Accessible theatre

For a theatre lover like me, the lack of access to captioned performances can be very frustrating. Typically, a theatre will do one captioned showing per run. My local theatres, in York, often won’t show a captioned performance for months on end. They lack the facilities in-house to caption and have to rely on hiring equipment.

I’m really delighted to have discovered an initiative that looks like a potential game-changer, which I am testing in their latest beta stage: the Difference Engine by the Talking Birds company and funded by the Arts Council England. It’s a tool that delivers captions directly to a user’s mobile device.

I’ve been hearing about this type of tantalising tech for some years now, such as theseSony subtitle glasses for the cinema – in use in the US but not the UK.

York is ostensibly a UNESCO City of Media Arts – so if a small company in Coventry can create a technological game-changer, surely we can, too? Accessibility in the arts is a big topic at the moment: the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts has accessibility as one of its four key themes. The Talking Birds article asks ‘What if everything was made from a standpoint of universal access?’ If people with sensory and physical impairments could find alternative ways to access the arts that didn’t limit them to attending on a certain date, at a certain time, then we would be a long way towards achieving parity with our non-disabled peers.

I would like to give a special mention to Sheffield Theatres for the frequency and variety of accessible performance that they put on, as well as the sheer delight of attending high quality theatre at their beautiful venues. The RSC  also have good access facilities and put on a reasonable number of captioned performances.

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