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The WYO Theater installs assistive technology for the hearing-impaired

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The WYO Theater in Sheridan recently installed an assistive-listening technology that helps the hearing-impaired to better enjoy the many cultural, musical, film, and stage productions that the theater regularly hosts.

“It’s called T-Coil technology [and] the system itself is referred to as a hearing loop,” said Erin Butler, Executive Director of the WYO Theater. “It’s copper wires that run in and out the seating area and that enables anyone who has T-coil technology, which most people actually do in their hearing aids, they just might not know it, to get that enabled and then they are able to connect to the sound system when they walk into the space that is hearing-loop enabled.”

Butler said this is the first time she’s aware of this technology being used in a theater of its kind in Wyoming. And while this isn’t the first time there has been assistive listening equipment installed at the WYO, it’s the most effective to date.

“Years and years and years and years ago we had one of those FM systems, but it just really isn’t very effective,” Butler said. “Because we are in a space where we’re transmitting sound from the stage to the soundboard up into the speakers, there was a lot of interference, people didn’t have the best experience, so we just sort of stopped using that entirely and we haven’t had any sort of hearing-assist for our patrons until now actually.”

Though the system was only installed last month, Butler said the feedback so far received from the community has been very positive.

“The people who have tried it, it's sort of revolutionized their experience—they won’t come to a show at the WYO now and not either turn on their hearing loop or turn on their T-coil or check out one of the assists from the box office,” Butler said. “The gentleman who first introduced this technology to me years ago, his name is Jack Landon, he came to his first show in like five years or something and maybe even longer with his wife and he just sent me the loveliest email. He said, ‘It was incredible', he could hear everything, he was so grateful to be able to come back to theater to enjoy time with his wife because she comes without him often, so he just has this amazing experience.”

Butler said T-coil technology has been used in Europe for years, but hasn’t been widely utilized in the U.S., though it’s gaining popularity. The cost of installing the hearing loop and associated T-coil ranged between $17,000 and $20,000. Other upgrades, such as creating wheelchair seating, which the theater didn’t have before as well as replacing the carpet, which had been there since the WYO reopened in 1989, also added to the costs, which totaled around $80,000.

But to Butler, what they’ve done at the WYO was necessary to enhance the arts experience.

“It’s been an important project that we’ve really needed to address for sure because we want our patrons of course to have the best experience they can while they’re in our theater,” she said.

A list of upcoming events at the WYO can be found on their website.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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