Assistive Listening Devices -- Use them or lose them

Jan Christensen
Copyright December 2002

As many of you know, my husband of forty years and I are traveling around in a motorhome fulltime. This year we are on the west coast, and I want to tell you my experiences in asking for help when we attended different attractions.

We started down in San Diego, and we went to the Wildlife Park there. In their brochure it says to ask the ticket clerk for their disability packet if you have a disability. So, I did. Most of it is made up of “scripts.” There are several “shows” at the park, plus a one-hour train ride where they point out bunches of animals. Without additional help, I could not hear much said at either the show we attended or on the train ride. So, the script was of some help, but not totally satisfactory—you want to be watching, not reading something in your lap while everything is going on.

Up the coast, we arrived at the Hearst Castle, and again, I asked for either an assistive device or script for the tour. I was told that they had a listening device and would arrange for the host to wear it and I would use earphones to listen. We had to wait a bit for them to set that up, but only about fifteen extra minutes. There is a long bus ride up the mountain, and there is some stuff said over a loudspeaker. I understood some of it, but not all. When we arrived at the “castle” we saw a man and a woman testing the device. (They use two people on the tour—one does all the talking, and the other brings up the rear to be sure no one strays and to help anyone who needs it.)

I put on the earphones (I have learned to place them slightly in front of my hearing aids to avoid feedback—it is a good idea to practice at home so you can position them quickly) and the woman began talking to the group. Then she noticed that a wire was sort of flopping around on the device she was wearing around her neck, and she asked the man about it. He came over to look at it, but I told them I could hear fine. He decided it was an antenna. I surmised from all this that they had never used the equipment before. The man also gave me the script (he had them in other languages as well.) Of course, I was getting quite a few stares, but no one ever asked me about any of this. I saw two other people wearing hearing aids, and I could tell by how some people acted that they could not hear everything or perhaps even some of what the hostess said. I never looked at the script because I could hear so well.

One time in particular stands out. The hostess was leading the way through several rooms in the guest house, and she got quite a way ahead of the end of the group. I heard almost every word she said, and I must have even laughed a couple of times. Chris told me afterward that he hadn’t heard anything she said, and neither had anyone at the end of the line, but I heard her fine. A real first for me—hearing when others didn’t!

The system used was very clear and I think I must have heard about 90% or more. I am sure I heard as much or more than many of the other people in the group! It was wonderful.

However, included on that tour was a movie, and it was not captioned. I asked about a listening device for that, but the man at the ticket counter said they were not very good at all. Unfortunately, I did not insist on trying one out to see how it might have worked. If this ever happens again, I will. So, I missed quite a bit of the movie.

Next we went to the Winchester Mystery House. Again, I asked for an assistive device or script. I was told they only had scripts. The host or hostess would provide one. I did get a $2 discount. However, I did not realize the person taking our tickets was the host, and I didn’t get to ask for the script. I might have heard one third of what the host said. Then we went on a “behind the scenes” tour where a woman was hostess. I could not hear anything!

Last year we went to several places on the east coast where I asked for assistance. At Disney World they have rear window captioning, and they set up the screen at the very front of each theater we went to (I simply told the people there that I needed it). Again, I got lots of interested looks, but no one asked me about it. They also gave me a remote control to use for the TVs set up outside where we waited in line. Usually the TV was showing ads! And the clicker did not work on all the TVs, just some of them.

At the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum I asked if there was open captioning for the movie, and three different people told me they had it. But when we got there, nothing. I went to complain, and was told I needed to have asked for a “device when we entered the theater.” This fourth person did not know what the device consisted of. I imagine it was a screen for rear window captioning.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because we need more people asking for assistance. The majority of the people Chris and I see out there touring around are over 60, so at least a quarter of them have some hearing loss. But they probably do not know about anything to help them on these tours and other venues. We need to get the word out. We need to show by example.

Of course I complained (in writing) when I did not get what I needed. But more people have to ask. I just learned that in San Diego they are cutting down the number of open captioned movies shown in the one theater which shows them. Why? Because most often only a handful of people showed up to watch them.

I guess most of us are not used to asking for help. We’re rather suffer in silence. And that is exactly what we do. Suffer in silence, or near-silence.

But when captioning or assistive devices are available and help us enjoy these things, it is well worth the trouble of asking for them and using them.

Folks, we’re gonna have to use this stuff, or we’re gonna lose it!

Jan Christensen has a severe hearing loss in both ears which started as a mild loss when she was in her early 40s. She wears programmable Phonak in-the-ear aids in both ears which help her hear in ideal conditions, but not much at all in less-than-ideal ones. Usually she writes fiction, but occasionally she thinks she has something really important to say, usually about hearing loss, and she spouts off. The above is an example. You may contact her at


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