The actor enters stage left to thunderous applause. You are not sure who this is, perhaps your loving companion will intuitively whisper the name in your ear, or maybe you’ll recognize the actor’s voice. The theater burst into an uproarious laugh, but you have no idea what was so funny? Even access seating in the first few rows may not be close enough to see the subtle gestures and facial expression. You wish there was a voice in your ear, a narrative track that keeps you in the loop.
Wish granted. That’s right, as of June 1, 2018, Broadway has taken a giant step forward in making live theater more accessible for people with vision and hearing loss. The new inclusivity measures offer audio description and closed captioning at every performance, beginning four weeks from any production’s opening night.
How did they do it? Technology, of course. There are two options available for accessing audio descriptions. One is a simple listening device borrowed from the theater, the other is an app, accessible by smartphone.
Customers can pick up an infrared listening device, at the accessibility kiosk in the theater’s lobby. A state issued ID or passport must be left in exchange for the borrowed device.
The GalaPro app features audio description and closed captioning. It syncs with the show for a real-time accurate experience. The app can be downloaded and set in the theater. Staff at the accessibility kiosk will help you set it up and get started. Airplane mode assures your phone will be quiet during the performance as it runs on private wifi. The app also extends inclusivity to international visitors with a language translation feature.
Broadway has been offering accommodations to its patrons for many decades, on a smaller scale. The current and very ambitious initiative, by The Broadway League, significantly advances the industry’s commitment to creating an inclusive theater experience that potentially impacts more than 20 million adults affected by vision loss, and nearly 50 million Americans experiencing some degree of hearing loss.
Broadway wants to be seen and heard by everyone, so go ahead and give this new technology a try. It might just give you back something you thought was lost.
Here’s a link to Playbill’s video showing Broadway’s new accessible technology.
About the Author
Dorrie Rush is a Visual Accessibility Expert and progressive proponent for Universal Access and Inclusive Design. She is the former Director of the Grunwald Technology Center and Information Resource Service at Lighthouse International 2001 to 2016. Dorrie is known to have an eccentric view, which is particularly useful in compensating for her central vision loss from Stargardt Disease.