Smart Caption Glasses: Theatre for the Hearing Impaired
As of October, London's National Theatre will offer Smart Caption Glasses for hard-of-hearing audience members. The glasses provide live subtitles, enabling theatregoers to enjoy performances as they unfold in real time.
Developed by tech company Epson, the software follows live production dialogue and stage directions, such as audio and lighting cues, to provide instant subtitling. This accommodates changes in pacing that might occur during performances. It also ensures that hard-of-hearing audience members reach significant points in the production - such as jokes - at the same time as the rest of the viewers.
The Smart Caption Glasses can be linked to a touchpad that allows users to alter the subtitling font size, colour, placement and the background display to suit individual needs. The technology could also potentially be used to offer foreign-language subtitles to non-English-speaking audiences, similar to US health-tech company Starkey's recently released translating hearing aids.
The glasses will be available for the National's 2019 season, including at some performances of a touring production of Macbeth. The glasses can be reserved through the National Theatre's online ticketing interface, with booking launching at the end of October for members, and November for the general public.
In the UK, there are 11 million people with hearing loss, making initiatives such as these a wise investment (Action on Hearing Loss, 2017). Time and again companies are proving the commercial benefits of appealing to traditionally under-represented consumers.
For our take on some of the recent designs accommodating a wide spectrum of abilities, see our Design for Disability report, as well as blogs on inclusive clothing for children and adults, and on new technology for the visually impaired.