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Wednesday October 1st 2014

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We Can Hear Clearly Now

The Saenger Theatre installs new state-of-the-art hearing aid technology
By Kate Peterson

The Saenger Theatre in Pensacola recently installed a high-tech induction loop system that provides crystal clear sound for the hearing impaired.

According to Loop America, the company that installed the system, the induction hearing loop system works in the following way: the loop system amplifies sound to people wearing hearing aids with a t-coil (or telecoil) setting. The “looped” room or area has a thin wire running around it. This wire is connected to a special amplifier that sends the sound to the t-coil (receiver) in the hearing aid. The sound heard by the person with the hearing aid is often described as crystal clear—as if someone is talking directly into his or her ear. Trying to sort out confusing sounds is no longer a problem because background noise and distractions are eliminated. People without a telecoil in their hearing aid can also benefit from a hearing loop system by utilizing a portable telecoil receiver.

“In the past when patrons of the Saenger arrived, they didn’t know our previous system existed,” explained Wesley Odom, Friends of the Saenger president. “The system was subpar, and worked on an FM radio signal. Occasionally, someone would ask an usher for hearing receptors or headphones. Audience members could check out the headphones. However, they were airplane cockpit-sized, and made the person feel self-conscious. With the new loop system, if they have a hearing aid, they can switch it to t-coil mode and hear the performance clearly. Also, a person with any level of hearing difficulty can check out a smaller hearing device that works with the newly installed system,” he said.

Built in 1925, the Saenger Theatre is a historic Pensacola icon. In July 1976, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. While it was almost destroyed in the 1980s, Friends of the Saenger, Inc. came to its rescue. They are a non-profit organization whose primary goal is to provide much needed financial support to the historic theatre.

The Saenger is currently owned by the City of Pensacola. The City contributed funding for the recent renovation, but it does not provide support above normal operating expenses; that is where the Friends of the Saenger come in. They recently provided funding to enlarge the lobby and also created an additional entrance.

“It was important for us to provide the new technology while still preserving the integrity and historical appearance of the Saenger. We chose a company that specializes in old theatre installations. They used small, hidden cords located in places no one would see them,” added Odom.

In 2000, the Saenger underwent a massive renovation. At that time, the cost of installing a new hearing aid or loop system was cost-prohibitive; they would have to continue using the old system. This year, Saenger management was approached by The Hearing Center at Medical Center Clinic, who asked if the Saenger had considered installing the loop system. After discussing the financials, The Hearing Center came in with a contribution that made it economically feasible. Those funds, along with contributions from the Friends of the Saenger, made it possible to install the $14,000 induction loop system.

“This technology is an idea a lot of audiologists across the country are excited about,” said Dr. Jennifer LaBorde, Au.D., an audiologist with The Hearing Center. “My patients, and myself, are hearing impaired; many have stopped going to events because they are not able to hear the performances. Previously, if someone wanted to see a play or the symphony, they had a bulky device to deal with. The new system allows the user to make a small adjustment in their hearing aid and enjoy the show. Prior to attending a show, I recommend having your hearing aid checked by your audiologist to ensure the telecoil setting is made available. My staff and I will have a table set up during events to assist with questions and help with instructions,” she explained.

When asked if the new loop system had been tested on a live audience, Odom chuckled and said, “Yes it has; we tried it right after being installed. However, when everyone reported hearing birds in the Saenger, we knew it needed some tweaking. The company came back and made some adjustments. On Tuesday, March 15, we are officially showcasing the new system for the premiere of the Broadway show, ‘Mamma Mia’. The ushers will have general instruction cards for anyone entering the theatre.”

“The Saenger’s general manager, Doug Lee, has always wanted to install the system. We are really excited about it; we feel as if every generation will need to use it someday,” Odom added.

Lee stated, “We are really glad that patrons will no longer have to check out cumbersome headsets and feel in any way conspicuous. The installation also made us more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. We are very proud of the Friends of the Saenger and The Hearing Center for making this happen.”
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