August 11, 1996 in Features

Help For Their Hearing Opera House, Other Venues Offer Assistive Listening Devices

By The Spokesman-Review
 

For people like John Centa, attending a Broadway play isn’t as simple as buying a ticket and getting dressed up. Profoundly hard of hearing, he can’t hear a word of the action without help.

About eight years ago, the Spokane Opera House installed an infrared assistive listening system, partly at the suggestion of Centa, regional coordinator for the Self Help for Hard of Hearing People. In recent years, assistive listening systems have been installed in other area venues, such as the Spokane Arena, The Met and the Ag Trade Center.

Centa, a resident of Hayden, Idaho, says he’s pleased that hard-of-hearing people are now receiving more help. “Unfortunately, 95 percent of the hearing impaired in Spokane don’t know it (help) exists,” Centa says.

The system in the Opera House works by transmitting sound carried by infrared light to receivers worn either in the ears or around the neck. The neck receivers plug into a hearing aid. Every seat is covered by the system, says Mike Kobluk, the director of the city’s entertainment facilities.

The system is popular, particularly for Broadway shows, Kobluk says. Problems have only occurred when a receivers’ battery is low or if the main receiver is accidentally covered up.

To use the system, patrons should call ahead and reserve the type of receiver they want.

Portable systems are also available on request for the Ag Trade Center and the Convention Center.

Centa also had suggestions about the FM assistive hearing system in the new Arena. It’s similar to the infrared system in the Opera House, but uses FM signals instead. He wrote the Arena to complain that the systmem wasn’t working when he attended the Tour of World Figure Skating Champions show on June 23.

Centa finds it extremely frustrating not to be able to hear what’s going on, especially if there is an assistive hearing system in place. Without the system, background noise overwhelms the sound he wants to hear, and all he can hear ar faint echoes, he says.

“You don’t need to hear to understand skating,” Centa says, but it was still frustrating. When he really needs to hear to know what is going on, the lack of a system can be downright maddening, he says.

Kevin Twohig, Arena general manager, admits a mistake was made that night, but points out that the show brought its own sound equipment and the Arena crew did not have total control. The Arena staff has handled 140 show without incident and mistakes sometimes happen, he says.

Twohig has implemented some suggestion Centa made in addition to sending him a written apology. Originally only set up with ear pieces, 10 neck loops have now been ordered for the system. A sign in the guest service office now advertises the availability of the system.

The system hasn’t attracted many users, Twohig says, but that may be because the shows at the Arena and Opera House are different, and word isn’t out yet about the availability of the hearing system.

The receivers are available in the guest services office free of charge.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: FOR INFORMATION For more information about using or reserving an assistive hearing device, call The Met at 455-6500, the Arena at 625-5100 or the Opera House at 353-6500.

This sidebar appeared with the story: FOR INFORMATION For more information about using or reserving an assistive hearing device, call The Met at 455-6500, the Arena at 625-5100 or the Opera House at 353-6500.


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