National Theatre of Scotland – Research report

Enabling greater accessibility to the Arts
Dr Susan Berridge, Research Assistant, University of Stirling Dr Gail Greig, Lecturer in Management, University of St Andrews

Executive Summary
Background
The aim of the project was to explore how to increase the audience accessibility of every National Theatre of Scotland production, regardless of where it is staged, particularly to people with hearing and visual impairments. The project was undertaken by the arts organisations, the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) and ‘Flip – Disability Equality in the Arts’, and technology partner, We Are Everyone. The project was awarded £54,862 from the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Scotland and was developed between March 2013 and October 2013.

The project
The project aimed to create a platform to relay captioning and audio description directly to smartphones and tablets in real time during live theatre performances. This platform would then have the potential to greatly increase the audience accessibility of the NTS, by opening up all of their productions, regardless of when and where they are staged. Currently, 600000 potential customers with hearing and visual impairments only have limited access to theatre 1 shows. Focus groups with both visually impaired and hard of hearing audiences were integral to project development from the outset. At the same time, We Are Everyone worked on the technical development of the platform, using feedback generated by these sessions to identify issues that needed to be addressed. A final testing session of the platform with both groups took place during a th live performance of one of the NTS’ productions on October 12 2013.

Results
The scope of the funded project was to explore the usability and testing of the software with the end users rather than to necessarily create a final product. At the end of the funded period, We Are Everyone had created a platform that worked effectively in controlled situations. The platform is
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National Theatre of Scotland, ‘Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Scotland Application’, February 2013.

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currently in its trial stage and a key challenge remains its suitability for every NTS performance, regardless of where it is staged. Further testing is needed to address residual technical and logistical issues. Focus group research has increased significantly NTS’s understanding of how visually impaired and hard of hearing audience members experience traditional captioning and audio description. Key limitations and benefits of both the existing offerings and the new platform emerged. The project has also increased awareness within the NTS of the need to address access issues and to increase buy-in from theatre practitioners and other NTS staff. It has enabled the NTS to build links with potential future partners such as various theatre venues and Scottish Ballet.

Insights
Insights derived from the development of the platform relate to several key areas; R&D approaches; user-testing and the impacts on technical development and the impact of cultural and technical challenges. The key lessons learned from the project are:         If using a genuine R&D approach, it is important to devote substantial time to think through roles, timelines and lines of communication at the beginning of the project. In doing so, it is vital to be sensitive to the different ways of working of publically funded, noncommercially minded and commercial organisations. If using an iterative R&D process, it is important for all partners to agree in advance about how this might work in terms of communication. Technology partners need to make sure that arts organisations are given a clear understanding of technical developments. In turn, arts organisations need to make sure that technology partners are fully aware of their technical requirements and capabilities from the outset. The skills of the service providers are key to the experience of the audience member. Digital platforms need to integrate as much as possible with arts organisations’ working practices in order to make them sustainable. The development of a platform to deliver captioning and audio description directly to users’ smartphones impacts upon visually impaired and hard of hearing users’ experiences in different ways. It is also important to be aware that some users will continue to prefer traditional captioning and audio description and, thus, that the project offers an alternative rather than a replacement to existing services offered.

Future
Further testing of the platform will advance it to be fully operational for every NTS production, regardless of where it is staged. A Content Management System is to be created so that the NTS can update the platform as required. Effective automation of the provision is to be further explored. Lastly, questions regarding the potential commercialisation of the project are to be fully explored.

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1. Background
This project was a collaboration between the arts organisations, National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) and ‘Flip – Disability Equality in the Arts’ (Flip) and, technology partner, We Are Everyone. Founded in 2006, the NTS (www.nationaltheatrescotland.com) was designed ‘to create theatre 2 experiences that are contemporary, confident and forward looking’. Although they have a head office in Glasgow, the NTS has no permanent performance space of its own. Instead it creates and tours theatre productions across Scotland and beyond, by collaborating with other existing venues. NTS performances often take place in non-traditional locations such as public baths, a quarry, tower blocks and airports, as well as in traditional theatres. As one of Scotland’s five national performing companies, along with Scottish Ballet, Scottish Opera, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the NTS is funded directly by the Scottish Government. In addition to a permanent staff of 41, the NTS also annually employs over 600 theatre practitioners to assist with the 3 creation of their productions. The key members of the NTS involved in the project include Marianne Maxwell, Audience Development Manager, Elly Rothnie, Development Director, Colin Clark, former Web and Publications Editor, and Stuart Rennie, former Trusts and Foundations Manager. Colin was initially named as the overall project lead on the funding application, but after he left the NTS in July 2013, the leadership role was divided between Marianne and Mairi Taylor of Flip, both of whom come from an audience development background. Maxwell went on sabbatical in July 2013, at which point Mairi assumed the responsibility of project lead, working closely with Elly on project development. Edinburgh-based Flip (www.flip.org.uk) provides support to organisations of all sizes to impact upon disability equality in the arts and embed this equality into their working practice. Previously, Flip has worked on projects including Reverb Scotland, a website and event held in Stirling in September 2010 that gave disabled musicians within Scotland a platform to share their music with others. Flip has also published the Access Scottish Theatre Guide, a marketing tool for people to find out about accessible performances nation-wide. Flip has produced editions of the Guide on behalf of the Federation of Scottish Theatre, funded by Creative Scotland. Flip has a core staff of two, comprising Mairi Taylor and Robert Gale. Robert attended one of the project meetings early on, but it is Mairi who has been directly involved in the project throughout, acting as a representative and advocate of the project’s intended end users as well as project lead. She has been working in the area of arts and access since 2003. We Are Everyone (www.weareeveryone.com) is a Glasgow-based digital communications agency, founded in 2009 and run by technical director, Colin Walker and creative director, Dino Squillino. They have a staff of nine digital professionals, including experts in strategy, design, development, online marketing and social media. In 2012, We Are Everyone were the recipient of the RBS New Business 4 of the Year Award. The initial idea for the project derived from Stuart Rennie of NTS identifying the opportunity provided by the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Scotland and approaching Colin Clark to attend the Nesta 5 Digital Day in October 2012. At that point, there was no clear pre-existing idea that the NTS wanted to develop. However, after speaking with the digital specialists present at the workshop, initial discussions formed around context and, specifically, the increasing importance of smartphones for engaging with a range of surrounding environments. This idea was appealing to the NTS, given its lack of a fixed performance space. The initial idea was to create a mobile phone app, possibly a loyalty app. This idea developed further following subsequent meetings between Stuart and Colin in
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National Theatre of Scotland, ‘Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Scotland Application’, February 2013. National Theatre of Scotland, ‘Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Scotland Application’, February 2013. National Theatre of Scotland, ‘Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Scotland Application’, February 2013. 5 Interview with Colin Clark, National Theatre of Scotland, 11th April 2013.

