How To Enjoy The Movies Or Live Theater With Hearing Loss

People with hearing loss are often nervous about going to the movies. They fear they won’t be able to understand the dialogue over the booming soundtrack, so they often wait for a film’s digital copy that they can watch in the privacy of their own home with the captions on. The same goes for attending live theater. With theater ticket prices on the rise, some people with hearing loss wonder why they should risk spending money on a show they might not understand.

But times are changing. Most movie theaters now provide free captioning devices, and many live entertainment theaters, particularly on Broadway, are improving the hearing access of patrons with hearing difficulties. So, note these tips to enjoy movies and theater shows to the fullest.

Movie theaters frequently offer free captioning devices.

Most large chains now offer caption devices for all shows. Go to the information booth or concessions stand to borrow one and return it at the end of the movie.

Most caption devices have an OLED display attached to an adjustable support arm that fits into the cup holder of your seat. The screen is small, but the captions are clear. Privacy-visors prevent the captions from bothering others while the bendable arm lets you position the captions in a spot that works for you. Some movie theaters offer captioned glasses that display the captions in the front of you as you watch the movie.

Be sure the device works before the movie begins. Most previews are now captioned, which is a good way to test if the captions are legible and the flexible arm is rigid enough to keep the screen in place. Arrive early so you have time to exchange a broken device for a new one before the movie starts. Inform the manager when there is a problem with a device so it can be fixed for the next user.

Live theater is expanding its accessibility options.

At live performances, there are many options for hearing enhancement. An infrared headset is the most common assistive device. Some theaters often offer FM systems as well. With these, you connect either by plugging in headphones or linking directly to your hearing aid via the telecoil setting. You may need to line up to get these devices so plan on arriving at the venue early.

Newer technologies like hearing loops are growing in popularity because of the excellent sound quality. It also allows people with a t-coil-enabled hearing aid or cochlear implant to tap into the loop directly. No other device is required.

If you don’t have a t-coil enabled aid, explore hearing loop receiver earphones that can be used to tap into a hearing loop. You will probably need to remove your hearing aids to use these earphones.

Captioning options are also becoming more common in live theater. Open captioned shows are spectacular, but limited to specific performances during a production’s run. Open captioning provides real-time captioning in sync with the live action. Captions appear on a display board usually located at one side of the stage. To see captioned performance schedules, visit the website of the non-profit group TDF.

Another innovation in captioning is GalaPro, a smartphone app that provides captioning for any performance of a Broadway show after the first four weeks of the run. The captions are displayed on your phone rather than on a screen next to the stage, so be sure to charge your phone’s battery in advance. The captions are not real-time as with an open captioned performance, but are preset to display using lighting cues. Reported synchronicity is 95 percent. New delivery methods including glasses and better options for holding the phone for easier viewing are currently being explored.

With so many choices available, people with hearing loss no longer need to avoid the movies or live theater performances.

A version of this article was originally published in The Hearing Journal. Reproduced with their permission.   

Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter

Never miss a post! Sign up below for email alerts.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

34 thoughts on “How To Enjoy The Movies Or Live Theater With Hearing Loss

  1. Brilliant, as always, Shari. If only other countries would accommodate HOH people. I live overseas and it’s impossible for me to view movies anywhere, because…the movies are in English, with captions in the language of the country…not English.

    I watch films on Amazon Prime, or on NETFLIX.

    C’est la vie.


    MINE IS OLDER MODEL 4 YRS. AND HAS BEEN FACTORY RECONDITIONED 2X. IT JUST QUITS. MY INSURAnce doesn’t cover hearing aids and there is a matter of budget. No point in getting a lesser model to save. I just need to hear. I had to quit my job 3yrs ago because hearing every word is essential, I”m a RN . My age has something to do with it. 88, and yes I worked until 84. Volunteered after that… dropped my license 2 yrs ago.

    Hearing is important, I don’t hear TV, music sounds terrible and I’m becoming less social ..

    My audiologist suggested newer, higher priced model or change to another company, we did But sound was terrible, sound like Mickey Mouse.

    Looking to hear. MG Stone.

    Sent from my iPad


      • A big thumbs up for Costco! They are not just “any big box store”. Their Hearing Aid Center is highly rated, with many satisfied, smart, customers. Their instruments are international brands, usually one model ‘behind’, which is insignificant. Sadly, they are not located close to enough HOH (hard of hearing) people. Cost is the #1 reason many (most?) people who would benefit delay getting hearing aids. I’ve worn HAs for 20 years and have owned four sets; the most recent (and the best) came from Costco at half the “normal” cost.

    • Sounds like you have a challenging hearing loss. Consider seeking another audiologist who may try some different instruments and perhaps accessories with you. Maybe just a new perspective may help!’Every hearing loss and individual is unique. Good luck!!

  3. I love using the captioned glasses at my local movie theater!! I’ve also used amplifier headphones, which are also very useful. They help drown out if the person next to or behind you decides to have a conversation!
    I had one random patron ask me why I was using the captioned glasses, giving me a strange look at the same time. I was afraid she would be snarky about it, but she was genuinely surprised they offered such for hard of hearing people!

