Now hear this... A guide to hearing-assistance technology for movie theatres


Does your movie theatre welcome guests with hearing loss? This medical issue is a huge problem for millions of Americans. With today’s aging population, hearing loss is becoming a significant factor in whether or not someone wants to see a movie in a movie theatre. Since the entertainment industry understands that large sums of money are earned by making movies available to people with hearing issues, theatres across the country are taking steps to ensure that all of their customers have an enjoyable experience.

Assistive Listening Devices
Many movie theatres now offer assistive-listening devices (ADLs), available to guests at the theatre’s front office. By simply using these headphones in conjunction with their hearing aids, moviegoers with hearing loss are better able to enjoy the movie experience. Make sure your guests know that ADLs are available and that a little bit of adjusting may be required to get to the right volume, both on the ADL and their hearing aid.

Subtitle Glasses
Another way to help moviegoers with hearing loss is with technology developed by Sony Corporation known as subtitle glasses. These glasses work in the same way as 3D glasses do, but rather than projecting a three-dimensional picture, they project the subtitles that are being shown from the projector but not visible to regular audience members. Best of all, the subtitle glasses fit over regular glasses, and the lettering of the subtitles can be adjusted so that the individual can make it as large as he or she desires.

Closed Captioning
According to the Federal Communications Commission, all U.S. movie theatres must offer closed captioning to accommodate any audience members who are deaf. Does your theatre? Although the FCC might create the law, it’s not always able to enforce it. It’s important that your movie theatre have captioning available and that you let guests with hearing loss know which movies are available with this feature.

Mobile Apps
Theatre guests can also use mobile apps to help them find captioned and subtitled movies. Different closed-captioning options are available, ranging from having the words projected onto the screen to having them appear on the seat in front of them. Be sure to let your patrons with hearing loss know about these convenient mobile apps.

Smart-phone Augmentation

This might be the easiest solution for your theatre: Let your guests use their smart-phones to enhance their moviegoing experience. Smart-phones with a sound-augmentation app allow users to amplify surrounding sounds using their smart-phone and earphones. Make sure your guests know about this app, perhaps putting this information on your website to inform those with hearing loss before they arrive at the theatre.

With all of the benefits available with today’s technological advances, there is no longer any reason why someone with a hearing problem needs to miss out on an enjoyable night out at the movies. There are literally dozens of options available to make certain that everyone, including those who need assistance, are able to participate in the theatrical experience.

Recommended Process at the Theatre
Make it easy for your guests to use an assistive-listening device at your movie theatre by keeping the devices at your ticket office. Inform guests that the theatre has ADLs available and then simply ask them to leave identification such as a driver's license when they pick up the device. At the end of the show, return the identification to them when they bring back the ADL.

What should you communicate ahead of time to your guests with hearing loss?

1. Arrive 15 minutes early.
2. Ask the ticket seller for an "assistive-listening device."
3. You may be asked to leave a driver's license, but there should be no charge for using the device.

How to use the assistive-listening device:
Show patrons that assistive-listening devices are easy to use, and inform them that theatre staff are available to help if needed. Include these instructions on the unit:
1. Put the headset on.
2. Turn the unit "on."
3. Adjust the volume to the appropriate comfort level. Note that no sound is audible until the theatre turns on the tramsmitter.

For guests who wear a hearing aid:

Inform these guests to:
1. Put the headset on over their hearing aid.
2. If there is feedback noise, turn down the hearing aid volume or remove the hearing aid.

If patrons have a T-switch on their hearing aid:
Inform these guests to:
1. Ask if a neck loop is available for the ADL.
2. Unplug the headset and plug the neck loop into the device box instead.
3. Put the neck loop around your neck.
4. Turn the hearing aid to the "T" position.
5. Turn up the hearing aid volume to the highest point.
6. Adjust the volume on the device to your comfort.

In all U.S. theatres, listening systems are required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to make programs and services accessible. But your guests must ask for this accommodation.

About the author: Joe Sucharda is vice president, corporate marketing, for Sencore. As a major supplier of broadcasting equipment, Sencore is an engineering leader in the development of video delivery and high-quality signal transmission solutions. He has extensive experience in the telecommunications industry.