Last month, the Wall Street Journal had an article about TV sound.
Chapter members are savvy about techniques and technology to help hear television but Geoffrey Fowler, the author, had some new ideas on how to make TV sound more clear.
“You know there’s a problem when you keep reaching for the remote to crank the volume up and down. Or perhaps you’re like my septuagenarian parents, who squabbled recently about dad’s excessive cable news volume while mom was trying to read in the other room.
The blame starts with TV makers, many of whom treat sound as an afterthought in their quest to make ever-thinner screens. You need at least a little junk in the TV trunk for speakers to produce decent sound. Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed find a model with speakers even facing you—most TVs have speakers that point down or toward the back, where sound can get muffled. And volume levels can still be all over the map between your cable box, Blu-ray player, Apple TV and PlayStation.
Short of cranking the volume up to 11, there are things you can do to hear dialogue better. Here are some proven strategies—plus new options for seniors and others who might experience moderate hearing loss.
Fix the TV
Before you spend a dime, try moving the TV. When I went to visit the engineers at Dolby, which makes audio and video tech, they helped me set up an experiment: Using a microphone and sound meter, we compared the speaker output of the same popular-model TV mounted on a wall and sitting on a table. The key is to measure the level of sound at around 1,000 hertz, where human voices tend to come through strongest.
In the lab, setting the TV on the table made dialogue clearer. Why? Because the TV’s down-facing speakers needed something to bounce off. But not all surfaces are the same: A cloth on the table will absorb sound. Moving a TV closer to a wall or burying it inside a cabinet could make it more bass-y…
Your TV’s audio settings are also worth investigating
Some have night modes, which soften loud moments that might wake up others. There are also surround modes, which make you think sound is all around. But audio gurus recommend using these carefully…
If you use a set-top box, you could also buy a $170 box called the AfterMaster Pro. Made by the company that mixes audio for the Fox show “Empire,” this small device plugs in between your cable box or Blu-ray player and the TV, and remasters the audio on the fly. AfterMaster is a little vague about what exactly it is doing, but when I tested it, movie dialogue sounded louder and a bit clearer, without diminished background effects.
Replace Your Speakers
If you’re looking for an excuse to throw some money on the problem, this is it: Sound is nearly as important as picture quality, so I endorse buying separate speakers. If your budget (or your spouse) isn’t having it, spend less on the TV and shift that budget to audio…
Living rooms got less messy with the arrival of the soundbar, a single piece of equipment that typically plugs into the TV’s audio-out (most often an optical audio, aka Toslink, port). These long speaker bricks generally do the job of the front set of home-theater speakers, including a center channel that’s key for dialogue.
Soundbars have made great leaps in quality in recent years, and prices are falling. For $200, Yamaha’s AS-106 packs in a lot of sound. I use the $699 Sonos Playbar, which can be paired with other wireless speakers. Sonos recently introduced an app that tunes its speakers based on the room and couch placement. Some audio experts say that sort of calibration shouldn’t be necessary, but the process made my Sonos setup clearer.
For seniors, the small, $250 Zvox AccuVoice AV200 is a basic soundbar that incorporates sound-processing tech like hearing aids. In my tests, the speaker made voices louder and clearer than my TV speakers alone.
Bring the Sound to You
If your TV-listening volume makes the people around you uncomfortable, here’s a solution that may usher in domestic bliss: Hook up a pair of wireless headphones.
Many new TVs are equipped with Bluetooth, so you can pair up any headphones you’d like. Some premium hearing aids can also double as wireless headphones, so check with your audiologist.
If you have an older TV without Bluetooth, consider a new $180 headset called the Clarity TV Listener, which comes with a box that converts a TV’s left and right audio-out signals into wireless signals. (It may not work on newer sets, unless you get an optical audio adapter.)
For people with moderate hearing loss, Sennheiser makes a $400 pair of wireless headphones called RS195 that can boost frequencies in ranges many struggle with, and also has a speech-enhancement mode. (This model does connect to the optical output on newer TVs.)
Even better, when you use the audio-out for headphones, those around you can typically still watch using the TV’s speakers at a volume that works best for them”.
