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ALDs and Movies: Missed Opportunities and How to Overcome Them – Part 1

ALDs and Movies: Missed Opportunities and How to Overcome Them – Part 1

By Steve Barber, Hard of Hearing Consumer and SHHH Member

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Editor: Chances are pretty good that your local movie theater has assistive listening devices to help you better understand the movie dialog. Chances are also pretty good that the batteries are dead or that no one knows how to work them, or that they don’t know where they are! Why is it such potentially beneficial equipment is virtually unused? Is there other equipment that might be useful? How about other strategies to help people with hearing loss enjoy movies?

Here, with everything you want to know about maximizing access to movies, is Steve Barber. Steve maintains the North Carolina Self Help for Hard of Hearing People website (www.nchearingloss.org), which won the SHHH’s “Best Overall State Website” award in 2004. Two of the website’s features are a comprehensive hearing loss glossary and a very cool 3D model of the ear.

This article originally appeared on the Healthy Hearing website (www.healthyhearing.com).


Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) are fairly common in America’s movie theaters, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Although significant progress has been made, problems and opportunities remain.

What’s the Problem?

Even though the majority of movie theaters now offer ALDs for their customers, very few people with hearing loss use or know about ALD equipment. Unfortunately, many people with hearing aids cannot “couple” their hearing aids to the available ALDs as they have not purchased “FM” or “direct audio input” or ” telecoil” options for their hearing aids. Sometimes, people with “compatible” hearing aids don’t know how to patch together the ALD and the hearing aids. So the bottom line is, the equipment is usually available to satisfy the letter of the law (the ADA), but the practical knowledge is lacking.

What’s the Goal?

The goal is to help hard of hearing people hear. This can be accomplished in movie theaters and accomplishing this goal has many benefits….more hard of hearing people would attend movies, ALDs would become a good investment for movie theaters, hard of hearing people would understand the benefit of ALDs in other venues (houses of worship, restaurants, automobiles, airplanes, meetings etc.), hearing professionals and hard of hearing people would understand, order and use options currently available for hearing aids (FM systems, direct audio input, telecoils etc).


There are several major stakeholders that have interests and potential opportunities in the success of ALDs in movies and other venues too.
> A- Hard of hearing consumers (patients, family and friends)
> B- Movie theater owners and operators
> C- ALD manufacturers and distributors
> D- Hearing Aid Manufacturers and Hearing Healthcare Professionals.
> E- Movie audio producers and distributors.

A. Hard of Hearing Consumers

One important concept, and a key to maximizing “residual hearing” is to realize that hard of hearing consumers, themselves, have a responsibility to do all they can too! It’s not just up to others to help – you must help yourself too! Many hard of hearing people have to overcome a history of hearing loss denial, and they must re-focus to educate themselves about how to be good (or great) at having hearing loss. It can be done — It’s a skill and an attitude. Embrace suggestions that make a real difference in your life. These are things YOU (the hard of hearing person) can do; no one else can do them for you. It’s not a matter of “the audiologist didn’t sell it to me,” or the “hearing aid dispenser didn’t tell me…” It has a lot to do with acceptance of products and services by the end user (see section B.1 below). Hearing aid manufacturers offer amazing products, and the professionals would be pleased to have you ask for, desire or gratefully accept these products, because let’s face it, it helps pay the bills! But if you treat the professionals like used car salesman when they offer to tell you about T-coils, ALDs, directional mics, etc., …they probably get pretty frustrated! Imagine selling products that few people admit to needing, few people want to use and no one wants to pay for! The professionals and the manufacturers really have the tools and the knowledge available to help you….but you have to allow them to provide it to you!

You have hearing loss. Deal with it and get over it!

Go to an audiologist for a full audiometric evaluation, not a hearing screening! It’s time to do it right. Get the whole evaluation and review the results in detail with your personal audiologist. Bring your “significant other” to the audiology appointment. You do not hear well! It will be useful for you to have your significant other there to help hear, understand and manage the situation. You should leave the audiologist’s office understanding your hearing loss in terms of your degree (normal, mild, moderate, severe, profound) of hearing loss and the type of hearing loss (sensorineural or conductive) and you should have an understanding of pure tones, how well you understand speech, how well you hear in noise, whether your eardrum and middle ear is functioning correctly and whether there are other factors involved. If you need a medical referral you will get one, and if you need assistive listening devices or hearing aids, they will be recommended. Review step one (“You have hearing loss. Deal with it and get over it.). Ask the audiologist to WRITE down the results and recommendations, and to give you a copy to keep, and a copy for your physician.

See your doctor. A small percentage of hearing loss can be “medically or surgically corrected” and some types of hearing loss can be a sign of other problems that need medical attention to prevent more serious problems.

Get the hearing aid (and assistive listening device) technology you need to hear your best. Your first consideration should be how to maximize your hearing, not how to get the cheapest or smallest or most “invisible” hearing aid! Remember, even the largest hearing aid is less visible than your hearing loss! People don’t really care whether you have hearing loss or not or whether you wear a hearing aid. They do care (and notice) if you aren’t hearing well. Pretending to hear when you are indeed missing things, looks pretty silly.

Learn about the features in hearing aids to couple them with ALDs, to help you hear in difficult situations and with telephones, TVs, computers, and movies. Make sure your next hearing aid includes the right features. You need to know enough about hearing aid features and ALDs. Choose a hearing healthcare provider that can help you choose your hearing aids and ALDs wisely.

Learn how to use your hearing aid and ALDs and practice strategies that help you hear your best. Hearing aids are not like glasses – you can’t just put them on and have perfect hearing. You have to get used to hearing the sounds you’ ve been missing and you’ll need to learn to use amplification features to your advantage.

Join SHHH (www.hearingloss.org) if possible. It’s one of the best places to learn the things you need to know. It’s only $25 per year to belong to the most influential and informative organization for people with hearing loss.

When you go to the movies, ask for the ALDs. Get there early so there’s time to get the ALD and to get ready to use it. Make sure to thank the theater and tell them you appreciate being able to hear the movie better. If they hear that enough, they’ll realize that their ALDs can be good business.

Part Two

Part Three