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which they brought in other key NTS staff members, including Marianne Maxwell and Elly Rothnie, both of whom are concerned with audience development, as well as staff involved in the technical delivery of the NTS’ productions and external digital agencies. At these meetings, they began to discuss the idea of bringing captioning to audience members’ phones, thereby engaging with a key aim of the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Scotland to increase audience reach and enhance audience engagement. This idea resonated well with issues related to the NTS’s lack of a fixed performance space. The unconventional spaces in which the NTS often 6 perform mean that accessibility is a key challenge for the organisation. It can be very difficult to caption performances that take place outdoors, for example. The project was viewed from the outset as a continuation of the NTS’s work in terms of access and equalities. A previous example of this work was undertaken in 2009, when the NTS worked with two interns from Glasgow University to explore how the Disability Equality Duty impacts upon their organisation. At this early stage in the project, the technical feasibility of bringing captioning to users’ phones remained very much unknown. Stuart Rennie had met technology partner, We Are Everyone, at the Nesta Digital Day and a decision was made to collaborate on the funding application due to their mutual respect for each other’s work. Flip had a pre-existing relationship with the NTS and, at the time of the Digital R&D Fund funding application, were already working with the NTS on a three year disability equality development programme. Although Mairi Taylor was not involved in the very initial idea generation, she was brought in early on in the application process to develop the premise further. The idea at this stage was to create a replacement for existing captioning provision (a fuller discussion of this provision is provided later in this section). Mairi was keen to emphasise a broader, more inclusive application that would also address the needs of other audiences, such as visually impaired people. From the outset, she stressed that the project should not be seen as a replacement to existing captioning and audio description provision, but rather as an alternative that offered users 7 more choice and flexibility about which performances they attend and how they engage with them. For all three of the organisations involved, the project was viewed as integral to their central business aims. As stated in their application to the Fund, the project directly spoke to five of the NTS’s eight core business objectives:      Developing and growing a sustainable audience Increasing diversity in our work and our company Promoting artistic excellence in our work Ensuring we work across and beyond Scotland 8 Providing cultural leadership for Scotland and its arts sector

Although the NTS is often willing to take risks, as a Government-funded entity it needs to be very careful with budget expenditure. The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Scotland, therefore, offered a rare opportunity for the company to holistically research and address issues relating to access, an 9 area that the NTS is deeply invested in. The project spoke to a genuine need of the company to explore how to increase the accessibility of their productions. As Elly Rothnie explained, ‘especially with the ageing population, it could completely radicalise how we’re able to reach a significant 10 stakeholder group. This could be a seismic change, if it works.’ At the same time, the project and its ongoing development after the funded period also have the potential to attract younger visually impaired and hard of hearing audiences who may be more receptive to watching performances using

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Interview with Elly Rothnie, National Theatre of Scotland, 11th April 2013. Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 11th April 2013. 8 National Theatre of Scotland, ‘Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Scotland Application’, February 2013. 9 Interview with Elly Rothnie, NTS, 11th April 2013. 10 Interview with Elly Rothnie, NTS, 11th April 2013.