Part of HLAA’s mission is advocacy. It could be as simple as reinforcing the importance of the loop.
Last month a member verified the hearing loop was operable at the Venice Theater before purchasing tickets to “The Sunshine Boys”. Upon arrival, two signs were in the lobby. Alas, the dialogue could not be understood as the loop was not “on”. The member immediately went to the theatre office. They checked and advised that the system must have been jostled during an earlier event. The loop was turned on and all the comedy came in loud and clear.
Two things were accomplished:
(1) the member could enjoy the show;
(2) the theater staff was reinforced about the value of loops to patrons with hearing loss.
Below are the ten key goals and outcomes of HLAA’s advocacy mission from the HLAA website:
“The mission of HLAA is to open the world of communication to people with hearing loss through information, education, support and advocacy. HLAA achieves its mission by working diligently to achieve the following ten key long-term goals through our public policy and advocacy initiatives. In addition, we encourage the use of best practices by hearing health care professionals during the assessment and treatment of hearing loss. HLAA also supports vigorous enforcement of current local, state and national disability and human rights laws that include provisions for effective communication”.
Ten Key Goals and Outcomes
- Policy makers and the public recognize that hearing is critical to healthy living and that hearing loss impacts all aspects of life. As such, hearing health care providers are knowledgeable about hearing loss and hearing health care is included in all aspects of health screening and health maintenance.
- Hearing aids, cochlear implants and aural rehabilitation are affordable and accessible, and covered by the Medicare, Affordable Care Act, and third-party payers.
- Affordable and accessible hearing health care along with appropriate consumer choice, education and transparency is provided to all who need it.
- Public and private venues, including all types of public transportation are communication accessible through technology such as hearing loops, FM, infrared, captioning and other technologies.
- All education and entertainment media (television, Internet video programming, and movies) meet the highest quality captioning and audio quality standards that ensure equal access, full understanding and enjoyment by consumers.
- Consumers have comprehensive choice and access to captioned and hearing-aid-compatible (HAC), high-fidelity, landline phones and mobile devices.
- Consumers are actively involved in the design and development of emerging hearing assistive technology.
- Hearing assistive technology (HAT) products are compatible and interoperable regardless of brands through open-source wireless technology.
- Emergency preparedness communication systems are accessible for people with hearing loss and first responders are knowledgeable about the needs of persons with hearing loss.
- Workplaces are communication accessible and welcoming to people with hearing loss.
ADVOCACY – CAPTIONING AND CART
LISTEN!UP is reprising captioning and CART information to help newer members to advocate for themselves. Education and Advocacy are part of the HLAA mission.
Captioning is the text of the audio portion of a video or film displayed directly on the video or film, often on the bottom of the screen. This may include not only the words, but the sounds that are important to understand and the source of the sound. Open captions cannot be turned off; closed captions are not visible unless they are decoded and turned on for display.
CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) is verbatim text of spoken presentations provided for live events. Only the text is provided on a computer screen or projected for display on a larger screen. CART may be provided in the classroom, at meetings, workshops and other presentations including live theater – anywhere that someone with a hearing loss needs to hear in a group setting.
The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) considers closed captioning for television or the Internet an assistive technology that allows persons with hearing disabilities to access television programming under the Communications Act. For a television receiver to display closed captions, it must use a set-top box decoder or contain integrated decoder circuitry.
The US Department of Justice (“DOJ”) considers captioning an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Movie captioning is not yet a required accommodation in all cases, but DOJ is requiring closed-captioned movies for the larger movie chains. A final rule issued in November, 2016 states: “Movie theaters shall: (1) have and maintain the equipment necessary to provide closed movie captioning and audio description at a movie patron’s seat whenever showing a digital movie produced, distributed, or otherwise made available with these features; (2) provide notice to the public about the availability of these features; and (3) ensure that theater staff is available to assist patrons with the equipment before, during, and after the showing of a movie with these features”.
Closed captioning is often critical to people who are hard of hearing or deaf. Television is the sole source of local information in an emergency for many. Both television and movie captioning is clearly a source of information, education and entertainment.
