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March 1, 2024

The Arden’s Smart Glasses Bring Subtitles to the Theater

Smart caption glasses represent new technology that few audiences can access. Dialogue and stage directions float in the frame so users can see the action on stage without looking away to read. Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre is the second theater in the country to offer them, following People’s Light in Malvern, where the A.I.-assisted accessibility tool has attracted deaf and hard-of-hearing communities since the launch of the glasses in 2019.

Smart caption glasses were first offered at London’s Royal National Theatre in 2018. Lisa Sonneborn, director of media arts and culture at Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities, was instrumental in bringing the technology to the United States. Barra funded her project in 2018 through a $225,000 grant to Temple’s Institute on Disabilities.

Theaters typically offer closed captions at select performances, with a screen on the side of the stage and a staffer behind the scenes ensuring the text matches up with the action; others offer smartphone apps or other devices that require users to look down. Caption glasses prevent the need for frequent head swiveling between stage and screen, and allow theaters to offer captions for most performances. It’s also a personalized experience where the user can adjust the placement, size, and color of the text with the handheld device that hangs from a lanyard.

As the technology continues to develop, the hope is to provide captions in different languages and to bring the glasses to more theaters.

Read the full Inquirer article here.