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their own digital device rather than wearing the existing headsets provided by the theatres, which are 11 relatively old-fashioned. Indeed, at the current time traditional captioning and audio description is provided live by trained captioners and audio describers as well as facilitated by equipment housed in individual theatres such as headsets. Captioning units are also required. These units are housed in hubs across Scotland and there is no cost for theatres to use this equipment, other than the cost incurred for the hub to be couriered to the specific venue. The NTS own their own hub. For audio described performances, the visually impaired audience member typically arrives at the performance, collects a headset, attends a touch tour of the set in advance if available, and then takes their seat and listens to a brief introduction followed by a description of the show. Typically, an audio describer charges 12 approximately £100 to £150 to describe a performance. Audio description used to be carried out entirely by volunteers, but is increasingly becoming professionalised. For captioned performances, the captioner is connected to LED units that are set up by the theatre and placed on or near the stage. Hard of hearing users then view the text and the stage at the same time. Typically, captioners charge approximately £400 for an initial captioned performance and £350 for a repeat performance. Both captioners and audio describers will normally spend around 30 to 40 hours preparing in advance, which involves preparing and formatting the script, watching the play and rehearsing. Due to this need for preparation, audio described and captioned performances usually occur slightly later in a play’s run to allow time for the audio describer and/or captioner to attend a performance in advance. The benefit of the existing provision is that the live delivery offers greater flexibility and spontaneity, enabling the captioners and audio describers to respond directly to events unfolding on stage in real time. However, at the same time, the live nature of this offering as well as the equipment it requires means that captioning and/or audio description are often only available at a single performance during a production’s run, usually a weekday matinee. This limited schedule greatly constrains access for visually impaired and hard of hearing people, particularly those who are in full-time education or employment. Furthermore, the non-traditional spaces that the NTS perform in mean that captioning and audio description are sometimes not offered at all. There are further limitations of the existing offerings as well. For example, for traditional captioned performances, poor seat position can limit a user’s view of the captions and this captioning can also face resistance from some theatre practitioners and venues who find it distracting. For traditional audio described performances, there is the further issue of faulty or poor sound equipment as well as a lack of staff knowledge of how the 13 equipment works. The development of a platform for delivering captioning and audio description direct to individual users’ own mobile phones, therefore, has the potential to significantly increase the NTS’s market, by opening up accessible productions to the 600,000 potential customers in Scotland 14 with hearing and visual impairments who currently have limited access. The importance of the project, and its future development, for the users is in relation to accessibility and flexibility of choice, making it easier for people with hearing and visual impairments to access the NTS’s live productions regardless of when and where the individual performance is staged. The project also aimed to enhance these users’ experience of traditional captioning and audio description, by improving the existing offering and, thus, potentially deepening their engagement. Built into the project from the outset was a commitment to involving these end users in the development and testing of the technology through a number of focus groups and demonstration sessions.

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Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 27th August 2013. Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 6th February 2014. 13 Notes from interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 6th February 2014. 14 National Theatre of Scotland, ‘Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Scotland Application’, February 2013.

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The project, and its future development, also potentially allows the delivery of a consistency of experience across the NTS’s programme, as well as enabling the NTS to lead the theatre sector across Scotland and beyond in developing ‘the provision of accessible services through technological 15 innovation’. In turn, the project responded to a need to capture more information on visually impaired and hard of hearing audience members. At the current time, there is a dearth of statistics on the number of visually impaired and hard of hearing people who attend accessible performances, both in the NTS and the theatre sector more widely, partly because many theatre box offices do not capture this information. In particular, there may be greater numbers of captioning users than 16 suspected, as some people may use this service without even admitting it to themselves. A key motivator of the project was to generate more data on this usage. The creation of an online platform that people could sign up to potentially allows the NTS to capture valuable information about their audiences. Like the NTS, We Are Everyone identified the Fund as providing a valuable chance to spend time on research and development, an opportunity that they are rarely able to afford as a commercial enterprise. The project was deemed important by We Are Everyone in relation to its ‘genuinely gamechanging’ potential, its ability to push the organisation further by developing their portfolio and the 17 unique opportunity it offered them to be at the forefront of technical and cultural innovation. As a company that was set up to support arts organisations in embedding equalities practice throughout their work, the project was at the core of Flip’s activities. In particular, the project allowed Flip to develop upon earlier work that Mairi Taylor carried out for the Federation of Scottish Theatre from 2008 and 2010, which involved working with theatres across Scotland, including the NTS, on issues of access and equality and, ultimately, creating the aforementioned Access Scottish Theatre 18 Guide. Building upon this previous work, the project potentially allowed Flip to gather further learnings relating to access and equalities that could be disseminated to other theatres in the future as well as to continue to strengthen its existing relationship with the NTS. In terms of the arts sector more widely, the project and its future development have significant potential for enabling a much greater level of participation of audiences from groups that are only catered for in a very limited way currently. There is also potential for partnerships between the NTS 19 and other national performing companies such as Scottish Ballet and Opera. The project also acts as an important case study to explore the potential for the usage of smartphones and tablets within the theatre space, an environment that traditionally prohibits the use of such devices. Indeed, in early meetings about the project, there had been some resistance relating to the use of smartphones and tablets within the theatre space from practitioners within the NTS, who feared the potentially distracting nature of this new technology. The future development of the project may have the potential to change mobile phone policies within the theatre and open up new possibilities for access.

2. The project
The project aim was to explore how to increase the audience accessibility of every National Theatre of Scotland production, regardless of where it is staged, particularly to people with hearing and visual impairments. The NTS aimed to do this by collaborating with We Are Everyone to create a platform to

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National Theatre of Scotland, ‘Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Scotland Application’, February 2013. Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 6th February 2014. 17 Interview with Dino Squillino, We Are Everyone, 15th May 2013. 18 Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 11th April 2013. 19 Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 6th February 2014.

