Music to Your Ears

The Shedd Institute introduces technology to help audience members with hearing loss

Attending a live music performance can be both a moving and invigorating experience — unless you can’t hear it.

With a newly installed technology at The Shedd Institute called a hearing loop, people who struggle with a hearing impairment can now experience live music and shows as they were meant to be heard. Sometimes called “audio induction loop,” the technology provides better accessibility and a clearer sound for listeners with hearing aids.

The hearing loop is composed of an underground wire circled around the audience. The sound signal from the stage signal is processed and rebroadcast through the loop directly into hearing aids or cochlear implants programmed to receive the signal.   

Sue Prichard, the proponent of The Shedd’s hearing loop, has struggled with hearing loss for more than 20 years. Although she and her husband have always enjoyed music, it was difficult to attend music performances at The Shedd because she couldn’t hear well.

“I personally had declined going to several events myself and have known friends who have done the same,” Prichard says. “If you can’t hear, it’s just not fun.”

After hearing about the hearing loop from her sister, Prichard spent time with Shedd founders Jim and Ginevra Ralph, working out what it would take for The Shedd to install a hearing loop in its Jaqua hall, which was recently renovated as part of a larger project. They raised enough money and incorporated the hearing loop into the structure of the stage. 

Prichard says the technology is relatively cheap and the sound is clear. According to American Hearing Loop, “Typical installations cost for larger venues such as auditoriums, senior centers, churches, etc., are $5,000 -$35,000.”

“It’s such a profound difference for those of us who can’t hear so well,” Prichard says. “It’s an affordable remedy.”

One of the main issues the hearing loop addresses is accessibility. In big music halls, there are generally FM or infrared receivers that require the user to wear big headphones or to sit in a certain place, visibly setting apart those with and without hearing loss. 

Because hearing impairment is an invisible disability, Prichard says, it hasn’t had as much attention or infrastructure. She wants to bring more attention to hearing loss in general, promoting solutions like the hearing loop, which has become popular in bigger cities like New York, as it incorporated loops into subway booths and taxis. 

To promote the technology, Dr. Juliëtte Sterkens, an audiologist of 40 years, will come to The Shedd and discuss hearing loss and answer questions about the hearing loop on Sunday, Nov. 18, from 2-3:30 pm. From this free event, Prichard will help create a larger committee of people who want to be involved in moving this forward in the broader community. No other large performance facility has this technology, she says.

The committee will also hold regular clinics at The Shedd to help people understand how to use their hearing aids to access the hearing loop.