Hearing loop technology offered at Metro 4 and Fiesta 5 theaters
Metro 4 and Fiesta 5 screens now feature loop technology for hearing loss. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Two Metropolitan Theatres in downtown Santa Barbara are newly equipped with permanent hearing loops to assist hearing-impaired individuals.

The technology that locally based OTOjOY installed also is used at other entertainment venues, government and education spots, museums, places of worship and senior facilities in Santa Barbara and throughout California.

The Manitou Fund’s financial assistance of about $100,000 allowed the permanent installation of the state-of-the-art technology for the hard of hearing at four Metro 4 screens and two at Fiesta 5 movie theaters.

The hearing loop delivers a distortion-free sound directly to the listener, said Nora McNeely Hurley, a trustee and chief program officer of the Manitou Fund. Sounds are crystal-clear, she said.

In addition to using the hearing loop technology at public places, Hurley has installed it at home.

“It was a night and day change from what I had been experiencing,” Hurley said. “I no longer had to read subtitles with television.”

A handful of popular venues in Santa Barbara, including the Marjorie Luke Theatre and Santa Barbara Bowl, were looped thanks to the Manitou Fund. 

Hearing loss can often keep people from doing what they love. The dream is to have all venues in Santa Barbara looped, Hurley said.

Hurley, who has hearing loss, enjoys the performing arts and cares deeply about the community.

She wants people to attend performances “they have been missing because of hearing loss.”

“You can now access the best sounds in the house,” Hurley continued. “I wanted others like me to enjoy film and performances to the fullest potential, which they were not without a hearing loop.”

The technology is installed just in time for the 35th Santa Barbara International Film Festival that starts on Wednesday.

SBIFF auditoriums, including the Lobero, Arlington and Riviera theatres provide the hearing loop system. Every theater participating in the film festival will offer the technology, according to SBIFF Development Manager Shannon Kelley.

“Part of our mission is to make the world of film and filmmaking accessible to everyone, so we are incredibly proud to partner with the Manitou Fund on this project,” SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling said in a statement.

About 23 percent of U.S. population over the age of 12, more than 60 million people, are affected by hearing loss in at least one ear, according to OTOjOY.

Hearing loss affects about 90,000 residents in Santa Barbara County, according to the company.

The hearing loop technology allows people with cochlear implants and hearing aids to hear the production as the sound is projected directly to their hearing devices using magnetic fields.  

The device turns into wireless earphones that broadcast sound customized for the wearer’s hearing loss by flipping a switch on hearing aids or cochlear implants, OTOjOY’s founder Thomas Kaufmann said.

The loop minimizes background noise, and several people with a compatible, telecoil-enabled hearing device can access it.

People also can use a portable loop receiver.

The hearing loop can be beneficial for people with autism spectrum disorders as well, Kaufmann added.

“The huge benefit of a hearing loop system compared to other listening technology is that people with hearing aids and cochlear implants can directly connect to the system,” Kaufmann said. “They (people) don’t need to borrow any equipment. 

“They just walk in,” he continued. “Press a button on the hearing device and they are tapped right into the hearing system.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at bholland@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.