You don’t have to have a hearing loss to find closed captioning useful: people for whom English is a second language use captions to get a better grasp of English, children’s reading is enhanced with the use of captions, and hearing people in bars, gyms, airports, and other noisy places appreciate the value of captioning.
Captions on television are required with few exceptions.
Hearing loops are truly international. Although hearing loops are prevalent in Europe, hearing loss advocates have made great strides down under and in other travelled areas in Asia.
Thanks to our past HLAA Treasurer, Eileen Schulert and husband Doug for the pictures as they travel about the world. If you see Loop signs on your travels, send a picture to the Listen Up editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
HEARING ADVOCACY – C A R T
CART: (Communication Access Realtime Translation) is verbatim text of spoken presentations provided for live events. Only the text is provided on a computer screen or projected for display on a larger screen. CART may be provided in the classroom, at meetings, workshops and other presentations including live theater – anywhere that someone with a hearing loss needs to hear in a group setting.
Katherine Bouton, an HLAA Trustee and author of “Shouting Won’t Help,” recently wrote an AARP column entitled “Frustrated by Silence at a Funeral”. She heard little of a friend’s memorial service because the church did not have a hearing loop or an FM or an assistive listening system. If a Church or a funeral home lacks such devices, all is not lost—CART can provide the realtime captioning necessary for your accommodation.
Funeral homes are required by Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide effective communication, including assistive listening systems—but please notify them ahead of time. Houses of worship are exempt from the ADA but may be willing to provide CART for a funeral if this is requested.
Our HLAA Chapter is active with the Sarasota “Citizens with Disabilities Advisory Board” and made presentations to them calling for the looping of city meeting facilities. Sarasota City Council members were invited to our looped Chapter meetings (and attended) and were encouraged to accommodate those with hearing loss.
Our Chapter’s CART professionals, Jack and Dee Boenau.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS—there will be a presentation on the rights of hard of hearing persons at our February 10 Chapter meeting.
Our advocacy was successful! The Sarasota City Hall Chambers and the Sarasota County Media Room located in the City Hall Annex Building are now equipped with an induction loop system that enables people with hearing loss to hear council meetings and proceedings more clearly.
From our Chapter’s press release: “Approximately 145,000 residents in Sarasota/Manatee counties have some level of hearing loss making it a public health issue third in line after heart disease and arthritis.
Over the past 5 years, our HLAA- Sarasota/Manatee Chapter has been successful in educating the community on the benefits of installing a hearing loop system in their business or venue. In addition to the Sarasota City Hall Chambers and the Media Room, more than 120 venues in Sarasota/Manatee counties offer hearing loop technology. The result is better communication access for persons with hearing loss benefit when attending area churches, the theater, or visiting business locations throughout our community”.
Thank You WAWA!
Many of us have difficulty at airline counters, retail areas and fast food establishments—and many other public situations—due to the ambient noise and clerks not looking up. Give up on Starbucks, Subway, Publix deli, Quiznos and other coffee or sandwich shops? Some have.
The new WAWA stores now offer touch screen ordering where every possible choice that goes into making a sandwich or a drink can easily be selected. Go through the choices and then pay and pick up the order—no need to play 20 questions and constant repeating.
We hope to see more of this digital ordering to assist those with difficulty hearing in loud environments. Do your part in advocating at any store with loops or electronic ordering by simply letting the manager know and pick up a comment card and state your thanks for making shopping and buying easier.
AUTHOR AND SPEAKER/COMEDIENNE, GAEL HANNAN VISITS CHAPTER MEETING
HLAA Convention veterans know Gael Hannan who has been the banquet speaker at HLAA Conventions and uses her comedy to make points about hearing loss and to encourage advocacy. She is Canada’s leading hearing loss advocate.
Gael publishes a weekly electronic publication, “Hearing Health and Technology Matters” http://hearinghealthmatters.org/betterhearingconsumer/
Gael and her husband are completing a 10,000 mile trip around the U.S. and visited our Chapter meeting in April.
