"Assistive Listening Devices"

Note: Site has become dated but will be upgraded soon.

What's Available in Richmond, Virginia

This site explores the extent to which Richmond's churches, theaters, auditoriums, restaurants, etc., have equipped their facilities to meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 as it pertains to people with hearing difficulties.

DISCLAIMER: There is no medical advice on this page. If you use any ALD keep the volume as low as will fit your needs, do not use it for extensive periods, and consult your audiologist if you have any medical questions about using one.

While I am still learning the technical details of the various devices and systems this much has become clear to me:

1. Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) are becoming common. The kind I am suggesting usually involve the wearing of inconspicuous ear pieces and a small cigarette-package-sized receiver on your person.

2. They offer tremendous advantages over the standard hearing aids in many situations but are not a direct substitute for the aids. There is, of course, some additional cost but it is substantially less to the individual than nearly all hearing aids.

3. Infra-red and FM. The two basic types of personal ALDs. As a very general simplification the IR devices are used where it is desired to keep the tranmission within walls (e.g. a movie theater or a home) and FM is used where it is immaterial whether or not the signal passes through walls (e.g. in churches).A third, lesser used type involves a neck loop and is used with a hearing aid with a telephone setting.

4.Audio Induction Loop.It has been brought to my attention that I neglected to mention this third major form of assistive listening device.
Most of the material in the rest of this paragraph is used with permission of the author, Curtis Dickenson of the Hearing Loss Help Co., and a member of the world-wide SayWhatClub. He is very knowledgeble in this area and explains it much better than I.

How It Works:
Unobtrusive wire circles perimeter of listening area. Can be installed under floor or in ceiling duringconstruction.

User needs only telecoil in hearing aid--position yourself anywhere within the loop!

Can be used by itself or it may be integrated into existing PA system
Practically no maintenance!
< Receivers can be plugged into a recorder for recording purposes.

NOTE: If the user's hearing aid does not have a telecoil, a loop receiver can be used.

Laying wire is labor intensive-but once in place-no maintenance!
Possible interference (electromagnetic spill) and dead spots.
There is spillover of signal. This means you cannot put a loop in adjacent room. (However there is a "3-D" loop mat that overcomes this problem.) On the other hand, this allows a greater number of people to access the loop!
Lack of standards for telecoil performance and positioning.

Mr. Dickenson's website URL is listed below and is well worth a look. A very impressive and authoritative site.

5. The most common frequency for FM is 72.9MHz. For IR most sets work at 95KHz; however, there are other frequencies used for both.

6. FM and IR are not interchangeable, i.e., the system established by the facility determines what type of receiver you must use. A certain number of receivers are usually available at no cost during a performance.

7. No longer will you have to miss punch lines, stage whispers, or soft speech and, as a rule, you will not be troubled by background or other ambient noise.

8. There are dozens of different types of ALDs for use in different settings such as one-on-one, conferencing, classrooms, courtrooms, etc. Restaurants present a special problem because of the almost constant and loud background noise. The catalogs available spell out the various types of ALDs which work well in that environment. Most of them make use of some type of microphone arranged to bring out only very nearby voices. Other venues such as funeral home chapels seldom provide any of the ADA-mandated services and simply rely on standard PA equipment. In this document I am concentrating only on those public auditoriums, churches, and theaters that we all attend from time to time.

9.Pocket-talker devices.I received as a birthday gift a form of ALD that is neither IR or FM and is not used with a loop system (as far as I know). What this ALD does is to amplify nearby voices more than it does distant voices. It looks like the usual IR/FM device but has a built-in microphone which can be removed and used with cords of varying lengths. It's obvious advantages are in a car, in a restaurant, in a church group setting, etc. When the mic is placed on a table it may be adjusted so that the nearby voices are heard clearly.

