Live events and subtitles–a breakthrough?

Just wanted to write about something I saw at the weekend.

I’ve posted plenty of times in the past about the lack of accessibility for people with hearing problems.

People take a lot for granted such as TV, DVD, cinema but if you have hard time hearing it can be a battle to get involved.

Electronic and digital forms of entertainment should be really easy to provide subtitles for. If you watch a film multiple times the dialog always appears at the same time, every time so setting up subtitles shouldn’t be too difficult as it’s just a matter of displaying text at the correct timings.

What about live entertainment? The theatre for example?

There is already a solution for theatre called StageText.

The idea is that a screen is placed near the stage and text is displayed during the performance.

There are some downsides though. As you can imagine this needs specialist equipment and the number of shows are quite small, looking at the StageText “what’s on” list has 15 shows in March for the ENTIRE country.

But what about other types of live entertainment? What about smaller events that can’t afford the cost of owning or hiring something like StageText? How many times have you been to a museum or similar where they have recorded audio to go with the exhibits? You can’t subtitle these surely?

What I saw at the weekend has the potential to change this.

On Saturday I went to an event run by Talking Birds,

From their website,

Talking Birds is a Coventry-based company of artists that specialises in acts of transformation. Often these are theatre works and structures which transform the experience of buildings or sites. Other times, they are smaller, more intimate artworks which transform a computer screen, or a telephone call. Our projects allow residents of a town, or a city, to explore a particular place of interest in a mediated way, making accessible a neglected or forgotten space and allowing people to examine it in a new light.

They had taken over an unused building in Coventry and turned it into a Royal Mail sorting office to mark the closure of the actual sorting office just up the road.

This sort of thing would ordinarily be off limits to a deaf or hard of hearing person as you just wouldn’t be able to following anything that was being said. Especially because performances were happening in various parts of the venue as opposed to a fixed stage. 

However, we were able to test something called “The Difference Engine”.

There was a wireless hotspot that Mrs P was able to connect to using her phone, she connected to a web server on the network using her mobile browser and subtitles were displayed directly onto the screen of her phone!

It worked really well and a key part of this for me is that it’s something that is relativity inexpensive to run as it’s software running from a laptop!

This means the system is portable and flexible. Anyone who wants to see the subtitles just needs a reasonably modern phone, tablet or netbook and if you needed to display subtitles for an audience in general all you’d need is another laptop and a screen to connect it to!

I really think this has a lot of potential and could bring subtitles to ANY event with very little expense to the organisers.

The system is still at version one stage so they are looking to improve for their next release and I’ve got my fingers crossed the system goes further!

Just wanted to say a quick thank you to @Vornster for letting me know about this and inviting us to try it out.

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Andy Parkes is Technical Director at Coventry based IT support company IBIT Solutions. Formerly, coordinator of AMITPRO and Microsoft Partner Area Lead for 2012-2013. He also isn't a fan of describing himself in the third person.

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