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relay captioning and audio description directly to smartphones and tablets in real time during live 20 theatre performances. Underpinning the project throughout was a strong commitment to developing the new technology with the end users. Focus groups with visually impaired and hard of hearing audience members were integral to the development of the project from the outset, stemming from Mairi Taylor’s belief that it is only possible to fully understand issues of access and disability by speaking directly with individuals 21 with hearing and visual impairments. This commitment to user experience was further reflected by Mairi’s role in the project, acting as a representative and advocate of these audience members. The project was awarded funding of £54,862 in March 2013. Over a period of six months from April to September 2013, four focus groups took place; two with visually impaired audience members and two with hard of hearing audience members. Mairi Taylor kept a detailed note of all of the participants’ access needs and worked around this when planning the groups. The project partners paid participants’ expenses for taking part in the groups. Flip and Marianne Maxwell of the NTS collaborated to find willing participants for the focus groups, drawing on their own existing contacts as well as putting out public calls. Marianne spoke on Insight Radio, a radio station owned by the Royal National Institute of Blind People, which gathered some visually impaired participants and put out a public call via the NTS’s blog, while Flip disseminated a public call for volunteers through the Access Scottish Theatre ebulletin. Organised groups of visually impaired audience members also attended two live audio described NTS performances, allowing the project leads to explore users’ responses to and experiences of the existing audio description provision. Again, participants for these groups were gathered through a combination of direct contacts and public calls. These sessions enabled the project partners to create a benchmark against which the impact of the new technology created could be measured. The focus groups then explored whether the new technology created by We Are Everyone offered a better or worse experience and how it impacted upon their engagement with the NTS’ productions. These focus groups culminated in two further sessions in October 2013 with participants from both groups taking part in the final testing of the technology created by We Are Everyone. The final testing session also focused on the impact of the new technology on remaining audience members. The first organised group attended a live performance of the NTS’ Black Watch on the 11 of April 2013 at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow (Picture 1).
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Picture 1: Black Watch (photo credit Manual Harlan)

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National Theatre of Scotland, ‘Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Scotland Application’, February 2013. Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 19th September 2013.

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The NTS disseminated a public call on their blog for users of audio description to volunteer their feedback on existing services in exchange for a free ticket to the play. Fourteen visually impaired audience members, as well as their companions, attended the performance, along with Mairi Taylor of Flip, Elly Rothnie, Marianne Maxwell and Colin Clark of the NTS and Colin Walker and Dino Squillino 22 of We Are Everyone. This session enabled the technology partner, in particular, to gain a fuller understanding of traditional captioning and audio description as well as the challenges faced by the NTS in creating accessible productions. Before the play began, the visually impaired participants were taken on a touch tour of the performance space where each person was invited to touch various props that would be used in the production in order to aid their impression of the play. The stage manager also explained the way that the performance area was laid out, how actors would enter and exit this space and what would be happening as the play progressed. The participants then took their seats along two opposite sides of the performance space, with the action taking place in the middle. The visually impaired audience members wore headsets, provided by the theatre, and some background information was provided by two different audio describers, who were also present at the touch tour. This particular play posed a serious challenge for both audio description and captioning, with fast-moving action and sound and 23 visual cues playing a prominent role in constructing the atmosphere and meaning of the play. The visually impaired focus group met again on the 8 of May 2013 in one of the rehearsal spaces at the NTS offices in Glasgow to give their feedback on the experience of watching Black Watch with the 24 traditional audio description provision. The group was led by Marianne Maxwell of the NTS and Mairi Taylor of Flip and also attended by the technology partner and the two audio describers. The aim of this group was to gather feedback on the users’ experiences of a traditional accessible performance with the intention of using these learnings to aid in the development of the technical prototype. (For a fuller discussion of focus group learnings, please see the section on ‘Insights’). A month later, on the 27 of June 2013, a smaller contingent of this focus group attended a second traditional audio described performance, this time of the NTS’s production of Let the Right One In at the Dundee Rep Theatre (Picture 2).
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Picture 2: Let the Right One In (photo credit: Manuel Harlan) The trip to Dundee was followed on the 14 of August 2013 by a final demonstration session with the visually impaired focus group held at We Are Everyone’s office in Film City in Glasgow, involving Colin
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Field notes from the Black Watch performance, 11th April 2013. Field notes from the Black Watch performance, 11th April 2013. 24 Field notes from the focus group, 8th May 2013.

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Walker and Dino Squillino, Mairi Taylor of Flip, three visually impaired participants, two companions and the Head of the Audio Description Association Scotland. Colin and Dino set up one of their boardrooms to resemble a theatre, with rows of seats. They then played an extract of the DVD version of Black Watch, but ran the audio description of the performance through various digital devices, including some of the participants’ own smartphones, as if the group were at a live 25 performance, in order to gain feedback on the new technical provision. The captioning focus groups occurred slightly later, due to some minor difficulties with trying to identify hard of hearing participants after the key contact at the NTS, Marianne Maxwell, went on 26 nd sabbatical. The first testing session with this focus group was scheduled to take place on the 2 of September, 2013 at St Mary’s Centre in Edinburgh. However, due to unforeseen circumstances Dino Squillino and Colin Walker were unable to attend and, thus, the demonstration of the new technology th 27 was rearranged for a week later on the 9 . Mairi Taylor of Flip, Daniel Cosgrove of the NTS (part of Elly Rothnie’s development team) and a regular theatre captioner nonetheless still met with the focus nd group, which included four hard of hearing participants, on the 2 September and, instead, used the time to discuss with the group their experiences of traditional captioning. The rescheduled session on th the 9 was similar to the earlier technical testing with the visually impaired focus group, in that the four hard of hearing participants were again shown a 25 minute DVD extract of Black Watch with the captioning run through various devices, including some participants’ smartphones , as if the group were at a live performance. The development of the technical platform occurred in tandem with the focus groups, with We Are Everyone using feedback generated from these sessions to identify key areas that needed to be addressed and work towards the creation of a final working prototype. The focus groups also brought to the fore some unforeseen obstacles and challenges for the technical development. (These learnings are discussed further in the section headed ‘Insights’.) In October 2013, both the visually impaired and hard of hearing focus groups gathered again for the final testing of the technology in situ around performances of the NTS’s production In Time O’ Strife, 28 held at Pathhead Hall in Kirkcaldy. (Picture 3)

Picture 3: In Time O’ Strife (photo credit: Andy Ross) Minibus transport was provided from Glasgow and expenses were paid if participants used alternative modes of transport. The groups first attended a normal accessible performance with traditional captioning and audio-description, again with the aim of creating a comparative benchmark against which the new platform created by We Are Everyone could be measured. However, unfortunately, the
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Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 27th August 2013. Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 19th September 2013. 27 Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 19th September 2013. 28 Interview with Elly Rothnie, National Theatre of Scotland, 24th October 2013.

