Toronto Theatre Offers AR (Augmented Reality) Glasses for Deaf Audience Accessibility

Rows of red seats in a theater.

A Toronto theater company called Pleiades Theater is making great efforts to make its shows more accessible to deaf audiences. They’re doing this by offering augmented reality (AR) glasses for every performance of their new production, Tyson’s Song, which will run for four weeks at the Factory Theatre. This is the first time a Toronto theater has provided AR glasses at every show. Typically, deaf access at Toronto theater involves ASL interpretation at some performances, but this new technology allows Pleiades Theater to offer ASL interpretation at every show during its run. With these glasses, deaf audiences can enjoy the action on stage without having to look in a completely different direction than the performer, a notable step forward in accessibility for theater audiences.

The AR glasses provide a high-quality display and ergonomic design, with five pairs available at each presentation, made possible by funding from the Government of Canada’s Community Services Recovery Fund.

Tyson’s Song, written by Peter N. Bailey and directed by Ash Knight, is about two black men, Bryan and Tyson, who are best friends. Explores themes of black masculinity and mental health as the men face unexpected challenges during their last night out together. The production runs from April 24 to May 19, with pay-what-you-choose tickets starting at $5, available at Pleiades either Audience members interested in using the AR glasses can request them when booking tickets and they will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis.

Affordable Accessibility Tips for Deaf Theater Goers

What Pleiades Theater is doing with AR glasses is revolutionary; However, these glasses were made possible by the Government of Canada’s Community Services Recovery Fund which allowed the theater company to invest in the hardware and processes necessary to acquire the glasses. But how can other theater companies, especially smaller ones, provide some level of accessibility for their deaf audience members without having to spend a lot of money or jump through hoops to find funding? Below are some inexpensive suggestions that can help these smaller businesses improve their accessibility:

open subtitles

Consider incorporating open subtitles for all performances. It involves displaying dialogue and sound effects on a screen visible to the audience. It is a relatively simple and cost-effective solution that can greatly improve accessibility.

Volunteer ASL Interpreters

Contact local ASL interpreting programs or organizations and ask about volunteer interpreters who may be willing to interpret select presentations. Many interpreters are passionate about accessibility and may be willing to offer their services for free or for a nominal fee.

Portable hearing aid devices

Invest in a few laptops hearing assist devices that amplify sound for people with hearing disabilities. These devices can be rented or loaned to audience members who request them and are relatively inexpensive compared to installing permanent hearing loop systems.

Simplified communication

Provide easy-to-understand written materials about the production, such as plot summaries or character descriptions, to help deaf audience members follow it more easily.

Partner with local deaf organizations or advocacy groups for information and support to make your theater more accessible. They can provide valuable guidance and resources at little or no cost.

By implementing these simple, affordable adaptations, movie theaters can significantly improve accessibility for deaf audiences and create a more inclusive environment for all moviegoers.

chatGPT, a potential tool for greater accessibility, was used as a research and writing aid for this blog post. Do you think this is an appropriate use of chatGPT? Why or why not? Let me know!

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