SJR Column: Sangamon Auditorium-Listening Assistance, January 2016

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), hearing loss is a major public health issue affecting more than 28 million people in the United States. Overall, the prevalence of hearing loss increases with every age decade and about 1/3 of Americans over age 65 have a significant hearing impairment – a loss that can negatively affect communication, personal relationships and even safety.

Hearing loss also affects the ability to fully enjoy music and other forms of entertainment. This concern has been the subject of considerable discussion for the UIS Sangamon Auditorium Advisory Board – a group of active community volunteers who help to guide, promote and support the University of Illinois Springfield campus’s performing arts programming each year.

According to Bob Vaughn, Director of Sangamon Auditorium’s performing arts programs, the Auditorium (and its smaller Studio Theatre venue) has had an assistive listening device system since 1981, but advances in technology in recent years offered new options for greatly improving the listening experience.

“I’d been concerned for some time about our outdated assistive listening system,” says Bob.

“Most of it was the inadequacy of the sound quality and the degree of difficulty of operating the unit.”

Bob’s concerns were shared by longtime Sangamon Auditorium patrons, Carol Esarey (a member of the Auditorium Advisory Board) and her husband, Clark, both of whom had noticed they were sometimes having trouble understanding and hearing the performers speak or missing various nuances of the programming. “We reached out to auditorium Director Bob Vaughn,” says Carol, “to see what options were available to increase our ability to better hear what was going on.”

Carol’s and Clark’s inquiry resulted in a generous gift from the Esareys to fund the installation of a new digital assistive listening system this year in both the Auditorium and the Studio Theatre. The system, purchased from Listen Technologies, was used for the first time in November for the Broadway show Elf the Musical and is now available to patrons by request at no charge for performances in both venues.

Ease of use was a major factor considered when selecting the new system and, for Auditorium and Studio Theatre patrons, it couldn’t be easier. Patrons simply stop by the coat check before the performance to request a Personal Assistive Listening Unit, leaving a form of ID to pick up later when they return the unit after the performance. (The PAL unit is a small, inconspicuous receiver that fits conveniently into a pocket or hangs from a lanyard around the neck.) Coat check personnel briefly consult with each patron to determine headphone or earpiece preferences, with a variety of options being available. The Auditorium provides high-quality Sennheiser headphones that have a wider frequency range, but patrons are also welcome to bring their own if they prefer. PAL units are compatible with various hearing aid devices and, if the patron has a T-coil equipped hearing aid, induction loops that eliminate the need for headphones entirely are also provided.

The PAL devices can also improve the listening experience for patrons with hearing loss who do not have a hearing aid, allowing them to adjust volume though not ranges they can no longer hear. The devices help reduce distracting background noise, reverberation and sound distortions and help improve clarity, understanding and hearing from a distance.

“This exciting upgrade to UIS performing arts programming will make a huge difference in the quality of enjoying a performance for many of our patrons,” says Bob.

“I’m hoping this will bring some folks back to the Auditorium who had given up on being able to fully enjoy the experience due to hearing loss.”

“We are so pleased to have had the chance to work with the Auditorium and the UIS Foundation on a project that can truly enhance the enjoyment for patrons attending the great programs at Sangamon Auditorium,” said Carol in a recent email message. “Our hope is that the PAL program will be a boon to all who might need a boost to enjoy this wonderful community asset to its fullest.”

With the second half of the 2015-16 season, including the Broadway shows Annie, 42nd Street, Ragtime the Musical and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on tap, this is an ideal time to take advantage of the new PAL program and enjoy enhanced performing arts performances at UIS.

Please consider this your personal invitation! Tickets are available at www.SangamonAuditorium.org or by phone at: 217-206-6160.

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield

Chancellor Susan J. Koch