A trip to the theatre should be an enjoyable experience, but what do you do if you have a hearing loss? I wear a hearing aid and find it difficult to hear the actors as my seat is usually far away and it is almost impossible to lipread them. This is where captioning technology can help.
Some theatres are now offering variety of devices to assist those of us with hearing problems. I recently visited the National Theatre in London’s Southbank where several options are available. These include Stagetext captioned performances and signed performances, smart caption glasses, hearing enhancement headsets for those people who don’t wear a hearing aid and neck loops for those who do.
I chose to give the smart caption glasses a try and pre-booked a set when we ordered tickets for Hansard, a play by Simon Woods. This is advisable as there only a limited number of glasses sets available. The glasses show a transcript of the dialogue and a description of special effects, displayed in real time on the lenses of the glasses. The text can appear at the bottom, the top or to the side of the lenses and the font size can be enlarged to suit the vision of the wearer. There is also a scrolling text option whereby the text keeps moving as the actors speak.
I admit to being very sceptical about how the glasses would help my experience of the play and was concerned the constant appearance of text would be a distraction from the acting. We were lucky to be in the stalls at the Lyttelton Theatre so I could actually hear quite well on this occasion, but the main advantage of the caption glasses is they can be used from any seat within the theatre with the same result.
I was very impressed with how quickly the spoken word appeared on the lenses and this only faltered a few times with a brief lag behind the dialogue. The glasses were easy to control and comfortable to wear and definitely enhanced my hearing experience.
The staff at the National Theatre deserve a mention too as the assistant in charge of the glasses spoke very clearly and ensured we all understood how to get the best from them before letting us loose to try them out. She even came to see us in our seats to check we were happy with the glasses just prior to the start of the play.
Would I book them again? Absolutley! Living with a severe hearing loss doesn’t mean missing out when technology is available to lend a helping hand. I would encourage anyone with hearing struggles to give captioning a try and for Captioning Awareness Week 11-14Th November now is the perfect time to start.