  4. Thanks, Shari, very good. If you are HOH, it’s good to ask for a device, even if you don’t think you’ll need it, just to keep the box office/managers on their toes and to show them that having the devices available is important! The user-population needs to make itself more visible, which is one of the things your blog contributes to! I’ve talked to several auditorium managers recently who remarked, “You are the first person who has ever asked for one of these!”

  5. We are involved with community theater, which frequently cannot afford a captioning system, even if they hae ALDS. If Jim is involved with building the sets, he borrows a script so he can read it before the performance (also helps in designing/building the set). If it is a classic play, he can usually read a script online before the show, so he can anticipate what the characters are going to say.

  6. The captioning devices they provide in movie theaters are horrible — they’re hard to position properly so you can see both the screen and the device (and not bother people behind you), and the inserts usually don’t fit well into the cup holder, and are easily knocked loose if you make a careless movement. The glasses are a slight improvement, but get heavy after a while, and are awkward if you also wear regular glasses. And in my experience, the captioning they provide is imperfect and misses lots of lines.

    There is a group that works to organize open-captioned screenings in the Maryland/Northern Virginia/DC area, and this has been absolutely wonderful — having the captions right on the screen is SO MUCH better than those awful devices that I’m never going back. I’d rather wait for streaming if I can’t see it with open captions in the theater. Check Facebook and Google to see if there is a similar group near you. There is also a group lobbying for a law in DC to make it mandatory for movie theaters to provide some OC screenings. Would love to see that one happen everywhere; there is at least one theater around here that flat-out refused to do any, saying their CC devices are sufficient and they’ve never had any complaints. (I never bothered to complain about those devices even though I hate them; I just stopped going to the movies until I discovered the OC screenings.)

    Live-theater assistive listening devices work pretty well, and they can often be connected to a neck loop to send the sound to telecoil hearing aids. (I bought my own neck loop recently — it cost about $40 — so I can use it for that and also for listening to podcasts on my phone.) In the DC area, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has open-captioning for selected performances of its theater shows; the captions are provided via a lighted display next to the stage, so if you attend them, you do need to request seats that are near the caption board (as I discovered the hard way last month — the balconies are *just* on the edge of being too far away to read the captions).

    Most live theaters have an “Accessibility” section on their web page that describes any captioning or ALD options they provide. It’s always a good idea to look for that before buying tickets.

    • Interesting. . . another wrinkle. . . .the newest technology in ALDs, from a couple of the top brands, use their own proprietary neckloops, and the generic kind like you bought (one of which I own and use) won’t work with them! If you borrow an ALD with a little clip-on box, be sure to ask for a NECKLOOP instead of the headphones they will automatically hand you! ADA laws require them to have several of the right neckloops on hand!

      • Interesting – I didn’t realize they used proprietary neckloops! Wonder what the difference is? The one I have just uses a standard headphone jack, so maybe these devices have different sized jacks?

        As an aside, my audiologist was surprised when I asked about the telecoil in my hearing aid — she said the technology is rarely used in the US, and so she doesn’t enable it unless someone asks. But I’ve used it a bunch of times since; for instance, I had a neckloop connected to a VOX device used by the tour guides when I went on vacation. And my audiologist said that after I asked her about it, she had several other clients also ask, after having never been asked before!

      • ListenTech is a popular maker of these new devices–they use a different radio frequency from FM, as I understand it, either 72MHz or 2.4GHz. They have a blog page that discusses this but it’s very complex! In general, these are called “RF” systems, for radio frequency. Some are mainly used for aviation radio and spying! As to the neckloops–the ListenTech “box” I have used has 2 jacks that receive the neckloop–standard 3.5mm plug-in. I tried using only one hole w/ my generic neckloop and had no luck.
        The whole scene is changing so rapidly, and with different manufacturers using different devices! Happily, your generic 3.5mm neckloop, which probably came with interchangeable plug sizes will work with a laptop, cell phone, etc. For now, anyway!

  7. Movie lovers with hearing loss should be aware that all cinemas are now required under the ADA to provide closed-caption viewing devices. They also are required by law to provide neck loops for hearing-=aid compatibility. If a cinema near you doesn’t offer either, please speak up. And if you get no satisfaction, file a complaint with DOJ. Not only is the process simple to do online, but you’ll be helping us all.

    Open captioned film showings are wonderful. And while not required under law, some sensitive theater managers will arrange for open-captioned showings upon request or at a set time of day, such as the first daily showing.

  8. In movie theaters I have found the amplifier headphones to be of no help whatever in hearing the dialog. The OLED devices provided in my area never have “fit into the cup holders” but when I have successfully wrestled them into position they are wonderful. The shortcoming is always that they can’t be tested until the movie has begun, and if the one you were given doesn’t work you have to miss the beginning of the movie while you go seek a replacement. Captioned movies at home on TV are best.

  9. New question: I wear hearing aids and eye glasses, and now, I am on oxygen therapy. So, besides the eye glass temples BTE hearing aids, I now have to stuff the cannula tubes behind my ears. There must be other older folks like me, who have this situation. Any ideas on how to make living with all three more comfortable?

    • I am assuming the headsets are supposed to be sanitized after use, but there really are no guarantees. It is probably best to call ahead and discuss with the theater or bring your own sanitizing wipes.

Leave a Reply