There are different brands available, priced $100 and up. I am only experimenting with one. So far opinions formed are these:

a. Mine works pretty much as advertised.
b. It works well in the livingroom when the mic is placed somewhat nearer to where my wife sits than it is to the TV allowing me to hear her clearly.
c. It works well in the car, windows up or down, when the mic is placed near the person you wish to hear.
d. It works well when standing in groups; however, there are still background noises and voices.
e. It works pretty well in stores when worn on the belt with the volume turned up.
f. The mic is super sensitive and causes unpleasant noise when it is brushed against in any way by a garment, a hand, etc. It is possible to control this by using a metal or plastic separator.
g. In a setting such as church it is inferior in sound quality when compared to an FM ALD. Also inferior to the IR device when listening to TV.
h. Has one big advantage in that it is fully self-contained and does not depend on a facilities setup, i.e., it works anywhere.

As various local facilities are identified and checked out they will be added to a list so that you may try them for yourself. I am not trying to sell ALDs and mention sources with some reluctance. My purpose is to make you aware of what is out there and where it can be used so you can do your own shopping.

And what about that nasty old stigma that goes along with diminished hearing and using aids? Well, you may just have to decide if you prefer to enjoy some of the good stuff in life or, instead, to preserve the appearance of hearing everything and to just smile or cry when the rest of the crowd does. The clarity offered by these devices may just convince you that vanity "just ain't worth it." Try it. You'll like it!

Why aren't they used more? Until they can be made cordless they are obiously more nuisance than a hearing aid (but often more effective).They certainly do provide a control and management problem for the facility. It is hard to find individuals both competent and willing to be responsible for overseeing them. The benefits are so considerable, though, that many churches are now searching out individuals willing to use them and signing them out with receivers "on their own recognizance" so to speak. The individual is then responsible for batteries, wear and tear on the cord, and keeping the ear piece clean. A simple log then keeps track of the receivers.

It might be a good investment if you bought your own earpieces (ear buds) or light headsets ($2 for a cheapie at RS). Slightly more for a really good one. Nearly all devices utilize a 1/8 plug. (Important! Be sure that the plug you choose is compatible with the device. Be sure you know if it requires a monaural or stereo plug. I am presently using a stereo set of ear buds even though I only have hearing in one ear. It seems to work just fine (and I have a spare). (Details on plugs appear in the links below, such as the link marked Texas.) This would remove all sanitation worries and take away the only real reason for NOT using one.(Most "Loaners" utilize replaceable foam cushions on the earpiece).

A Caveat: Movie theaters and some churches are guilty of handing out these devices with dead batteries and/or unsanitary ear pieces. Check the on/off light before you go to your seat and treat these aids as "test" units, then buy your own. Cost of receivers alone is in the $100 or less category and of complete TV listening systems slightly under $200, depending on type and manufacturer.


Following are just a few of the many, many internet links dealing with the varied listening devices. These links will furnish more detail and will lead you to many others. (Just click on the underlined word to go to the link).

Mr. Dickenson's (see above)website contains material on the other two basic types also. The site is very comprehensive and clearly written. The company is in the Worcester MA, area.
Lots of good general information at this link.
The most detailed and comprehensive explanation of ALDs that I have seen, as released by Northwest Outreach Center in Oregon. It is fair to warn you that reading all their pages and looking at a few of their slides will consume a lot of time but is well worth the effort.
A local, fully staffed supplier of ALDs and hearing aids.
A supplier in Texas specializing in Infra-red devices. On their "Accessories" link there is an excellent discussion of the various plugs used with ALDs. They now have a Richmond outlet.
This company offers a wide and varied number of devices, classroom oriented.
Another large supplierof ALDs
And still another one
A medical practice in Virginia Beach with a very informative web page.
A supplier and installer of ALD devices in thein the Falls Church, Va. area.

For inclusion on this list click here.


But first, a Personal Note. I am presently using an IR unit produced by Audex and an FM unit from Williams. I intend to evaluate these in various venues around Richmond and will report on the results. My first impression is that most venues supplying the units are only doing so to meet the requirements of the ADA. This is most noticeable in movie theaters where the devices appear to have very limited usefulness. In many of the units supplied to the hard-of-hearing the batteries are low or burned out, cleanliness is seldom evident, and personnel who issue them are not informed on their use.

