Getting it right for hearing
Getting it right for hearing

Poor experiences are commonplace for people with hearing loss who attend theatres or concert halls. That is one of the main findings from a survey recently carried out by Ideas for Ears.

94% of survey respondents said hearing ability has resulted in them having a poor experience, and 83% said they have been disappointed because the right provision wasn’t available to allow them to access and enjoy the performance.

The survey was completed by 143 people with a range of hearing abilities, from mild to profound hearing loss.

11 million people in the UK have hearing loss, one sixth of the UK population and a large potential audience for theatres and concert halls.

What customers want

Findings from the survey suggest that shows and concerts can be made more comfortable and accessible to people with hearing loss by offering:

+  Less background music when speaking takes place (73% respondents agreed)

+  Provision of an assistive listening system (66% respondents agreed)

+  Clear speech (65% respondents agreed)

+  Captions (64% respondents agreed)

Smaller numbers said they wanted more volume (25%). A few wanted less volume (9%), and some said they would like sign language interpretation (3%).

Preferences regarding loops, infrared or FM systems 

When it comes to assistive listening systems, there is a clear preference for one type of system over the others. The overwhelming majority of respondents (77%) said their preference was for an induction hearing loop rather than an infrared or FM system.

Infrared and FM systems require users to use a headset and receiver which they collect from staff. More than half (56%) of those who had used these headsets and receivers have had poor or very poor experiences.

Of those who hadn’t tried the headsets and receivers, this is because they cannot use them with their hearing aids (41%), they made them feel conspicuous or because they don’t like people knowing they have hearing loss (26%), they don’t seem hygienic (20%), and it is too much hassle to collect and return the equipment (13%).

Not just the auditorium

The survey also looked at experiences with ticket offices, bar areas, eating areas, and with ushers and customer service staff.

The findings reveal that the improvement which would make the greatest single difference is for staff to speak clearly and to look at the person they are speaking to. This is particularly important at the ticket office (71% respondents agreed) and with Ushers (67% respondents agreed).

Reduced background noise is also desired, especially in eating areas (51% respondents agreed), the ticket office (48%) and bar area (46%).

An assistive listening system is wanted in some locations, especially at the ticket office (46% respondents agreed). A text screen displaying information is also wanted at the ticket office (32% respondents agreed).

The possibility of quiet zones to make conversation with friends and families easier holds appeal, especially in the eating areas (39% agreed) and bar areas (33% respondents agreed).

Change that genuinely improves things

The scale of poor experiences reported through the survey suggests that theatres and concert halls have quite some way to go in order to make their facilities comfortable and appropriate for all hearing abilities.

By identifying what people actually want and what their priorities are, theatres and concert halls can direct their resources in the most effective ways. This will allow them to introduce improvements that genuinely make a positive difference to people’s experiences.

Setting an example: Eastbourne Theatres

Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne, East Sussex, upgraded its provision for people with hearing loss in 2013 and this included the installation of a high quality induction hearing loop in a sophisticated layout design, known as a ‘Super Loop’ or ‘Phased Array Loop’.

Gavin Davis, General Manager of Eastbourne Theatres, believes it was a wise investment. He explains: “We were possibly the first theatre in the UK to install such a high quality assistive listening system and it gives amazing sound quality. When we first installed the technology, we held a demonstration event that was attended by about a hundred people. Most said they had stopped coming to the theatre but after experiencing the hearing loop, nearly all said they were likely to come back. That’s what we want – to get people who love theatre coming back. We believe our investment in the hearing loop will have paid for itself within three years. That is a great outcome.”

Gavin says that they are now looking to install hearing loops into two further theatres in Eastbourne the Congress Theatre and Winter Garden.

About the survey

The survey was circulated electronically amongst people across the UK who have hearing loss. It was carried out Ideas for Ears in April 2016.  Full report can be found here.

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