If you are traveling this summer (or anytime), her April 15 article is a fun read but is instructive as what we can do when visiting attractions (Fort Sumter, Alamo, Mt. Rushmore, Hearst Castle and more in this article). A quote to induce clicking ahead– “I fired another shot at Fort Sumter, this time on behalf of hearing accessibility. I don’t think any hell is breaking loose today, but I hope they are discussing it at this week’s Park Ranger’s staff meeting”.
Gael Hannan is a writer, actor and public speaker who grew up with a progressive hearing loss that is now severe-to-profound. She is a director on the national board of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA) and an advocate, whose work includes speech reading instruction, hearing awareness, workshops for youth with hearing loss, and work on hearing access committees.
Gael is a key developer and manager of The Hearing Foundation of Canada’s award-winning Sound Sense hearing awareness program for elementary students across Canada, and she also delivers corporate sensitivity training sessions on employee and clients with hearing loss.
My Shot on Fort Sumter
By Gael Hannan On April 15, 2015
If you have hearing loss, you need hearing access. And if you want hearing access, you have to ask for it.
Most people—grocery cashiers, flight attendants and National Park rangers—are not going to look at you, recognize your issue and say, “Here, person with hearing loss, let me make this easier for you.”
Systems might be in place and waiting for you, such as print interpretation, captioning at the movies, bank counter loops to work with your telecoil, or other hearing aid and CI-compatible devices. But you may still have to ask for it.
“Yo, I’ve got hearing loss. What have you got that will help me?”
That’s the theory. But sometimes the systems that are supposed to be in place just aren’t.
The Hearing Husband and I have been on the road for months, off and on, in Flag, our trusty fifth wheel. By the time we re-enter Ontario next week, we will have driven 10,100 miles circumnavigating the United States. (Our apologies to New England which, on this trip, we have had to cut out completely.)
As travelers do, we’ve visited many attractions and events, most of which were accessible but some that didn’t quite meet the mark. At the Houston Rodeo, we watched from the CART provider’s booth. At Mount Rushmore, the historical movie was open-captioned (although the white words often washed out against the background). At the Hearst Castle, they gave me hearing aid-compatible headphones to understand the film’s narrator. (For those who can’t use the headphones, the same video is shown with captioning in a separate room. I’m still trying to figure that one out.)
At Gettysburg, I used my hearing aid telecoils and a provided neckloop receiver. Print interpretation was everywhere. There was good signage at the Alamo, at the spot where Lewis and Clark ended their exploration, and where Wild Bill Hickok played his last hand of poker.
That was all good. But this week, for the first time in a long time, I had an inaccessible tourist experience—at Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston, South Carolina, the site of the Civil War’s first action.
At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, confederate officer Lt. Henry S. Farley fired a shot at the Union-held Fort Sumter and then all hell broke loose. One hundred and fifty-four years and one day later, I fired another shot at Fort Sumter, this time on behalf of hearing accessibility. I don’t think any hell is breaking loose today, but I hope they are discussing it at this week’s Park Ranger’s staff meeting.
On the half-hour boat trip to the island fort, an historian used the boat’s PA system to talk about Fort Sumter, its background, and the rules for touring (no playing on the cannons or writing your name on the bricks). Because of the boat noise and a large group of high school students on a field trip, it was difficult to hear him, so I tuned out, intending to catch up once we got there.
Entering into the Fort, we were encouraged to gather around a National Park Ranger who talked for 15 minutes about the various battles and bombardments during the war. I’m sure it was very interesting but I can’t say for sure—he stood in shadow, used a PA system and had a moustache.
No problem, I thought to myself, this is a government organization and there must be some sort of access. I asked another Park Ranger standing nearby what access she could provide. She looked a bit panicked, but took me over to a desk near the entrance, found the key to open it, and looked at the pamphlets inside.
“Hmm, I know we have some copies of the speech. Oh here’s one.” She picked up a thick Braille booklet, but looked at me and we both shook our heads.
“I’m sorry, but we seem to have given all the written copies away.”
“That’s too bad,” I said.
“What if you moved through the crowd and stood close to him?”
“I tried. Listen, don’t worry about it now. But you really should make more copies for people like me who can’t hear very well.”
