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When Hale Centre Theatre was planning its brand-new building in Sandy, Utah, leaders knew they wanted the space to be as inclusive as possible with the best assistive listening systems available. That meant installing a state-of-the-art hearing loop in the theatre. “We feel like theater, really well done, offers a much-needed escape in an ever-busier world,” said Quinn Dietlein, Hale Centre Theatre’s development director, and annual giving manager. “We also feel that this opportunity should be available to as many people as possible. The hearing loop is giving so many of our patrons an experience they’ve never had before. We have had close friends with hearing loss literally in tears after enjoying a show and being included like never before.” More Americans experience hearing loss than you might think. Hearing loss makes it difficult for people to fully experience something like a play at the Hale Centre Theatre, but assistive listening systems can help. So what are assistive listening systems, who needs them, and are they required?

What does assistive listening mean?

Assistive Listening Systems, also known as assistive listening devices, take sound from a source and transmit it to a receiver that delivers the sound to a user’s ear. The systems use one of several types of technology:

  • Infrared: IR is a great solution for classrooms, corporate boardrooms and courtrooms – basically anywhere a private audio signal is necessary. It uses infrared light to send audio to an IR receiver and earphones. No one can receive the signal outside of a specific area and it won’t pass through walls.
  • Radio Frequency: An RF signal doesn’t require line of sight, as IR does. Audio is transmitted via a radio frequency to a receiver and earphones.
  • Loop: Many people consider the loop to be the best all-around solution for assistive listening systems. Loop systems use an electromagnetic field to send sound to anyone with telecoil technology in their hearing aids or cochlear implants. Venues can also choose to transmit the signal to a receiver and earphones.
  • Wi-Fi: Systems like Audio Everywhere from Listen Technologies provide audio streaming solutions for churches, universities, bars and more. Wireless audio is available via a free downloadable app, enabling guests to use their own iOS and Android devices for assistive listening.

Assistive listening systems use a variety of technologies to deliver sound to hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other receivers.

Who needs assistive listening systems?

Approximately 48 million Americans, or 20 percent of the country’s population, have some degree of hearing loss. About 15 percent of school-aged children experience hearing loss and by age 65, one in three Americans has some hearing impairment. The degree of hearing loss within this group varies from minor to profound. But having an assistive listening system available will help them listen more clearly and understand more of what they hear.

Who must have an assistive listening system?

Luckily for Americans with hearing loss, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides some relief. The ADA requires that public spaces offer an assistive listening system unless the requirement is an undue burden. Theaters, courtrooms, lecture halls, legislative chambers, stadiums, and convention centers are some places that are required to have an assistive listening system by law. Public assembly areas where audible communication is integral to the space must be compatible with t-coil hearing aids, and the number of receivers required is based on the seating capacity of the space.

Hearing loss is a common condition in the United States. Assistive listening systems help people hear, ensuring that millions of people aren’t left out of essential experiences in public spaces and some workplaces.

Three separate ListenTALK receivers in a row with different group names on each display screen.
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