This is a big argument for owning your own (and neither of my present units were supplied by the manufacturer). Admittedly I have only visited some of the facilities I know to have ALDs. I must emphasize, though, that where conditions are right the results are excellent. In my church, for example, my hearing and understanding is probably superior to hearing persons even though I am operating with only one hearing ear and about a half-loss in that one.

7/13/00, The Westhampton.While all the personnel I contacted there were most gracious and doing their jobs, their FM ALD set-up was just so-so. I was given a unit at the box office that utilized a headset, hardly inconspicuous. My first one did not work or so I thought. Turns out that the system has to be activated upon request. Not good. While tuning I was able to hear the movie in the upstairs theatre (I was down). When I got it working it worked great but I had missed about ten minutes of the movie. I have relayed this info and suggestions for improvement to Regal HQ. It is my opinion that all such places should provide the basic unit and make available for purchase the low-cost earbud headsets as a sanitation measure. I will take my own headset next time. As of 25 April 2001 things seem to have improved a lot here. I was given a fairly new Williams IR headset instead of FM. The IR system was on and working and, as it was Infra Red, there was no longer spillover from the other theatre. Without the unit I could not understand the British actors; with it I could.

7/19/00, Carmike Cinema, Chesterfield. At the Carmike I was given upon request a Phonic Ear infra-red headset. It performed well and was easy to use with just an on/off switch and a roller-type volume control on one earpiece. The supporting system was already on and it was tried in two theatres. I was unable to find out how many they have nor the frequency; however, for you who use your own it is probably the common 95kc. The headset uses rather large foam covers which could rapidly become soiled with heavy use. Another reason to own your own unit and/or extra ear pads.

In my ramblings I found this new item, a soft tip to fit over a normal ear bud. They are apparently controlled by Williams as they carry their part number. I first contacted Williams; however, they do not sell on line. When I finally located a seller the price was exorbitant - only $3.99 for a pair but $6.95 shipping. No thanks. I did order a single earbud equipped with the tip and am awaiting its arrival. Price was a little more reasonable but still high when you factor in handling and shipping costs. I'll report on how I like it after it gets here. My challenge is: Does anyone know where to buy these in a local environment? Radio Shack pleads ignorance of the tips.

11/19/00. Upon return to Carmike I was less pleased with the results. Although I had no problems getting the unit I was not happy with its use. This could have been due to my location in the theatre, the sound track of the film, or other reasons; however, I could not obtain the clarity of sound that I wanted. Near the end after much fiddling with the controls I removed the headset and listened as best I could to the regular speakers. I missed a lot.

2/14/02. This visit to Carmike I took along my own IR unit. It worked well. We sat just under their IR transmitter which can be located as a little red light.

2/10/05. During this visit to Carmike my IR unit did not work at all. We saw "Million Dollar Baby" which involved a lot of low voices. I heard very little of the dialogue. Afterwards I sought out the manager and told him his system was not working. He doubted that and went back into the theatre where he conceded that it was not working. Was not very conciliatory but at my request gave me one free future admission. He did not offer until asked. Bummer.

10/13/05. A visit on this date confirmed that things are working no better. Carmike apparently has no intention of making the necessary repairs. It is suggested that the hard-of-hearing either avoid this theatre entirely or ask at the box office if the IR system is working for the movie in question.

Commonwealth 20, Brandermill (Chesterfield).This huge new multiplex theater which opened June 30, 2000 (in the Brandermill area near Kohl's) is to be commended for including in their newspaper ad the information that they offer "Listening Devices for the Hearing Impaired".
9/7/00. This theatre must be seen to be believed. Twenty screens, all with stadium seating. I felt like I might be entering the White House. They had readily available lightweight headsets like those at Carmike in exchange for temporary custody of your driver's license. My set did not give me pure sound which could have been the fault of a low battery. I'll try them again soon. These sets are a bit more sanitary than sets which use in-the-ear earbuds. If I planned to use either type often I would make the nominal investment in a few sets of the easily replaced foam-type covers.
On a visit this date everything went smoothly; however, the sound quality still seemed a bit off. But then, I am only one person reporting on it. I would love to hear the experience of others. I am beginning to think that in many cases the ALD system in use does not offer as much in movie theaters as it does in the various other venues mentioned.

