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FLICKS FILM & VIDEO FILE : A Boost for Talkies : In-house devices to aid hearing-impaired theatergoers are not common. But an Ojai man is working to help change that.

February 28, 1991|LEO SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's not easy to walk into a movie theater and find a seat that will offer both optimum sight and sound. For most of us this is a small but irritating fact of life. For some, it is more than a minor inconvenience.

Consider, for instance, the problem facing theatergoers among the about 26 million people in this country who have some level of hearing loss.

"Comprehension is where the problem is. A big factor with TV or movies is the quality of the sound coming through," said Ojai's Gerald Dominick, head of the Ventura group known as Self-Help for Hard of Hearing People, which is part of an international organization. "You miss certain words, you miss certain letters."

Dominick considers himself something of a crusader for the about 51,000 hearing-impaired residents of Ventura County. He attended a meeting in Los Angeles recently to discuss the American Disabilities Act and its role in requiring public facilities to install Assistive Listening Devices (ALD) to aid those who are hard of hearing.

Movie theaters are among the facilities on the list.

Jim Kozak, spokesman for the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, said many theaters around the country already have installed these devices, although he would not offer an estimate as to how many.

If Ventura County is any indication, the number isn't particularly high. Dominick said the nearest ALD-equipped theater for county residents is the Mann Theatres multiplex in Agoura Hills. Close, but maybe not close enough.

"I live in Ojai and Agoura is a little far," Dominick said. "There's a public out there that might go to a theater if there were devices. I know a lot of people are staying away from movies because it's not fun anymore. They don't enjoy it."

A spokesperson for Mann Theatres said ALD systems have been installed in all of the chain's new theaters in recent years.

The situation is similar within the Pacific Theaters chain. "We have them in our newer theaters and also in some of the theaters we've updated," spokesman Milt Moritz said.

Surprisingly, Moritz said the Pacific theaters that do have an ALD system have not seen much of an increase in business. "Maybe hearing is better than we think," he said.

Dominick doesn't believe that's the case. Rather, he said, the problem is that people who are hard of hearing are not aware of what is available to help them--and he's happy to be the one to inform them.

He said there are four types of ALDs on the market, his favorite being the infrared type. It consists of a transmitter and receiver linked by light waves rather than airwaves. Thus, it would keep a movie's sound from drifting outside the theater. Dominick also said the system is not subject to outside interference because it operates by light waves. The Agoura Hills Mann theater uses an infrared system.

Dominick said it's not necessarily the increased volume of the sound, but the clarity of the sound that is improved by such devices.

"Say the speaker is at least 10 feet away from you. The sound has to travel that 10 feet, and it loses power. The further the distance, the less the ability to understand those sounds," he said. "If you put an assistive device on and it's hooked to the sound system, and you put a device on your ear, instead of traveling 10 feet the sound is traveling maybe one foot."

Dominick said an infrared receiver can cost less than $100.

If you'd like more information about ALDs, the self-help group in Ventura County, or about hearing loss in general, call Dominick at 646-0222.

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