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Chazen Auditorium now equipped with T-coil hearing loop

The Chazen Museum of Art has installed new assistive-listening technology in its auditorium that will bring clearer sound to visitors who use hearing aids or cochlear implants.

The technology, known as a telecoil, or T-coil system, will allow users to connect their own devices directly to the auditorium’s audio system, allowing them to hear the amplified sound more clearly and control background noise.

The T-coil hearing loop is part of the Chazen’s ongoing efforts to make the museum and its programs more open and accessible to everyone. It was made possible thanks to a generous gift to the project from UW System President Emerita Dr. Katharine Lyall. “Visitors to the Chazen can now hear as well as see the wonderful world here,” she said.

The hearing loop was installed this past summer in a multi-phase project that required the auditorium seats and existing carpeting to be removed. Before the new carpeting was laid down, a loop of flat copper wire was routed on the floor down the auditorium’s rows. The loop functions as a transmitter that sends an audio signal from the auditorium’s sound system, which can be picked up by any T-coil-equipped device within range.

“When we were researching this, we found that close to 70 percent of assistive hearing devices on the market have the T-coil option,” said Adam Hutchinson, the Chazen’s facility manager.

Curt Maas of Arrow AV Group, which installed the system, said T-coil technology is decades old and was originally created to connect hearing aids to land line telephone receivers. It’s the de facto standard in European venues and it’s becoming more common in the United States.

“There are newer technologies that run on your Wi-Fi network, but you need a smart phone to access them, and especially for aging populations, not everyone is as comfortable with that,” he said. T-coil hearing loops have the advantage of being accessible with the listener’s own device as long as it has a T-coil option.

Ruben Mota, UW–Madison’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator, believes the Chazen is one of only a few campus venues equipped with T-coil technology. The auditorium at the Genetics Biotechnology Center, 425 Henry Mall, is another large campus venue that has a T-coil hearing loop.

The ADA doesn’t specify which assistive listening technology must be used, and only requires a fraction of the receivers used to be hearing aid compatible. “I think the Chazen is just really exceeding that bar, as all visitors wearing hearing aids or cochlear implants will have access to the technology and not be restricted by the number of receivers,” Mota said.

Most campus venues, including the Chazen auditorium, offer individual FM-band or infrared receivers with headphones for listeners who request them. “Those are effective for more mild, age-related hearing loss, and they have the advantage of being flexible. But you have the drawbacks of maintenance and needing to clean between users,” Mota said. “T-coil systems are far more effective for hearing aid users.”

Mota uses hearing aids that are digital and linked to his smartphone by Bluetooth. He wears a dongle around his neck to connect the Bluetooth from his smartphone, and even his computer, to put the audio directly into his hearing aids. Having a precisely calibrated audio profile in his digital hearing aids combined with the accessibility provided by the t-coil “has been tremendous for access, particularly as I’ve worn older hearing aids without T-coil,” he said.

The Chazen is soliciting feedback from users of the new T-coil hearing loop. If you’re at one of our auditorium events and use the system, please approach a staff member afterwards to share your experience or contact us at