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traditional audio description did not work at this performance. Five days later, on Saturday 12 October, the focus groups returned to watch another live matinee performance, this time using the new technology. The test group also included senior members of staff from the NTS as well as a member of Scottish Ballet. The aim of this session was to test the final technology as well as gather evaluations from visually impaired and hard of hearing users on whether the platform offered a better or worse experience than the traditional offerings. In addition, the project leads planned to gather feedback from the wider audience at this time on the impact of the new technology on non-users (Picture 4).

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Picture 4: Visual of the product created by We Are Everyone for the final testing day Unfortunately, on the final test date, the new technology did not work as effectively as desired, with some of the twenty-three participants not receiving any captioning or audio description during the 29 performance at all. With the benefit of hindsight, all of the project partners agreed that more testing in advance of the performance would have been beneficial. However, due to the tight time-frames of the funded period as well as the relatively short run of In Time O’ Strife, which appeared at Pathhead nd th Hall for just ten days from the 2 to the 12 of October, the technology partner had been unable to attend an earlier performance to test the platform in advance. We Are Everyone explained that these technical issues arose from the weak Wi-Fi signal at Pathhead Hall, which restricted the reach of the 30 platform. (This point is discussed further in the sub-section labelled ‘Challenges’). At the end of the funded period, all three of the project partners felt that further testing and research was needed to create a platform that was fully operational in all of the diverse venues that the NTS perform in and that enhances users’ experiences. The NTS did not have another play scheduled until January 2014, and so further testing at live performances could not be arranged within the funded period, but all three of the project partners stated in interviews that they were keen to develop the 31 project further in future. We Are Everyone, in particular, identified the feedback generated from users at the final testing session as vital to helping them address remaining technical and logistical 32 issues with the platform and its delivery. In turn, the participants of the focus groups remained keen to be involved in the future development of the project.

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Interviews with Elly Rothnie, NTS, 24th October 2013 and Colin Walker and Dino Squillino, We Are Everyone, 11th November 2013. 30 Interview with Colin Walker and Dino Squillino, We Are Everyone, 11th November 2013. 31 Interviews with Elly Rothnie, NTS, 24th October 2013 and Colin Walker and Dino Squillino, We Are Everyone, 11th November 2013 and Mairi Taylor, Flip, 6th February, 2014. 32 Interview with Colin Walker and Dino Squillino, We Are Everyone, 11th November 2013.

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3. Results
From the outset, the scope of the funded project was to explore the functionality of a platform that relays captioning and audio description directly to smartphones and tablets in real time during a live performance, rather than to necessarily create a final product. At the end of the funded period, there were a number of soft benefits. There was evidence that the technology created by We Are Everyone worked effectively in controlled situations, reflected by the predominantly positive feedback received from the demonstration sessions undertaken with both visually impaired and hard of hearing audience members in August and September, respectively. (For further information on users’ experiences, please see the following section on ‘Insights’). However, the platform remained in the trial stage. The final testing session during the live performance of In Time O’ Strife highlighted a key challenge of the project that was still to be fully resolved: how to create a platform to deliver captioning and audio description that will enable every performance that the NTS produce to be accessible, regardless of where it is staged. To realise this ambition, the technology partner needed to consider all, or at least as many as possible, permutations of the product and the spaces in which it may be used. There was need for continued technical research and testing to fully resolve these logistical issues, but an important soft benefit of the project was that it firmly established that automation of the platform is fundamental. Impact on Partners The focus groups with visually impaired and hard of hearing participants, in particular, had a strong impact on all three of the project partners in terms of enabling a fuller understanding of the realities of users’ experiences of traditional captioning and audio description . A soft benefit of these sessions was that it allowed the NTS to build two strong audience groups that they can draw on for any future testing of the platform. The focus groups also raised awareness of the limitations and benefits of the existing offerings as well as identified fundamental requirements of users for the new platform that was developed. For example, an important soft benefit of the focus groups was that they highlighted key differences in automating audio description as opposed to captioning. The focus groups established that audio description via audience members’ phones is viable and that visually impaired users liked the new service in principle (see Section 4 for a fuller discussion of user-testing). In contrast, relaying captioning via hand held devices is a greater challenge, requiring users to simultaneously watch the stage and look down at the text (see Section 4 for a fuller discussion). Not all of the challenges to this project were resolved by the end of the funded period, but they were at least clearly identified, providing a way to move forwards with the technical development of the platform in a highly informed manner. Another soft benefit of the project was increased awareness within the NTS about the need for this kind of work around access. During the final test performance at In Time O’ Strife, Mairi Taylor spoke to the cast in advance so that everyone was aware of what was happening on the day. The feedback from the testing was overwhelmingly positive, suggesting increased buy-in and an alleviation of previous fears about the distracting nature of smartphones within the theatre space, with the cast members confirming that the new technology had not disturbed them at all. An additional soft impact of the final testing performance was increased buy-in from stakeholders. Some senior staff members of the NTS as well as a member of Scottish Ballet attended the performance and were very supportive of the project. Although the technology did not work as effectively as desired, these people did manage to see a working demonstration of the captioning (Picture 5). A further soft benefit was that the project enabled the NTS to build links with potential future partners, including various theatre venues and Scottish Ballet.

