Theatre pioneers use of smart glasses for audiences with hearing loss

Theatre pioneers use of smart glasses for audiences with hearing loss
Providing access to live theatre productions for people with hearing loss has always been a challenge with solutions often limiting the freedom of those that require them. The National Theatre (NT) in London last week changed that by providing smart caption glasses using Epson’s Moverio BT-350 units.

The glasses display a synchronised transcript of dialogue and sound onto the lenses of the glasses, leaving the wearer free to experience the performance when and where they want to. 

In a high profile launch on October 3, an excerpt from “Exit the King” by Eugene Ionesco was performed to a small audience wearing the glasses. It was the culmination of a year of testing with audiences who are D/deaf, deafened or hard of hearing. 

The glasses are now bookable for performances of Hadestown and War Horse before availability for all shows in the NT’s new season later this month. 

With the launch labelled a success, it heralds a major breakthrough for people with hearing loss, which currently numbers 11 million people in the UK alone, according to estimates by charity Action for Hearing Loss. The next step will be to work on further software development to support live captioning and open up a wider range of events, such as talks with theatre directors and actors and drama workshops. It also marks the start of a collaboration between the NT and Epson that will see the service deployed in other theatres. 
Epson Moverio glasses showing subtitles for play
“The NT leads the way in technical innovation in the theatre industry, and these smart glasses are an extension of our ongoing ambition to improve and enhance audience access to theatre,” Jonathan Suffolk, technical director of the National Theatre, said. “We look forward to collaborating with partners across the arts industry to enable better audience access for all.” 

The service was developed with the NT’s Partner for Innovation, Accenture, and collaboration between the theatre’s technical team and speech and language experts led by Professor Andrew Lambourne. 

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