THE STORY OF HEAR US NOW
Hear Us Now® is an organization bringing dramatic advancements in hearing assistance to venues for live performance including theatres, concert halls, arenas, and worship centers benefiting both children and adults with hearing loss.
The technology is based on how the brain interprets or ‘decodes’ sound. Many years ago as a member of the Board of Dallas Summer Musicals, Barry Epstein was charged with improving the sound at The Music Hall at Fair Park. He was energized by the prospect. How often does an electrical engineer get the opportunity to ‘play’ in a 3500-seat theater?
During the sound improvement process, a patron with severe hearing impairment asked if it was possible to improve the hearing assist system. The system at the Music Hall was considered a typical state-of-the-art hearing assist system. So, Epstein listened and thought: “Ugh, I think we have some effects here like audio analgesia confusing the brain. Hey, I think we can do better.”
Not everyone would have had this thought. It just so happened that Epstein had done work during his undergraduate studies using sound to ‘confuse’ the brain in order to reduce pain sensitivity and stress during dental surgeries. (Known as Audio Analgesia.) He realized a similar effect could happen in a typical theater hearing assist system diminishing a patron’s ability to understand dialog. This is what led to Hear Us Now®.
So, Epstein with support from the team at Idibri began to make changes to every aspect of the hearing assist system, from staff procedures, to interfacing with users, to electronic processing of the sound to make it more friendly to the brain. This was done slowly on the working system at the Music Hall. Epstein was very careful not to take backward steps that might interfere with a patron’s experience. Soon, the Music Hall began to receive unsolicited positive comments from users.
That was when Epstein knew they were ready for some serious testing. He asked the patron who had inquired about improving the system if he would be the test case during the upcoming performance of Wicked.
That patron called the morning after the performance and Epstein could tell the emotion in his voice…."He told me he heard perfectly and enjoyed the show-first time in 20 years! He said previously he came because his wife wanted to go. He would look around and laugh if others were laughing, clap if others were clapping- but he had no idea why. Other patrons made unsolicited similar comments to the hearing assist attendants as they turned in their headsets. I knew we were on to something!"
Enhanced listening opportunities are delivered to patrons by a variety of methods ranging from enhanced headsets to technology compatible with T-coil, FM receiver (Phonak Channels or equivalent), or selected streamers. Hear Us Now® is so unique that a patent and four trademarks have been allowed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
The Hear Us Now® system is not a hearing aid. A hearing aid picks up sound close to an individual and amplifies it is in the person’s ear. Our system picks up sound from a distant source, such as a Broadway stage, processes the sound as required by our Hear Us Now® standards and broadcasts it to patrons using our dedicated receivers.
But our work doesn't stop there. The organization continues to explore technology and opportunities to benefit the evolution of the venue experience for the hearing impaired minimizing the gap in the experience.
Barry Epstein at the Meyerson Symphony Center