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Large Area Assistive Listening Systems

The adequacy of the installation and the competency of the installers were a recurring theme in all the focus groups. Consumers complained of listening variations in different seating positions in the same venue, and of variations in the location at different times. Noise and interference appeared intermittently and unpredictably. For the most part, it did not appear that the equipment itself was responsible for these problems. Rather, it often appeared that the installer had either not installed the equipment correctly, or had not selected the appropriate ALS or characteristics for a particular venue. Perhaps occurring as frequently as poor installation, however, are the occasions when a proper installation is modified by local facility managers or personnel after the initial installation takes place. In these instances, even the best installation can be defeated. What is clear is that the best of intentions, the most sophisticated equipment and, sometimes, even an excellent installation, are not a sufficient guarantee of adequate performance in the ALS. Once the installation is made, local facility managers and personnel may modify it in some fashion for their own reasons, thus affecting the quality of the installation. Since it is impossible to control the actions of these people, in this report we can but focus on the adequacy of the initial installation, which means the competency of the people who perform this service.

People who install ALS range from trained sound engineers to a questionably competent on-site maintenance person. While the different ALS and venues will require different depths and ranges of competencies, all require some minimum of information if the system is to be installed correctly. Employees of a company selling ALS may be asked to install any one of the three technologies described below, and to do this in venues varying from large stadiums, various kinds of theaters and auditoriums, to public rooms in municipal facilities (courtrooms, legislative hearing rooms, etc.). The installer, then, must understand not only the specific requirements imposed by many different venues, but also know how to deal with variables introduced by live versus recorded performances, formal versus informal settings, and the listening needs exhibited by people with hearing loss. In the final analysis, it is the installer who determines whether an ALS will, at least initially, work well, equivocally, or not at all.

7.1 Characterizing Facilities

Recommendations regarding installers of ALS can be facilitated by characterizing the nature of the venues they work in. These can be divided into three levels. The first and most frequent one are the small sites, such as houses of worship, tour sites, funeral parlors, small museums, historic houses, and various kinds of social service agencies. These are facilities in which master electricians and sound engineers are rarely, if ever, employed. The second facility level are medium sites, consisting of such venues as motion picture theatres, courtrooms, museum auditoriums, hotel meeting and conference rooms, and lecture halls. These types of sites may have a technical person on staff to assist in the installation, but not one necessarily skilled in installing sound systems. The third level of sites will almost always have a trained person on staff, either a master electrician or sound engineer to either install, or to assist in the installation, of an ALS. These consist of large legitimate theatres, stadiums, and conference and concert centers. Ordinarily, a manufacturer will offer to send a member of their technical staff to such sites to assist in the installation.

From the comments we received, however, it appears that installation problems occur whether or not the facility has a trained person on staff. The training and skills necessary to install a PA system for normal hearing people, while undoubtedly very helpful, do not directly address the specific listening needs exhibited by people with hearing loss. In any venue, no matter what level, the person installing the ALS must understand both the sound transmission process of every technology as well as the receiver variables that affect people with hearing loss. What this observation suggests is that people who install, or maintain, ALS required specific training focussed on the listening needs of hearing-impaired people.

7.2. Training Program: Recommendations

We recommend that training programs be offered to train ALS installers. Such training programs can be a combined effort of industry and the Lexington RERC. Participants could be people who are currently employed in installing ALS, who are on the staff of large facilities in which various kinds of ALS are employed, or those whose job activities may make them occasionally responsible for installing or advising the installation of an ALS (e.g. audiologists, hearing instrument specialists). The specific curriculum would be developed through consultation with active installers of ALS and manufacturers. We would assume that such a workshop would last at least two or three days. Participants would receive a certificate attesting to their completion of the course.