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South Coast Woman With Hearing Issues Spearheads Campaign To Install Hearing Aids At Theaters

Thomas Kauffman, with Ottojoy, shares some of the hearing loop technology he helped develop being installed at Santa Barbara Fiesta Five Theater

It’s something most of us take for granted. But, for a Santa Barbara County woman, it’s a huge issue. Nora McNeely Hurley has major hearing problems that made it frustrating for her to go to movies, or live theater. But, she’s done something about it that’s helping not just her, but the entire community.

She had a cochlear implant in one ear, and uses a powerful hearing aid in the other. She says it’s still difficult to hear, and especially frustrating when it comes to going to a movie, or live stage performance. She says she stopped going to movies. But, Hurley heard about some new technology, a hearing loop system, which allowed her hearing aid to interact with her TV. She had it installed in her home. It impressed her so much she wanted to see it installed in the region’s performing arts venues.

Hurley is in a unique position to make that idea come true. She has a family foundation, the Manitou Fund. They’ve been funding projects throughout the Santa Barbara area to bring the technology to performing arts venues. They helped get the system installed at places like the Santa Barbara Bowl, and the Arlington Theater.

Work has just been completed on two projects. One was a $100,000 project to add the system to Santa Barbara’s Marjorie Luke Theater. The second, just in time for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, was a $100,000 project to install hearing loops in five theaters at Santa Barbara’s Fiesta Five, and Metro Theaters.

Shannon Kelly, who’s the Film Festival’s Development Manager, says receiving the $100,000 grant for the work is great not just for the festival, but for the community as a whole.

Movie theaters are already equipped with old style headsets. But, the new technology basically connects someone’s hearing aid to the theater’s sound system. Thomas Kauffman is with Otojoy, which is pioneering the technology. He says systems like this are growing in importance, because more and more people have hearing issues.

Sal Garcia is Manager of the Fiesta 5 theater, which now has some theaters with Otojoy’s Hearing Loop Systems. He says in the nearly two decades he’s been with Metropolitan Theaters, he’s seen a spike in request for hearing aids.

Hurley says she’s thrilled the sound upgrades for the five downtown Santa Barbara theaters are complete in time for this year’s Film Festival. But, she’s even happier that the systems will now make moviegoing a much better experience for people year round.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral. 
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