I wandered off to explore the fascinating place and read the information plaques. A while later, I came across both Park Rangers—the mustached speech-giver and the one who had tried to give me a Braille script, and who now had other papers in her hand. She said, “I was looking for you. I found a printout of the welcome speech and frankly, it’s full of mistakes, but someone has written in the correct dates and information.”
“Thanks,” I said and then, turning to the male officer, I said, “May I offer a suggestion. How about, at the beginning of your talk, you tell people that if they can’t hear you, written copies are available. Many people with hearing loss will just pretend to understand your talk, and are unlikely to ask for access. They will be grateful if you help them along a bit.”
“That’s a good idea, ma’am,” he said.
“And one other thing?”
“If you could trim your moustache just a titch, I could read your upper lip as well as your lower lip.”
“I’ll do that, ma’am, thanks for the advice.” And he seemed to mean it.
OK, so it wasn’t a major shot or a decisive battle victory for people with hearing loss. More like a little pop. But hopefully the next person with hearing loss who pays good money and goes to a great deal of effort to get over to Fort Sumter, will be able to understand what’s being said. And that would be worth it, because history is fascinating.
But, you have to ask. I didn’t train my new Park Ranger friends how to identify hard of hearing or deaf people. You’ll have to have to do that yourself.
The featured image, ‘Bombardment of Fort Sumter’, is an 1861 painting by Currier & Ives.
Aerial photo of Fort Sumter, credit ExploreCharleston
Publix Loops Coming to Sarasota
HLAA members and friends – Let’s Get Readyyyy to Advocate!
For the past year, Publix has installed loops at stores in Lakeland, The Villages and Sun City. The loops are placed at the pharmacy drop-off and pick-up, the customer service counter and the designated check out lanes. This was a test for response. WE RESPONDED!
Our members and the local Chapter members in those locales have made it a point to stop at those stores and thank them and write a ‘thank you”. Our advocacy has been successful!
Walgreen’s dropped a similar program in Scottsdale a number of years ago since no one thanked them or acknowledged the effort.
In the next few months, installations will take place at Publix stores at:
The Shoppes of Bay Isle, Longboat Key, and
The Venice Commons, Venice
Member and Trustee Eileen Schuler recently sent a “thank you” e-mail to Publix and a portion of the reply said:
“We are testing the system through the end of this year at stores 1270 (Lakeland), 732 (Sun City Center), and 1155 (The Villages). We have the hearing loop system installed on one checkout stand, one register at the customer service counter, and at the pharmacy drop off and pickup areas at each store.
We strive every day to earn and retain your business. We are thrilled that we have passed on the Publix spirit. If we may be of future assistance, please do not hesitate to contact our customer care specialist at 1-800-242-1227. You may also contact us via email at www.publix.com/contact or write us Publix Super Markets, Inc., P.O. Box 407, Lakeland, FL 33802, ATTN: Customer Care.”
Jim Scott of Complete Hearing has been doing the Sarasota County installations and advises the installations should be completed by the first week of April. When the employees are trained and the loop system is fully operative, the Chapter will notify the membership by email and Facebook. The Chapter asks you to carry out our mission on advocacy and stop by the Venice and Longboat Key stores to thank them. Also, please but tell your hard of hearing friends to do the same.
Next on the agenda, Starbucks!
You can make a difference by doing the following!
Send Publix Management a short email thanking them for placing loops in other stores and requesting a loop at your local Publix (name the store) at the beginning of the email. Support your request with why the loop makes a difference for you. To send the e-mail go to: www.publix.com and go to “Contact Us” and submit your request in the comment column. You can also comment by phone at 1-800-242-1227.
Tell the manager of your local store now about the loop test elsewhere and that you need a loop system, just like other Publix stores have put in. Give the store manager your email address and ask him or her to post you on any decisions or questions regarding the loop. If you get questions you need help on, please contact email@example.com.
If you live near a looped store, check it out and thank the store manager for putting it in. It is important that stores with a loop realize their customers are using it as they will be the key reference for other retailers, banks, emergency rooms, theatre box offices and airport ticket counters which can gain great benefit from this counter top loop system.