What’d he say? Adaptive technology for the movies…

A little over a year ago, I was officially diagnosed with hearing loss. After much research, and a lot of talks with various specialists, I’ve come to accept that at this point in time, hearing aids are not really the right choice for me. Long story, short version: they’re expensive, not covered by insurance, ugly, and generally not likely to correct my type of loss to an acceptable level.

In other words, lots of negatives, for minimal return. Ummm… no thanks. So, what are my other options here?

Adaptive technology to the rescue, it seems. Take movies for example…

At home, if I want to understand all the dialog in the movie, I simply drive everyone else in the room nuts by turning on the captions… that is, if the movie has them.

Going to the movies is a totally different story. Even though the volume level in most movie theaters is loud enough to wake the dead, my problem isn’t with the overall volume. My problem is there are things like background music, explosions, and other noises on the soundtrack in addition to the dialog. My problem is that I’m expected to understand whispered speech over all the other sounds they’ve added in as part of the experience. That can be challenging for someone with perfectly normal hearing, never mind someone with hearing loss.

Options? Oh, I can find a theater showing movies with captioning. Which means limited theaters, limited show times and driving everyone else nuts with the words across the bottom of the screen. Or, I can go to a theater that provides assistive devices.

Sounds great, right? Yeah. In theory. Ever tried it?

You have to go to the box office, the employee you speak to inevitably will never have handled this type of thing before and you have the challenge of trying to understand what they’re saying in the noisy theater environment. So, the conversation involves a lot of “huh?” and “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” on your part and a lot of frustration on theirs.

After you’ve spoken to no less than three employees and gone through a sign out process that involves promising your soul to the god of cinema, you get handed whatever adaptive device that particular theater is using. (it’s now time to cross your fingers that the device they handed you actually works, isn’t covered in popcorn grease, and actually connects to whatever system they have)

The most common in our area are these funky things that fit in your cup holder and give you a screen with captions. Great. Except…

You’re filling up my cup holder. Which means I need to use the other one for my drink. Which means the person on the other side of me is not happy. And… that little screen is kinda out of line of sight from the movie screen. Which means I can either watch the movie, or read the dialog.

Then I saw the promo for the new Sony glasses that Regal has been slowly rolling out. Sounds cool… instead of having to look down at a little screen, you just put on a pair of glasses that allow you, and only you, to see the captions, in your line of sight, so you can watch the movie at the same time. Wooohooo! What a cool idea! I don’t have to bounce my head back and forth and I don’t have to drive my companions nuts and I don’t have to…

Wait… they look like that? Ummm… wow. OK, call me shallow, but… really? My choices are: miss important dialog because I can’t hear it, go to a limited screening that inconveniences everyone, use a cumbersome device that inconveniences those around me, or look like a complete and total dork, plus sit through the whole movie wondering, “How do they clean these things between users?”

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s all great, but… wow. No wonder people have issues admitting to any level of disability.