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Institute on Disabilities Partners with People's Light and The National Theatre of Great Britain to Present Revolutionary Smart Caption Glasses

September 2019

The project brings the Institute and People's Light one step closer to a common goal of making Philadelphia the most accessible city for the arts in the US.

people seated at tables, wearing smart glassesThe Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, College of Education, is collaborating with People's Light theater in Chester County, PA, and the National Theatre of Great Britain, on a project that will revolutionize arts accessibility for the deaf and hearing loss communities. Smart Caption Glasses allow people who are Deaf or experience hearing loss to view captions at any performance, from any seat in the theater, using Open Access Smart Capture technology developed by the National Theatre and Professor Andrew Lambourne.

The Smart Caption Glasses display a synchronized transcript of the play's dialogue and sound from the production directly onto the lenses of the smart glasses (manufactured by Epson). Residents in the Greater Philadelphia area will be able to experience the smart caption glasses during the 2019/20 season at People's Light, located in Malvern, Pennsylvania. This project brings the Institute on Disabilities and People's Light one step closer to a common goal of making Philadelphia the most accessible city for the arts in the US.

"We have been developing this ground-breaking technology since 2014, with the aim of transforming access to the arts," said Jonathan Suffolk, Concept Designer and Project Director at the National Theatre. "I'm delighted Temple University and People's Light Theatre share our vision and see the potential smart caption glasses have to enable better audience access for all. The National Theatre leads the way in technical innovation in the theater sector and we look forward to collaborating with Temple University and People's Light to bring the Smart Caption Glasses to audiences in Pennsylvania."

This work is an extension of the Institute's mission to create a society where all people are valued and respected and included. In Pennsylvania alone, 1.1 million residents experience hearing loss, representing 8.58% of the Commonwealth's population. Most theaters only offer a handful of open captioned performances during the run of any given show (if captioning is available at all). Smart Caption Glasses make it possible for all performances to be captioned. People who are Deaf or experience hearing loss can attend any performance they like, in the company of their families and friends.

"Too often, people with disabilities encounter significant obstacles to participation in the arts," said Celia S. Feinstein, Executive Director of the Institute on Disabilities. "With a reputation for innovation, and holding inclusive communities as its core value, the Institute is thrilled to lead this highly collaborative venture. We believe our partnership with People's Light and the National Theatre of Great Britain will serve as a model for best practice for arts accessibility locally and nationally."

Smart Caption Glasses will be available to the general public in January, during the People's Light production of The Children. "As a gathering center for cultural and civic exchange, People's Light prioritizes meaningful inclusion and equitable arts experiences for all," said Abigail Adams, Executive Artistic Director, People's Light. "The smart caption glasses solution is urgently needed for our visitors, and across the field. To create a Theatre that welcomes all and excludes none is no longer a lofty aspiration, it has become the daily work of People's Light."

Smart Caption Glasses are free to patrons and can be reserved online in advance of the show. Patrons can request smart caption glasses on the same day as the performance, subject to availability. "It will be so exciting for theatergoers with hearing loss to again enjoy the many venues that they had to give up years before." said Alan Kutner, President of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) - Delaware County Chapter of Pennsylvania. "The upgrading of devices to help those who are hard of hearing has been a revolution in recent times. It is so exciting to be alive and witness this dramatic progress!"

The Smart Caption Glasses project is made possible with generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Barra Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

About the Partners

The Institute on Disabilities, Temple University, College of Education

The Institute on Disabilities is one of 67 national University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD). The Institute trains, provides technical assistance and engages in inclusionary research for Pennsylvanians with disabilities, their families, professionals and community organizations. Our Media Arts & Culture programs create inclusive, welcoming and accessible cultural experiences for people with and without disabilities.

People's Light

People's Light is a nationally acclaimed non-profit professional regional theater in Chester County, Pennsylvania. People's Light is a local leader in producing open captioned, relaxed and sensory friendly performances. With the Smart Caption Glasses project, People's Light deepens its commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

The National Theatre of Great Britain

The National Theatre's mission is to make world class theatre that's entertaining, challenging and inspiring - and to make it for everyone. It aims to reach the widest possible audience and to be as inclusive, diverse and national as possible with a broad range of productions that play in London, on tour around the UK, on Broadway and across the globe. The National Theatre's extensive UK-wide learning and participation program supports young people and schools through performance and writing programs like Connections, New Views and Let's Play, while Public Acts creates ambitious new works of participatory theatre in sustained partnership with theatres and community organizations around the country. The National Theatre extends its reach through digital programs including NT Live, which broadcasts some of the best of British theatre to over 2,500 venues in 65 countries, and the free streaming service On Demand In Schools, used by nearly 65% of UK state secondary schools. The National Theatre invests in the future of theatre by developing talent, creating bold new work and building audiences, partnering with a range of UK theatres and theatre companies.

For more information, please visit nationaltheatre.org.uk or @NationalTheatre.

This video demonstrates the Smart Captioning Glasses at work.


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Institute on Disabilities at Temple University
University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Service