Students learn about options and limitations of the hearing-impaired

The Quin Theater in Sylva does not offer devices for hearing-impaired patrons. Photo by Hope Quinn.

When Western Carolina University student Sarah Keith walked up to the ticket booth at the Quin Theater in Sylva to purchase a movie ticket, she felt confident and outgoing. She knew what she was there to do and she already knew what the answer to her question would be before she even asked the man behind the glass.

“I asked if they offered assisted listening devices for their patrons and he looked sort of confused at first,” Keith said. “When he put it together, he said, ‘No, we sure don’t, but I wish we did. I feel like I could use one myself sometimes.’ I thanked him anyway and paid for my ticket.”

Keith was at the Quin Theater on Tuesday, March 19 as part of her aural rehabilitation class, which centers around hearing loss in children and adults. Her assignment was to approach the ticket salesman and ask him if they offered assisted listening devices to better understand what it is like for people with hearing disabilities to go to a public place and ask for assistance.

“If I was a hearing-impaired person and I had gone to a theater that did not offer assisted listening devices, I would have felt pretty frustrated,” Keith said. “I think I would feel like it was a big inconvenience.”

Matthew Bodenhamer, a Quin Theater customer, was standing behind Keith when she asked for the assisted listening device.

Bodenhamer recalled thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve never heard that before. I hope they have them so she doesn’t have to pay for a movie that she can’t comprehend.’ He feels it is the responsibility of the establishment to offer such services to hearing-impaired customers.

“I would be a little aggravated because a movie theater should cater to everyone,” Bodenhamer said. “If a movie theater can acquire handicapped [restroom] stalls, they should be able to have other handicapped-accessible items available.”

AMC Theatres, the second-largest movie theater chain in the country, offers many handicapped-accessible amenities, including assisted listening devices at most of its locations. Their official website states that they believe everyone should have access to a great movie.

Keith recommends that the Quin Theater in Sylva look into offering such services.

“I think the first step for the Quin Theater would be to look into providing assisted listening devices for patrons that might require one,” Keith said. “We have a wonderful new Speech and Hearing Clinic at the Health and Human Sciences building and I am sure the Communication Service for the Deaf professors there could offer some suggestions to anyone looking to make accommodations for their patrons.”

Terri Rice, the aural rehabilitation professor at Western Carolina University, suggests that businesses can look online and to audiologists if they want more information about getting these services.

“A positive experience can make all the difference for a person that will share it with others they know who experience the same or similar issues, in the long run, helping attract customers,” Rice said.

Rice recognizes that cost can be a deterrent for some businesses but still insists that looking into options can make a difference. “Teaching staff about options that are available and other recommendations that can be made can make a huge difference in the life of an individual with hearing impairment,” she said.

For Keith, this assignment was a valuable experience.

“I think this assignment was a bit of an eye opener for everyone in my class,” Keith said. “It really makes you step out of your comfort zone and put yourself out there. It could be embarrassing or a chore for hearing-impaired people to have to ask [for help] when they go to public places such as movie theaters, concert halls or auditoriums.”

Keith is a communication sciences and disorders major at WCU. To learn more about the major, visit the program’s section on WCU’s website.