This is a guest blog post submitted by The Shedd’s Hearing Loop Committee in Eugene, OR.
After attending a concert at The John G. Shedd Institute (aka “The Shedd”) in Eugene over a year and a half ago, Sue Prichard, who has a severe hearing loss, and her musician husband, Hugh, ran into Shedd founders, Ginevra and Jim Ralph. In a casual discussion about the excellent concert, Sue mentioned that while she assumed it was a great concert based on everyone’s reactions and standing ovations, she was unable to hear and understand well enough to fully enjoy the event.
The Shedd’s strong dedication to exceptional sound and Ginevra’s previous experience in teaching special education caused the Ralphs to immediately question what they could do to ensure good auditory access for everyone. Out of this chance encounter, a movement has been born.
The Ralphs and the Prichards joined forces to investigate the installation of a hearing loop in the largest performance space in The Shedd – The Jaqua Hall. Coincidentally, the Jaqua Hall was just about to undergo a significant remodel which meant that an opportunity was there to do it right. The Ralphs were aware of hearing loop technology, and were also aware that patrons were not exactly jumping for joy to use their FM system. Sue Prichard had heard from her also hearing impaired sister in Wisconsin that listening to a concert via a hearing loop was life-changing. The couples joined forces to raise funds to install the loop, which underwent its inaugural run late last fall. With a few refinements and adjustments, the loop in the Jaqua Hall has been described as “perfect”, “wonderful”, “life-changing”, and “a wonderful, positive, emotional experience to be able to hear what I couldn’t hear before”.
A hearing loop system uses a copper wire loop, or series of loops, to send a magnetic signal directly to a tiny wire receiver called a telecoil or t-coil in a person’s assistive device. The loop may be very simple, installed around a ticket booth window for example. It can even be portable and move from a check-in table to a concessions stand. To loop a room, the wire is installed around the perimeter, usually in the floor and/or under carpeting. A large venue may have multiple loops to work properly. The loop wire is then connected to a transmitter. Microphones “capture” the sounds from a speaker or the singing, music, tap-dancing, etc., from the stage and send the signal to the transmitter, which in turns sends it out through the loop’s magnetic field. A person with a cochlear implant or hearing aid with a telecoil can switch to their telecoil program, and the sound is delivered directly into their device creating an exceptionally direct and clear auditory experience.
A universal sign is posted to alert people to the presence of the hearing loop, and serves as a public statement that the venue cares about serving people with hearing loss. The system allows for seamless movement from one looped space to another without having to “synch” into an FM signal or wear borrowed receiver packs to hear in different rooms.
Word spread rapidly through the fundraising campaign and some excellent newspaper coverage, and people began contacting The Shedd wanting to be involved. A “Loop Eugene” committee was formed and has been meeting regularly since the beginning, with a mission to “educate and advocate for the installation and usage of hearing loop/telecoil systems in appropriate public and private spaces.” The committee is composed of a diverse and passionate group of people, some of whom are hearing impaired, but all of whom have some connection with hearing loss.
Future plans for the committee are to hold regular “test the loop” clinics, allowing the public to come and experience the loop in The Shedd. In addition to the Jaqua Hall, The Shedd has looped their ticket office. a large classroom which also accommodates various community meetings as well as large Road Scholars groups (formerly Elderhostel), and has a portable loop for the concessions bar. The Shedd has plans to loop several other rooms in the facility. The “test the loop” clinics will give people a chance to understand their own hearing devices better, and to practice using the loop, and managing the different programs in their hearing aids in a relaxed environment with professional support from audiologists and hearing specialists who will participate as volunteers.
The Shedd Institute’s Loop Eugene Committee recently hosted a 3 day visit from Dr. Juliette Sterkens, AuD, who had a private audiology practice for many years and is currently the hearing loop advocate for the Hearing Loss Association of America. During her visit, she gave presentations to a group of loop advocates, to a gathering of local audiologists and hearing dispensers, to a local Rotary and a final presentation in the Jaqua Hall to the public and all interested parties. Dr. Sterkens’ extensive experience looping Wisconsin (they currently have over 700 loops throughout the state) provided strong encouragement for the Loop Eugene committee. It can be done!!
Meanwhile, one person at a time, people are coming to The Shedd to enjoy concerts, and in many cases are hearing musical performances and dialogue well for the first time in years because of the hearing loop. This recent testimony expresses what happens for many: “In the midst of my private desolation, I half-heartedly entered The Shedd one night to enjoy, at least, the visual parts of a performance of Edith Piaf’s works. I’d heard about some coil that would revolutionize sound for the hearing impaired but didn’t think it would work for me. Oh, well, I decided to try the silly thing. So there I sat, by myself, far back in the darkened theatre, with my mouth agape, tears filling my eyes. Am I really hearing those subtle sounds? Am I really hearing those complex harmonies? Am I really effortlessly hearing the words of the actors and singers? I kept testing myself to see if my experience was real or a dream. If ears could shout for joy, my ears would have.”
Now, along with full physical accessibility, The Shedd Institute’s 70,000 square foot building is becoming fully “auditorally accessible” as well.
The Half Access mission is to make live music more accessible, and in most of our recent work we’ve focused on the experience of disabled fans attending shows. There’s another huge part of venue accessibility, which is making sure that disabled musicians can access venues. But, before playing shows comes learning an instrument, which can often look different for disabled musicians. I got the chance to interview a few disabled musicians to share their experiences with adapting how they learn and play their instruments in a way that works with their disabilities.
Josh Rosenberg, 24, graduated from UMass Lowell in spring 2017 with a bachelor’s of music in music business. This year marks the first year he has been able to work only in the festival and live music industry, specializing in accessibility, without any side jobs. He’s worked at about 20 different festivals, some just once and some each year over the past four years.
Luciano Ferrara is a singer-songwriter from Albany, NY, who after several years as a solo artist, recently made the transition to full-band supported act, performing as Luciano Ferrara and the Ensuing Disaster. Also a creative writing student at SUNY Albany, he just finished his undergrad thesis on a book he is writing about lumberjack folklore. In this Access Interview, Ferrara talks to us about the unpredictability of type 1 diabetes and his experience with accessibility as a performer.