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Dallas Summer Musicals bolsters theater sound system with technology for hearing impaired

Dallas Summer Musicals bolsters theater sound system with technology for hearing impaired

By Kristie Smith

June 19, 2014

Michael Jenkins, president and managing director for the Dallas Summer Musicals (DSM), and his team of experts have created a new campaign, Hear Us Now, which aims to bring the joy of live theater to those with hearing loss, many of which have retreated from the art because of their disability.

The program offers hearing access in a number of ways, including a revamped sound system, upgraded and high-fidelity headsets, a loop system that is compatible with telecoils (known as t-coils) in hearing aids, and, the latest addition, frequency modulated (FM) ”classroom compatible” seating system, which is the same listening technology used in schools. The overall result means a much larger spectrum of individuals with varying degrees of hearing loss can now enjoy DSM presentations.

In January, the Music Hall at Fair Park became the first live entertainment venue in Dallas to implement loop technology, one of the newest systems for hearing assistance. Loop technology transmits the sound from the stage electromagnetically, which is picked up by the t-coil in a hearing aid or cochlear implant.

“This will bring the better quality of t-loop to our patrons who have t-loop on their hearing aids,” said Jenkins.

However, the campaign goes beyond just improving sound for hearing loop users, as the new improvements enhance hearing for all assisted users.

Hearing impaired children gave the hearing loop system a first go at a March production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid at the Music Hall at Fair Park in Dallas.

“Additional improvements for the hearing assist systems have included syllable-by-syllable volume adjustment, enhancing the balance between music components and voice, and we have added electronics to compensate for the building acoustics’ effect on hearing assist users,” said Barry Epstein, who served on the executive committee planning this new system. He is a distinguished alumnus from Purdue University and winner of the university’s Outstanding Electrical and Computer Engineer Award.

The committee, which also included sound designer and composer Dr. Rick Thomas of Purdue University, Dr. Carol Cokely and Dr. Linda Thibedeau of the University of Texas at Dallas’ Callier Center for Communication Disorders and Ryan Knox of Idibri theater consulting, has done tremendous research to see where the advancements are that will provide for hearing assist users, Epstein added.

DSM engineered better headsets specially suited for these new features. The headsets are quality enough to use in the place of a fairly powerful FM seating system. According to Epstein, because of the upgrades to the theater’s sound system, many patrons with moderate loss no longer need any hearing assist system. Some patrons even substitute the use of hearing aids with the headsets. Further, since the loop technology was added, less headsets are being checked out for patrons with hearing loss, according to Epstein, demonstrating the success of the team’s efforts to include everyone in the enjoyment of hearing the musicals as clearly as possible.

On June 12, Epstein, Cokely and several of Cokely’s audiology students attended the matinee of Mama Mia using either the FM “classroom” system, hearing aid or the high quality headsets to observe how well the systems worked. One student, who has a hearing impairment, was pleased how well she could hear the musical through the loop.

The “Hear Us Now” Campaign team are pioneers making huge strides to assure all people have the right to hear the productions at The Dallas Summer Musicals at the Music Hall. Thanks to the team of experts and professionals, those with hearing loss can take in the music loud and clear and come back to Dallas Summer Musicals for more.



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