11/28/00, Carpenter Center.They provide 24 infra-red loaners set to 95KHz, same as my personal Audex set. I tried them both and both worked well although the Audex was simpler to use. Theirs us a one-piece unit that is for both ears and hangs beneath your chin. Not sure of the brand. Again, cleanliness is a problem. I used an alcohol wipe on the ones provided by the theatre. They seem to use the honor system as I was simply directed to an open box where they were kept. No license surrender was required. This is a very large live performance theatre with, I suppose, the best of sound systems; however, without the ALD most of the spoken dialogue would have been lost.

3/9/06, United Artists Theater at Chesterfield Town Center. When I visited there on March 9, 2006 and spoke to the manager on duty I learned that provisions for the use of ALDs are now in all theaters there. This is a big improvement over what they provided several years ago. I tried out the system using my personal ALD and found it satisfactory. It is now a recommended theater. Loaners are available.

Landmark Theatre (Richmond). I visited the theatre on Feb. 12, 2005 to see the Conway/Korman show. Prior to the visit I called to affirm that they were using IR units. I was told that they were. I sat through about 15 minutes of the show thinking that my personal IR receiver was on the fritz as I could not make out the words; however, when I went to the box office to borrow a unit I was given a Williams FM unit which then worked well. I have corrected the table below.

Read about illegal use of ALDs to record concerts. Click here.

To facilitate printing of the list of facilities alone it now appears as a separate web page. You should, however, have read the above to become better informed as to the use of these helpful devices.

(Grade Ratings From A-good to E-bad are as perceived by the author. Not all have been visited so are unrated.)
Southminster Pres.Church (A)FM/72.9MHzYesWilliams Checked weekly
Theater Virginia (A)IRYes?7 June 02
Landmark ThtrFMYes-36Williams12 Feb. 05
Carpenter Ctr(B)IR/95KHzYes-24?28 Nov. 00
United Artists (Chesterfield)(A)IR/? Yes (few)Ultra-Phonics9 March 06
House of Delegates (most rooms)FM/72.(varies)4/roomWilliams16 Aug 99
Trinity United MethodistFM/72.?6TELEX16 Aug 99
Willow Lawn CinemaFM-tunableYesWilliamsClosed
River Road BaptistFM/?YesWilliams23 Aug 99
Seventh St. Christian?YesWilliams23 Aug 99
Camp Concert HallIR/?20Sennheiser25 Aug 99
Alice Jepson ThtrIR/?20Sennheiser25 Aug 99
Asbury United MethodistFM/?6Williams10 Sept 99
Stratford Hills United MethodistEvaluating(new system)
Commonwealth 20(B)(near Kohls, Brandermill)IR/?7 Sept. 2000
Carmike Cinema near Southern States in Chesterfield(E)(see below)IRYesPhonic Ear13 October 05
Westhamton Theater (B)IRYesWilliams3 July 02
Chesterfield Supervisors Hearing Room IR/?Yes-see Deputy?15 May 01
Chesterfield Co. CourtsJuvenile and Domestic Relations(All 5 courtrooms)IRYes-see deputy.10 June 2001


After much thought it was decided to add this feature which will name venues which, in my opinion, are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as it applies to deaf and hard-of-hearing persons. If I am wrong I will apologize and remove the name from this list; however, the purpose is to improve such provisions throughout the Richmond area. New names will be added if they are brought to my attention.

1. Woody's Funeral Home, Huguenot Chapel.
2. Carmike Cinema. Promises to repair the system are not being kept. Some auditoriums may work. (See above)

NOTE TO SHHH CHAPTERS (or others). You may use all my created material from this site to establish similar pages for your own city. All I ask for use of any of my copyrighted material is that you carry a short statement (or a link) indicating its origin. I will furnish an e-mail release to that effect if you wish. (Of course, you can establish your own site but it might be quicker to use some version of mine). Just trying to spread the word.

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Copyright 2008 Arthur B. Wiggins

Created 1 August 1999. Revised 1 June 2008

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