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Hearing Disabilities and how Napa Changed How We Hear



The 2022 Academy Awards was not the first to highlight disabled Academy members. While Troy Kotsur won for best supporting actor award for CODA, Children Of Deaf Adults, previously Marlee Matlin won best actress for “Children of a Lesser God” in 1986. This highlighted America’s largest disability: the deaf and hearing impaired. The National Institute of Health estimates that 15% of all of Americans over 18 years old report hearing deficiencies. That’s 37 million and the largest number of all disabilities in America.


To most of us, that’s somebody else’s problem, not ours, but it is an increasing problem as our urbanization gets nosier, as rock concerts get louder, and as TV adds blast at us 24/7.


The Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, was signed in law in 1990. It prohibits discrimination by just about everyone and every business by requiring assisted listening systems or some form of accommodation, whatever that might be. While a hearing aid may address a lot of our limitations, we are all considered legally disabled under ADA which means all of us should expect certain protections.


We have previously noted that Internet accessibility for blind and sight-impaired Americans has become heavily debated, often in the courtroom. Because the internet is considered a “place of public accommodations “sight-challenged persons have claimed discrimination because websites were not verbalized. Napa wineries are learning the hard way about this little faux pas.


The 21st-century Communications in Video Act, CVAA signed by President Obama required all text messages, email, instant messaging and videos to be accessible to people with disabilities. That includes deaf and hearing disabled among us. We’ve all encountered at street crossings in urban areas tweets or verbalizing to go or not to go. This is a part of it.


Interestingly during the pandemic, lawsuits flu over employees wearing masks and not being heard by hearing impaired or deaf persons. New technology is changing the definition of discrimination. Can a video chat by zoom charge more for a closed- captioned video call? No, and any request for additional services or fees is outlawed.


Hearing would Never Be the Same


In a small farmhouse at 1606 F St. in Napa’s Westside, two inventors, Peter L. Jensen and Edwin S. Pridham, shook-up the neighborhood and eventually the World when they blasted their new invention -- the loudspeaker — across Napa.


The two inventors had met in Sacramento and been trying to improve telephone sound quality, but the results were unrewarding. However, in 1915 they devised a way to transform their phone apparatus into a truly profitable system. Their first test almost made Jensen deaf when they discovered what we know today as “feedback” with the microphone and speaker too close together. They tested their equipment across town and could be heard as far away as Alta Heights. It was called, “Magnavox”, which was Latin for ‘Great Voice.’ The planet hasn't been as quiet since.


Magnavox went on to create loudspeakers for stadiums, movies, TVs and major events. They also invented “Amplivox” hearing aids in 1969. Interestingly, Magnavox went on to manufacture the first plasma displays for the military in the 60s, the forerunners of today’s flat screen TVs and in 1972 introduced the “Odyssey”, the first video game console. Eventually, it was bought by Philipps and the name Magnavox disappeared forever. But not the legacy. Every rock group today owes their success-or failure- to this invention.


In a small corner of Napa’s Downtown Murray Plaza, there stands a fitting tribute to Magnavox. A six-foot monument with the story and the crude equipment we now call the Gramophone. Hence, the “Grammys” are handed out for music’s best, and sometimes loudest, annual achievements.


Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB Thinks Murray Plaza needs a new historic monument

Napa Marks The Invention Of "The Big Voice" - the loudspeaker

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