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Picture 5: Visual of captioning via the platform created by We Are Everyone for the final testing day At the end of the funded period, the NTS were keen to continue working on the project. Flip, too, remained committed to project development. For Mairi Taylor, the project was ‘a fantastic learning experience about learning in partnership, about trying to set down really clear parameters and briefs 33 and expectations at the beginning’. Both Mairi and Elly Rothnie also stated in interviews that they were keen to continue working with one another in the future, suggesting that the project further 34 strengthened the pre-existing relationship between Flip and the NTS. We Are Everyone also identified the final testing day as having been highly beneficial in terms of helping them to determine areas that needed developed further in future as well as gaining a deeper and more tangible 35 understanding of the challenges of delivering the new platform.

4. Insights
The R&D Process The feasibility of creating a platform to relay captioning and audio description in real time during a live performance directly to smartphones and tablets was very much unknown at the start of the project. Thus, the project genuinely adopted a research and development approach, with all three of the project partners gaining a fuller understanding of the potentials and limitations of the project throughout the process. The focus groups, in particular, played a central role in helping the project partners to determine issues that needed to be addressed in the creation of the technical platform. The R&D approach posed specific difficulties at times due to the two different sectors involved. We Are Everyone, in particular, identified the collaborative R&D approach as somewhat unfamiliar and, 36 thus, challenging. As a commercial digital agency, they were used to working with relatively welldefined client/supplier relationships and delivering a polished final product to a clearly set deadline. In contrast, this project followed a much more collaborative and looser, more exploratory approach that meant that they often had to take detours, revise or abandon certain steps once new information came to light about the feasibility of the delivery or the experience of the users. Overall, the project
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Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 6th February 2014. Interviews with Elly Rothnie, NTS, 24th October 2013 and Mairi Taylor, Flip, 6th February 2014. 35 Interview with Colin Walker and Dino Squillino, 11th November 2013. 36 Interview with Colin Walker and Dino Squillino, 11th November 2013.

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forced them to work in a more flexible manner, which meant that they encountered some unexpected 37 delays and put in more hours of staff time than they initially anticipated. For example, early on in the project the NTS decided that the original idea of having one of their employees manually cue the platform during a live performance would not be feasible, due to union restrictions and, specifically, fear of either adding to or detracting from an employee’s workload. This decision meant that that We Are Everyone then had to explore the idea of automation and integrating the platform with the lighting desk. (For a fuller discussion, please see the sub-section on ‘Challenges’). User-testing & the impact on technical development The focus groups yielded important learnings about user experiences of both the traditional and new captioning and audio description that can be used to develop the project further in the future. The project held different benefits and limitations for visually impaired as compared to hard of hearing audiences. In relation to traditional audio description, the focus groups with the visually impaired participants raised the importance of synchronisation, with the audio description occurring at the same time as the 38 action unfolds on stage. This encouraged the project leads to think further about how exactly the platform would be delivered and about challenges surrounding manual versus automated delivery, specifically whether a script could be used effectively for the basis of audio description (see the following sub-section on Challenges for more information). The participants also emphasised the need for greater choice in relation to accessible performances. One of the participants commented favourably that greater accessibility enabled via the platform would mean that ‘you could go to a non 39 captioned show with your family and friends!’ Another issue raised was the difficulty with catching up with what is happening if the headset fails to work. Participants noted that it would be useful to have the headset and a preamble prior to the production beginning to ensure that all the equipment is working in advance. Coming out of this was a discussion about whether the platform would be offered via audience members’ own devices, or through theatre-owned devices, and also whether some audiences would need help with operating digital devices. Further questions arose around the use of phones as a delivery platform, in relation to poor battery power and connectivity. From the demonstration of the new technology with visually impaired audience members, the project partners learned that these users place great value on their hearing and, thus, very much appreciated 40 the opportunity to use their own headphones when listening to audio described performances. They found this option more comfortable and more hygienic than the traditional headsets provided by theatre venues. The demonstration with hard of hearing audience members offered further practical insights. Some users commented on how tiring it can be to hold the mobile devices throughout a live performance. These comments prompted the technology partners to consider the possibility of attaching a bracket to the back of some of the theatre seats in which the devices could sit. There were also concerns raised about the difficulty of following what is going on on-stage at the same time as reading the captioning on the phone ’s screen. One participant explained that ‘I found it very difficult. I was reading the captions. I like to read them and see the show at the same time…I was looking at the captions and looking up to see what was happening and when I did that I missed the 41 captions’. However, other users in the focus group experienced no difficulty at all, with another

37 38

Interview with Colin Walker and Dino Squillino, 11th November 2013. Field notes from focus group on 8th May 2013. 39 NTS presentation, Nesta workshop, 10th October 2013. 40 Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 27th August 2013. 41 NTS presentation, Nesta workshop, 10th October 2013.

