely that the person with more severe or profound hearing will be able to make use of the assisted listening system.


Whether or not the telecoil is assigned a programme in the aid depends on the audiologist and the questions asked of the patient. If they do not use the facility (or aren't aware of its benefits) it might not get programmed in. Making informed choices for the patient is not unusual, and 95% of the development in recent years has been to manage background noise levels and filter it out. This of course is big business... a burgeoning elderly population, the "better aids" only available privately and costing up to several thousand pounds per channel, means they are falling obver themselves to bring out new gadgets.


Often the sales patter is that these aids are so good, the loop isn't needed anyway. Those users I've spoken to would disagree vehemently with this.


With regards to IR transmitters, multiple units can be used in a venue, and you can even model coverage in EASE. It is still a line of sight technology, but Sennheiser's latest IR receivers do at least mute gracefully instead of blasting out white noise when the signal is lost. Quality will typically be much better than that of an induction loop which is deliberately limited. This may be an important issue for uses such as simultaneous translation. In reality though, by the time a person needs a hearing aid, the more restricted upper frequency response of AFILs isn't a problem - it isn't going to be missed anyway.


I'm suprised at the combined use of IR and AFILS... I'd suspect that if set up correctly, many users would actually be listening to the loop (as the two systems would both be picked up by the telecoil) but of course the IR volume output can be adjusted.


The reason why it is hard to be black and white about what can and can't be heard and understood with ALS is the vast variation in acuity with those who have hearing loss. It ranges from those who need just a few dB gain in the upper frequencies to help differentiate sibilents and consonants, to those who have a profound loss and cannot handle background noise, distractors, multiple voices and reverberation. Here, closed miked signals are needed for the ALS, not the ubiquitous rifle mic over the stage.


The very same pickup issues that we face when we try using a rifle mic to reinforce stage dialogue apply to the mic for ALS input. The distance factor is often little better than 2 and even then only at 1kHz and above. It needs directing at a person's mouth, yet it is not unusual to see them hanging straight down, even upstage of the actors and certainly out of the normal speech directivity pattern for humans. Of course, if any content is played through the theatre's speakers, the rifle mics are usually far away and completely off axis...

I understand why mics are used in this way, but all my research points to this being a less than satisfactory method.





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