Talking Hearing Loss With Front House Staff at Lincoln Center

I recently had the opportunity to speak as part of a training module on accessibility to the front of house staff at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall and Alice Tully Hall. It is wonderful when influential cultural institutions take a leadership role in promoting the importance of accessibility to their employees. I was pleased to be a part of the presentation, and to highlight hearing loss as an accessibility issue for the ushers.  

I share the text of my remarks below.

Living With Hearing Loss | A Hearing Loss Blog

I want to thank Lincoln Center for asking me to come speak to you today about hearing loss and the arts, two topics that are near and dear to my heart.

My name is Shari Eberts and I have had hearing loss since my mid 20s. It is genetic — my father had it too — but we have never gotten a proper diagnosis. I have worn hearing aids for 20 years, at first reluctantly, but in the last several years I have become a hearing loss advocate, writing a blog about Living With Hearing Loss and sitting on the national board of Hearing Loss Association of America.

WHAT CAN I TELL YOU ABOUT HEARING LOSS?

Hearing loss is a widespread issue affecting almost 50 million Americans. This includes 1 in 5 teens and 60% of returning veterans from foreign wars.

It is not an issue for just the old. People are often surprised to learn that 65% of people with hearing loss are under the age of 65.

The best way I know to explain hearing loss is as a game board from the Wheel of Fortune. Some of the letters are filled in, others are blank. The contestant (or listener in this case) is trying to make sense of the assorted and incomplete sounds he or she is hearing and turn these sounds into a word or phrase that makes sense in the context of the conversation.

It is also useful to point out that hearing aids don’t work like glasses. Glasses can transform an image that is blurry and distorted into something crisp and clear. So if you wear glasses, in most cases, you can see just like someone with typical vision, or pretty darn close.

With hearing aids, this is not the case. Hearing aids are helpful in amplifying sounds, but this just makes them louder, not necessarily crisper or clearer. Most people with hearing loss can hear that someone is talking to them; they just can’t understand what words are being said. The clarity is not there.

Hearing aids also have a tough time differentiating among sounds so that the background noise — like the hum of an air conditioner or the buzz of a busy theater lobby — is amplified in addition to the more important sounds of the conversation. This can actually make it harder to hear in certain situations!

TIPS FOR COMMUNICATING WITH PEOPLE WITH HEARING LOSS

I want to share some tips for better communication with people who have hearing loss.

1. Make sure you have their attention before you speak to them. Talking to them before they are ready will have them playing catch-up and make it harder for them to understand you.

2. Make sure they can see your face. Lip-reading is helpful in filling in the blanks of what is not heard. I always tell people, “I can’t hear you if I can’t see you.” Don’t cover your mouth with your hands and make sure that you are facing them when you speak.

3. Enunciate clearly and speak at a steady rate. Remember that volume is only part of the problem. Clarity of the sounds is really key. Speak your words clearly, and try to maintain a regular pace of speech. Rapid speech is very difficult to follow since all that brain processing time is condensed, while slower than typical speech will look weird on the lips and make lip-reading less useful.

4. Be prepared to repeat or rephrase. If the person doesn’t understand you the first time (and you were following all the other rules) try to rephrase what you said using different words that might be easier for the person to hear. You could also use written signs with common questions or pieces of information if you think that would save time. Particularly at the assistive listening device area.

LET’S TALK ABOUT ASSISTIVE LISTENING DEVICES

Sometimes people with hearing loss avoid cultural events like concerts and plays for fear they will not be able to enjoy the experience. They worry that they won’t be able to hear the actors or feel the emotion of the music or understand the dialogue in a show.

But assistive listening devices (ALDs) make all the difference so thank you for making them available!

The most common are infrared headsets. As someone who has worn these for years, I can tell you the sound quality is mixed. And the hassle of standing in line both before and after the show to get them is not great, BUT it is worth the effort if they work well.

Please keep them in good working order. Test them regularly. If they don’t work, all that standing in line can be very frustrating. It is also important to explain to the user to remove his or her hearing aid before using the headset to avoid unwanted feedback.

FM systems are also often available. You still need a separate device, but with these you can connect either by plugging in headphones or linking directly to your hearing aid via the telecoil setting.

Hearing or induction loops are growing in availability and are a favorite option for many people with hearing loss. A hearing loop is a wire that encircles the stage and seating areas that connects to the venue’s sound system. The loop creates electromagnetic waves that are transmitted directly to a telecoil enabled hearing aid or cochlear implant.

Users like them because the sound quality is great and no additional devices are needed, reducing the hassle and stigma. The people on stage like them too since there are no feedback issues.

Last, but certainly not least is open captioning, which is a text display of all the words and sounds on stage — like closed captioning on your TV — but these are displayed real-time in sync with what is happening in the show. These work great for live theater.

Readers, what would you add to my talk?