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participant commenting that ‘You quickly pick up when there was a lot of speech coming up and you 42 did not need to look up as it was the same person talking. I thought it was brilliant’. The differences of opinion here point to the varying experiences and preferences of users. As one participant observed, the new platform ‘would suit some people but a whole lot of other people would be fazed’, adding that having ‘someone on the staff to help would raise people’s confidence as a lot of 43 people may be older and not used to IT or never used a computer’. Indeed, in response to an awareness of users’ differing preferences, Mairi Taylor emphasised throughout the project that it was vital that the new platform created by We Are Everyone be seen as an alternative rather than a 44 replacement for traditional captioning and audio description, offering users more choice. The hard of hearing focus group commented favourably on other aspects. One participant noted, for example, that 45 ‘it is a good size and I like the size of the script…it timed well with what was going on’. The users were also generally positive about the choices it would open up in terms of accessible performances. Both groups expressed anxieties about how other audience members may react to them using mobile phones in the theatre, an environment in which the use of phones is normally prohibited for fear of 46 interference with performances. Concerns were raised about whether sound leakage from headphones or light emitted from phone screens might distract non-users. To address this latter concern, the technology partner developed an interface with grey and yellow text set against a black background (Picture 6). Similar issues about the potentially intrusive nature of the new technology were also raised by theatre practitioners, including stage managers and actors in early meetings about the project (see ‘Background’ section).

Picture 6: Visual prototype of the captioning created by We Are Everyone Challenges and how these have been overcome As an exploratory project at the very early stages of technical development, the focus groups were integral for identifying issues that needed to be overcome in order to create a platform with genuine benefits for the end users. The project encountered a number of technical and cultural challenges, th some of which came to the fore at the final testing day on October 12 2013. From a technical point of view, the ever-changing and unconventional nature of the NTS’s venues poses considerable difficulties for audio description and captioning. In some cases, the non-traditional
42 43

NTS presentation, Nesta workshop, 10th October 2013. NTS presentation, Nesta workshop, 10th October 2013. 44 Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 19th September 2013. 45 NTS presentation, Nesta workshop, 10th October 2013. 46 Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 27th August 2013.

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spaces in which the NTS performs require visually impaired or hard of hearing audience members to carry a mobile unit around with them. A decision was made very early on in the project that the technology provision should not be an app, due to the inflexibility of this platform. Instead, it was decided that the captioning and audio description provision should be offered on a mobile platform, hosted on a website. This created more flexibility and, thus, the platform can potentially accommodate rapidly changing technology, environments and cultures, whereas apps are more likely to becoming technologically dated more quickly. Yet, despite this flexibility, technical issues remained likely to arise due to the fact that many of the non-traditional spaces in which the NTS perform have no Wi-Fi access and limited connectivity. To overcome this, We Are Everyone explored the possibility of running the platform off a local server, 47 which then communicates with the individual devices that people were using. However, as illustrated th by the final testing session on October 12 , at the end of the funded period, this needed further testing and refinement before the platform created was fully operational. The idea of preloading the site by downloading content in advance of a performance so that the platform could run offline was also explored. The possibility of preloading the site has the potential to open up the spaces in which the NTS can operate and provide accessible performances, but again needs further development. The live nature of theatre posed an additional technical challenge in terms of unpredictability, with the pace and delivery of lines changing with every performance. Focus group research revealed that users greatly value the precise synchronisation of the captioning and audio description with the action taking place on stage. Originally, the project had planned to have somebody within the NTS staff manually delivering the offering by sitting in the live performance and cueing the platform. However, the NTS realised early on that this was not financially viable and that it may violate union regulations by either adding to an employee’s workload or taking away the job of a traditional captioner and/or audio describer. To overcome this issue, it was established that automation of the platform was fundamental. The idea of automation had begun to be explored by connecting the platform to the lighting desk, which has pre-existing autocues for aspects of the production. This automation had not been developed fully in time for the final testing day, but with further refinement, it will potentially allow the NTS to integrate the platform more fully into their working practices. Different challenges were posed by automation in relation to captioning and audio description. There is greater scope for audio description to be automated, with the audio-describer creating a skeletal form of audio description including clear gaps that would sit in the structure of the specific theatre 48 production. Automating captioning is more difficult, because the text needs to appear at exactly the same time that the actors are speaking. Indeed, automation will inevitably be less precise than live delivery, which is why the project partners were keen to view this technical delivery as an alternative, 49 rather than a replacement, of traditional captioning and audio description. In turn, it is important for 50 the NTS not to disenfranchise audio describers and captioners. The live nature of theatre posed a further issue for the delivery of the platform in relation to unforeseen technical problems that may th arise during the performance. A key insight of the final testing on October 12 was the difficulty of 51 fixing the platform if it malfunctions, due to the inability to interrupt a play. Culturally, the project and its future development also face significant challenges. While the NTS’s productions are highly technologically advanced, the wider theatre sector tends to be culturally traditional. The focus groups revealed that users were anxious about the possibility of resistance from other audience members about the use of mobile phones in the theatre space, particularly in relation to the intrusive nature of the glare emitted from phones’ screens. To overcome this issue, We Are Everyone experimented with different screen colours for the captioning. (Picture 7) There were similar
47 48

Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 19th September 2013. Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 19th September 2013. 49 Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 19th September 2013. 50 Interview with Elly Rothnie, National Theatre of Scotland, 11th April 2013. 51 Interview with Colin Walker and Dino Squillino, 11th November, 2013.

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anxieties expressed by theatre practitioners at the NTS, who were concerned about the impact of the new technology on their work. To assuage these fears, the NTS were keen to encourage buy-in from the organisation as a whole. The support that the project leads received following the final testing session from the actors on stage and those involved in the production of In Time O’ Strife as well as other core employees at the NTS who attended the play suggest that this buy-in had already begun by the end of the funded period (see previous section).

