Will Broadway Be Hearing Loss Accessible At Every Show?

Every theater, every show, every seat will be accessible on demand for people with hearing loss. This is the goal of the latest accessibility initiative on Broadway. And it is a big one. The initiative, sponsored by The Shubert Organization, The Broadway League and Theater Development Fund, would allow people with hearing loss to utilize on demand captioning at every show (after the first four weeks) starting in 2018 via the GalaPro app on a mobile phone or a separate hand-held iCaption device. The idea is exciting — but the execution is still a work in progress.

Many broadway theaters already offer hearing accessibility options like infrared headsets, and occasional open captioned performances through TDF. Some even have hearing loops installed. You can find a list of accessibility options at each theater here. But adding on demand closed captioning would be a big step toward improving accessibility, allowing people with hearing loss to attend any performance they want with the support of captioning.

How Does It Work?

GalaPro uses lighting and sound cues to time the captions with the performance. This is fairly reliable, but because there are far more caption cards than cues, humans are used to perfect the syncing of the captioning with the show before the final version is released into the app. Shubert indicated that 95% synchronicity has been achieved this way.

I tried GalaPro at a performance of M. Butterfly at the Cort Theatre and the results were mixed. The app itself worked well — logging on was easy and I liked the ability to alter the size and color of the letters to make reading easy — but the synchronicity was poor. The captions were there, but they did not match up with the dialogue on stage. It made the captions distracting rather than helpful so I stopped using them.

Friends told me my experience at M. Butterfly was an outlier — probably because the show was slated to close early and therefore did not go through the full synchronicity process. I tried GalaPro again at The Band’s Visit a few months later and the synchronicity was much better.

Still A Work In Progress

Thankfully, The Shubert Organization understands that GalaPro is still a work in progress. They are still working to improve synchronicity and to develop easier ways to hold the captioning device. Currently, you must hold the device (either the iCaption device or your personal smart phone) in your hand or rest it on your lap. This can cause eyestrain and dizziness for some since you are constantly moving your eyes up to the stage and down to the captions. Shubert is also investigating alternative delivery systems such as glasses or caption readers like those used in movie theaters. I am excited to see what innovations are yet to come.

What Next?

Some theater goers with hearing loss worry that this new handheld captioning system might mean the end of the open-captioned performances on Broadway we all love. Shubert says absolutely not. Let’s hold them to it.

It is exciting to see increased accessibility as a priority for Broadway. It is up to us to make sure improvements continue to be made.

Readers, have you tried GalaPro?

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17 thoughts on “Will Broadway Be Hearing Loss Accessible At Every Show?

  1. Besides Gala Pro, Matthew Kaplan is a programmer, who has developed captioning for Broadway shows, as well. Matthew’s captions can be accessed via his website…GLOBETITLES….
    Check out the site and contact him if you have questions.

    I contacted him, because I live in Israel now and I want captions for shows here. Matt will caption shows for almost no $$$.
    Gala pro developers are Israeli! I wrote to them. They won’t caption shoes, here, in Israel because the theaters won’t pay for them!?!!
    Makes no sense, but that’s the deal.
    Stay tuned for more, as I’m investigating this situation.

  2. Question: I see TDF has membership for people with disabilities. Does this mean they can purchase discounted tickets and select seats only for themselves or anyone in the party going to the event? In other words, would that individual be separated from friends/family?

    • You will sit together with your party in the “open captioned” area of the orchestra — usually on the right or left side of the orchestra section. They are great seats with good visibility to the stage and the captions. Some shows have a limit as to how many tickets you can purchase but it is always at least 2.

      • Good to know–thank you! Always nervous about spending the money, settling in and finding out I can’t understand a thing.

  3. I have not used Gala Pro, but I have been to 20 shows captioned by TAP. For all but one of these shows, captioning has been almost perfect. The one exception was Latino History for Morons, where there were significant problems, in part, I think because John Leguizamo improvises a lot, which leaves the captioner scrambling. Synchronization was often poor, and large sections of dialog were absent. The only show I have seen with a hand-held device was The Children, which used something called iCaption at the Manhattan Theater Club. I was their first audience member to use iCaption. It certainly enhanced my enjoyment, but there are still some bugs to work out. It was not well synchronized with the dialog. Mostly there was a delay of several seconds. Occasionally it was ahead of the dialog. Additionally, several times it simply froze. I have been told that it operates on light cues, and that there were not a sufficient number in this play. Even with bugs, it is still a useful device, but I hope they will improve the service.

    Jon Taylor

  4. Can’t wait for when captioning becomes easier to access for all entertainment avenues such as movies, plays, and other live performances . I love broadway plays but I find it distracting when the captioning is only on one side of the stage and you are looking back and forth trying to piece together it all. While I think the CAPTIVIEW works great in movie theaters, I sometimes struggle to get it to fit in the cup holder , worry if it will be set correctly before the movie starts, and have to wear half reading glasses so I can read it . I don’t like the caption glasses at all, weigh a ton especially if you already wear glasses .

  5. I used Galapro for a captioned performance of The Band’s Visit. My hearing has gotten progressively worse – just got a CI. I really liked the Galapro – thought it was better looking up and down for the captions rather than back and forth across the stage. And because your seats are so good, you can often hear better or read lips sometimes. I appreciate the closed captioned performances and the special seating area also.

  6. Fortunately (and finally!) in Washington DC, both the Arena Stage and Signature Theater just got GalaPro. They do underline that the synchronicity is only achieved about one week after the opening of a play/musical — and in the case of world premieres, it sometime takes longer. So GalaPro is unusable before the given play is synchronized.

    But it’s surely a boon to have it as I’m no longer constrained to attend a play on a specific day during its run, or else forced to sit in a certain area of the theater to see the open caption screen.

    At Signature Theater and at Arena Stage, I was invited to the shows that premiered GalaPro. At Signature, they’re experimenting with ipad/smartphone stands which clip onto the leg of the chair. They were too flimsy (mine broke!), but they realize how important it is to have a stand. I’m sure they’ll figure out something. Both places rent out ipads, which are actually a lot easier to read. You have to inform them in advance if you want to reserve. That’s a nice (and popular!) service.

    Now we just have to wait for the Kennedy Center, Wooley Mammoth, Shakespeare Theatre company and others to implement GalaPro. Given the high profile of Signature Theatre and Arena Stage in Washington, I reckon that the others will adopt it in the future. The Big Mo, and all that!

  7. What device is available at the Shubert theatre for hard of hearing people? I have tickets for April and want to make sure I don’t miss anything if possible.

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