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Is this the future of accessibility in the theatre for deaf people?

accessibility in the theatre

Theatre trips can be difficult with a hearing loss, but will these revolutionary caption glasses technology be the start of an on-demand accessible experience for deaf people?

As I was growing up, family days out were challenging for me with a profound hearing loss. Like cinema trips, theatre performances were never an ideal option for me.

To understand shows, I require live-captioning but these days there are few shows with captions. Or a transcript (but it’s usually too dark to read during the show!) Alternatively, I can lipread if sitting close to the stage. However, the closer you sit, the more expensive ticket prices become, so lip-reading from a distance is almost impossible!

Read More: My fight to make cinemas deaf-friendly

The only times I have been to the theatre, have been if I knew the storyline or had watched the DVD with subtitles. Similarly with musicals, if I knew the songs. This was the only way I would partially enjoy the show as I’d be hearing familiar sounds.

There have been times where my family took me to see a show I’d never heard of. This left me with little time to research the storyline. When watching the show, even if it was visual like ballet is, I got frustrated as I couldn’t understand what was being said. I usually slumped back in my chair, waiting for it to end.

 What I hope for the future

There has been a small increase in the number of live-captioned shows at my local theatre, but I don’t tend to go unless it’s something I really want to see. Also, depending if it’s captioned or not.

I was scrolling through social media and came across this article. I leapt up on the screen and I was so excited about it!

The National Theatre in London, UK will be testing out new smart glasses. These glasses will enable deaf and hard of hearing Theatre-goers to read spoken dialogue captions whilst watching a stage performance.

This initiative will run next year and is a part of the NT’s “wider vision to ensure Theatre access for all.”

How it works

The glasses use ‘augmented reality’, which places digitally rendered images, such as captions over what is seen in real life, which would be on the stage. A good example is Pokemon Go or Snapchat filters.

This means that deaf and hard of hearing users will be able to follow the performance from anywhere in the crowd, rather than sitting near the caption box on the side of the stage. The glasses allow them to watch the show at the same time, which the caption box doesn’t and the user will be able to adjust the size, position and colour of the captions to what suits them best.

Is it accessible for all?

Although this could be the solution to this common problem in the deaf community, it wouldn’t be useful for those who usually wear glasses, and wouldn’t be able to wear one pair over the other. But for now, it’s a fantastic step up in accessibility. It would mean I can join my family on more theatre trips, whilst actually enjoying the show as I would be able to understand it through the captions.

It will be interesting to see how this develops and whether it will roll out into local theatres.

What are your thoughts? Please comment below!

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Ellie Parfitt
Ellie was born profoundly deaf, uses verbal communication, lipreads and wears Phonak hearing aids. She is currently learning British Sign Language. Ellie hasn’t let her disability stand in the way and embraces every new challenge. Her deafness didn't prevent her from achieving major accomplishments in her life, such as excelling in her education, working as a Marketing Executive for a Spa & Health Club, Events and Promotions Staff for a local newspaper as well as blogging for Hearing Like Me. She is passionate about deaf awareness, campaigning for equality and helping others through her personal blog as Deafie Blogger.

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