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22 thoughts on “Talking Hearing Loss With Front House Staff at Lincoln Center

  1. Fantastic post, Shari!
    You really encapsulated so many points and suggestions for how theaters and other public venues, can accommodate people with hearing loss.
    Way to go and keep up the great work.
    You are a terrific advocate for HOH/deaf people.
    bless your heart.
    Ronnie Kaufman

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  2. Good article Shari. While an infra-red system or FM system is helpful, I must remove my very expensive hearing aids to use them. I’ve had an opportunity to use the loop system twice and found it quite good. One of our local theatres claim the loop system will not work for them. From my point of view, that is unfortunate.

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    • For Jacquie Reid: If you are able to use a hearing loop system with your hearing aids, you can use the FM and the IR system too. You will need a neckloop that will plug into the FM or IR receiver. Public venues that have installed hearing assistive technology are required to also have neckloops available. Unfortunately, many do not because whomever installed the equipment did not include information about this form of access, and no one has brought this to their attention. The education never stops! I use a personal neckloop with my laptop, my iPhone, my portable radio, and other personal devices. It’s worth purchasing one for your personal use. Ask your audiologist where you can buy a neckloop. The only issue I’ve found is that some IR systems have a different sized input jack, so my neckloop did not work with the receivers. However, our HLAA chapter advocated successfully for neckloops to go with those IR receivers. I believe it’s also possible to purchase a small adapter that can be used to convert one jack size to another. Most important: You CAN use your hearing aids with all 3 of these technologies if you have telecoils in your hearing aids, and a good neckloop that fits into the available receivers. It makes such a difference!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article! Now we need to lobby so Congress will see the cost of not providing benefits for hearing aids through Medicare and Medicaid. Americans deserve coverage for hearing aids.

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  4. Shari, you are a blessing to the hearing impaired world, and your blog is fantastic as well as your contributions to help bring the hearing impaired world closer to the hearing world. I’ve had a gradual hearing loss from moderate to severe to profound, since I was 2 years old due to high fever with chicken pox and suffered awful ear infections all through childhood, before they put drains in kids ears. I’m now 55 , and profoundly deaf, and I can tell you that hearing loss is a an extremely challenging and isolating disability to live with at any age. While I mastered amazing lip reading skills to get me through school and college, and now the workplace, it can be physically exhausting to rely mainly on lip reading for long periods of time. Sign language, while fun to learn, is not really practical in the hearing world because not many people know or use it. It’s best used in the deaf world. Captioning is a fabulous invention for both hearing impaired and deaf, but the cost for the service is ridiculously expensive for a solo person to afford, and even harder to find someone to provide the service. This should not be, and affordable captioning services should be more readily available for all. Hearing aids are wonderful, even if nothing sounds natural and everything sounds off key or worse! But again, the hearing aid market is not regulated and the cost of hearing aids are also ridiculously expensive. I’ve heard some good things about cochlear implants as well, but these devices will never replace normal hearing and adapting to them can be difficult for many people. I’ve tried a few phone and I pad apps for voice to text translation, but not quite effective just yet as the person speaking needs to be right near the microphone. But I have high hopes for improvement in that area where your phone or tablet will become your interpreter! That would be fabulous! Thanks again Shari for your contributions! May we all hear best with our hearts!

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  5. People make assumptions about hearing aids but there are assumptions about wearing glasses in this article too. I wear glasses for vision loss. My glasses make objects a little clearer to see, but will never replace my vision loss – I will never have crisp clear good vision. This is like my hearing aids – an aid and not a fix.

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  6. I am adding to Julia Olsen’s post. Yes, owning your own neckloop is a good idea, but here in NYC many theaters have changed the frequency of their IR system. When that happens, the old neckloop will not work; you need a neckloop with the frequency the theater is using.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am a 90 year old widow, living in a seniors’ residence in Montreal.I have a profound hearing loss which began as a child when there were no antibiotics to treat the many ear infections I used to get.
    I appreciate getting ALL your blogs,but this one,with the speech you gave at Lincoln Centre,is a “keeper”
    for me and I have forwarded it to my family and members of my Speech Reading Class,which is where
    I originally learned of your email blogs.
    I am able to relate 1OO% with”gl” who wrote the excellent long letter above. She(?) is only 55 years old,so I hope she sees many big improvements in hearing aids and ALDs in years to come,as I have seen since I got my first hearing aid when I was 15 years old. It was a MONSTROSITY!! But it was during WW2 and transistors were being developed which,at war’s end,would be used in hearing aids so that the huge batteries that had to be strapped to my thigh could be eliminated! WHAT A RELIEF! I am now thankful to have been here for the Digital Age so that the big microphone which was attached to my bra,was no longer needed!
    My present hearing aid is the most powerful one available,and was given to me,free of charge, by Medicare
    5 years ago. Yesterday my acoustician told me it will be replaced next March,(if I am still here,and I will do my best to make sure I AM!)
    Sorry this is so lengthy,but I hope it is of interest to a few of your faithful readers,of which I am one,

    Like

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