For people with hearing loss like Kate Faunce, a visit to the movie theater can be a frustrating experience.
Even with a cochlear implant – she has profound hearing loss in her left ear, and complete hearing loss in her right ear – Faunce has difficulty understanding the dialogue, especially if there’s a lot of background noise in the movie or theater.
When the Guthrie Theatre reopened in Grove City in April, she was excited to have a theater within walking distance.
She’s even more excited now that the theater offers captioning devices – a project organized by the Guthrie and Connect Hearing, the Grove City clinic where Faunce works as an audiologist.
“I don’t want people to think they can’t do things because of their hearing loss,” she said.
Faunce and her co-worker Judy King, patient care coordinator at Connect Hearing, recently visited the Guthrie to check out the new wireless devices – headphones that amplify the movie’s audio, and adjustable glasses that project captions onto the right lens.
“Oh, that’s exciting,” King said as she tried out the glasses, which she noted worked OK with her bifocals.
Faunce, who has used similar devices at other theaters, approached the Guthrie in July about her idea to raise money for the devices.
“It means a lot to me,” said Bill Grigsby, chief financial officer and business manager the theater and Veritas Arts, which owns the Guthrie.
His mother has hearing loss, and he had already been looking into captioning devices for the theater.
“It was definitely on the radar,” he said.
Faunce and Grigsby noted that theaters built before the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990 are not required to provide captioning devices.
Grigsby was immediately on board with Faunce’s plans, and they sent out donation request letters to local organizations and businesses.
It wasn’t long before they collected $6,000, with contributions coming from the Fredonia Lions Club, the Lions of Pennsylvania Foundation, Connect Hearing, All Good Things Thrift Shoppe, Peoples Gas, Orchard Manor, Grove City Rotary Club, Grove City Lions Club, Bonner and Bibza Realty, Volant Lions Club, Wendell August Forge, and Clark and Wilda Watson.
The headsets can also transmit audio descriptions of what’s happening in the movie – a feature that can help patrons with visual impairments, Grigsby said.
The Lions Clubs were very supportive; one of their main service projects is advocating for the blind and visually impaired.
“This is really in line with what they’re doing,” King said.
The Fredonia Lions Club submitted a grant application for the project to the Lions of Pennsylvania Foundation; it was approved in just nine days and covered about 20 percent of the cost.
The accessibility project at the Guthrie is dedicated to the late Susan Lyle Minor, who passed away in August.
She worked at the Grove City High School library, and had hearing loss. Minor got a cochlear implant three years ago after learning about it from Faunce.
“We met while we were walking our dogs,” Faunce said.
Minor wanted to donate to the project, an example of how Faunce’s passion is inspiring, King said.
Faunce is pleased with how everything turned out, and she is glad that more people will be able to enjoy the theater. The devices can also be used during concerts and plays.
“You don’t miss anything,” she said.
Grigsby researched the products, eventually ordering six pairs of glasses and 12 headsets from from QSC. Each device has a transmitter, and they are battery-operated.
The company installed the wiring and other equipment including an infrared transmitter.
Patrons who borrow the devices must leave their photo ID or license with theater staff for the duration of the movie.
Faunce thanked everyone involved with the project, adding that Wendell August donated the plaque that lists the donors and Minor’s name. Grigsby hung it on the lobby wall Friday afternoon.
It’s important for all patrons to be able to fully enjoy the movie theater, Grigsby said. The Guthrie also offers sensory-friendly showings of children’s movies.
“‘Community’ means involving everyone,” he said.
King said she is proud of Faunce for spearheading the project.
“She really put her heart and soul into the process. ... She’s doing it for everybody,” she said.