Access to Theatre for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

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Access to theatre for those with physical and mental needs seems to be on a positive increase. Recently we heard that The Prince Edward Theatre in London, currently home to Disney’s Aladdin has just received an award from being An Autism Friendly Theatre. This is wonderful news considering that for some who work in the industry there are issues surrounding pay and working condition.

But there’s another group of people beginning to benefit both on and off stage and that is deaf or people that are heard of hearing. With a population that sees 1 in 6 people having some sort of hearing issue with it expected to be around 15.6 million by 2035 I think this can be seen as good news.

As a hearing aid wearer myself I wrote my own experiences of living in a deaf world which you can check out by clicking here.

One of the best bits of technology ever invented to work in conjunction with hearing aids in a universal environment is known as the induction loop system. For those of you who don’t know what this is, if you go into most public buildings you may see a sign like this:

It basically means that the hearing aid wearers can change the program on their hearing aids, usually by just pressing a button and then I suppose the best way to describe is, that it works in the same way as Bluetooth. All hearing aids tune into this frequency and it cuts all the background noise to concentrates the user’s hearing on the voice(s) in front of them. So in theatre’s this means the noise of people commenting and the crumpling of packets are all cut out and wearers can only her  what’s on the stage and sounds of the performance.

The technology of these systems are improving all the time, with new systems coming out where users can tailor their experience to their own needs just by using their smart phone.

Also for theatre there has been a development in installed screens, projectors and tablets for members of the audience that are hard of hearing to read captions of what’s being said onstage, very much like the television’s subtitles. You can see more about this project by clicking here.

And of course there’s the ‘old fashion’ signing being employed at many performances these days. Personally I am not a sign user but I think it’s an incredible skill and even some of the biggest events in the world use it, for example the Olympics and not just for Paralympics use signing for the duration of the events. Do you remember back in 2000 at Sydney’s opening ceremony? As they sang the Olympic song for that year ‘Under the Southern Skies’ the chorus of that song saw the entire cast use sign language, you can check it out here on YouTube.

But now access to on stage and behind the scenes for those with hearing related problems are being developed by Deafinitely Theatre who have set up a new programme called The Hub, which is aimed to encourage training for deaf and hard of hearing talent to help them into mainstream theatre.

Currently the only place that offers any kind of specific course for deaf people in the arts is Scotland’s Royal Conservatoire. The Hub has been designed with a variety of workshops that cover many aspects of theatre including acting, writing and even stage management.

The courses are twelve months long with an additional two year one-on-one mentorship for participants. Long term The Hub hopes to establish full time courses for deaf people across the UK. The Hub is currently funded by Arts Council of England and partners with City Lit, RADA and London’s Royal Court Theatre.

You can find out more about The Hub by clicking here.

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