Picture 7: Visual prototype of the captioning, experimenting with different colours, created by We Are Everyone. In relation to the future development of the project, the NTS and Flip also anticipated resistance from users about trying to change existing ways in which performances are made accessible. The response from the focus groups was very positive and, yet, certain issues were raised by users. For the visually impaired audience, the experience will not be substantially altered by the new technology. They will still receive audio description through headsets during a performance, albeit with a greater choice of accessible productions and with potentially improved sound quality. However, hard of hearing audience members may be challenged by the new experience offered by the platform. Instead of reading captioning from units placed next to the stage, they will be expected to personally hold a device, read the captioning and watch the stage simultaneously. The focus groups revealed some resistance to reading captioning on a handheld device, with some users commenting on the difficulty of looking up at the stage and down at the device without missing important moments. Again, this is another reason that Mairi Taylor was keen to stress that the project is not about trying to create a complete replacement of existing provision, but rather an alternative, thereby offering more flexibility and choice to users. There were further challenges relating to the collaborative nature of the project between a publically funded arts organisation, a non-commercially minded arts organisation and a commercial digital agency, which inevitably have different ways of working and different priorities. All of the project leads 52 identified that it would have been useful to have more communication from the outset. For example, the decision early on to move away from the manual delivery of the platform to an automated service caused issues for the technology partner. Earlier communication between We Are Everyone and the technical staff at the NTS may have enabled greater efficiency by preventing tangential avenues of development. Indeed, the genuinely exploratory nature of the project, in which the feasibility of the technical provision was unknown from the start, coupled with the tight time-frames, posed significant challenges to the development of a fully operational prototype that will work for all of the NTS’ productions, regardless of where they are staged. With the benefit of hindsight, We Are Everyone
52

Interviews with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 6th February 2014, Elly Rothnie, NTS, 24th October 2013 and Colin Walker and Dino Squillino, 11th November, 2013.

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suggested that it may have been useful to have carried out more, shorter test runs, closer together in terms of timing and in different scenarios. Lessons Learned         If using a genuine R&D approach, it is important to devote substantial time to think through roles, timelines and lines of communication at the beginning of the project. In doing so, it is vital to be sensitive to the different ways of working of publically funded, noncommercially minded and commercial organisations. If using an iterative R&D process, it is important for all partners to agree in advance about how this might work in terms of communication. Technology partners need to make sure that arts organisations are given a clear understanding of technical developments. In turn, arts organisations need to make sure that technology partners are fully aware of their technical requirements and capabilities from the outset. The skills of the service providers are key to the experience of the audience member. Digital platforms need to integrate as much as possible with arts organisations’ working practices in order to make them sustainable. The development of a platform to deliver captioning and audio description directly to users’ smartphones impacts upon visually impaired and hard of hearing users’ experiences in different ways. It is also important to be aware that some users will continue to prefer traditional captioning and audio description and, thus, that the project offers an alternative rather than a replacement to existing services offered.

5. Future
At the end of the funded period, the NTS remain deeply invested in improving the disability equality in relation to their productions and are keen to continue developing the project. Due to their pre-existing and longstanding relationship, it is likely that Flip will continue to collaborate with the NTS beyond the funded period. The focus group participants are also keen to remain involved in the future 53 development of the project. Further, the project has enabled the NTS to start building links with future project partners, including various theatre venues and Scottish Ballet. Maintaining and building further partnerships will be essential for the ongoing sustainability of the project. At this stage, the exact way forwards remains unclear. At the end of the funded period, continued testing was needed of the technology created by We Are Everyone in order to make it fully operational for every NTS production, regardless of where it is staged. A Content Management System was also still to be created so that the NTS can update the platform as required. It was established that automation of the platform is fundamental, but the practicalities of this were still to be fully explored. The key questions going forwards were:   (How) can the captioning and audio description provision be automated efficiently to prevent the need for someone to manually cue the platform? How can technical issues be overcome to enable the smooth delivery of captioning and audio description directly to users’ smartphones in real time during a live performance?

53

Interview with Mairi Taylor, Flip, 6th February 2014.

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We Are Everyone also raised the question of how the technical provision can be commercialised and, in turn, marketed. As they explained, ‘it could be massive’ in terms of its wider applications to 54 organisations such as Scottish Ballet and Opera as well as to sectors as diverse as film and sport. The continual development of new technology also creates future possibilities for the project. In particular, the technology partner identified the recent development of Google Glass as a key technical innovation that could drive the project forwards, eliminating the issue that some users raised about the difficulty of looking at the captioning on the phone screen and the action on stage at the 55 same time. In the future, there may also be possibilities for the platform to deliver captioning and audio description in different languages, relating to the preference of the user , which isn’t currently 56 being offered and will require further testing and development. In summary the project produced very interesting R&D, which at the end of the funded period, had raised more questions that needed to be addressed. However, the commitment to focus group research and working with users on the development of the platform yielded key insights which have the potential to enable future project development in a highly informed manner.

6. Further resources
Further project information
Further information on Flip can be found at www.flip.org.uk The National Theatre of Scotland can be found at http://www.nationaltheatrescotland.com/content/ with further information on their work with the Federation of Scottish Theatre’s Access Project available on their blog via http://nationaltheatrescotland.wordpress.com/tag/equality/ Further information on the technology partner, We Are Everyone, can be found at www.weareeveryone.com, with specific information about the project from their perspective available on their blog, via http://www.weareeveryone.com/blog/national-theatre-scotland Early promotion of the project in The Herald Scotland (25 March 2013) is available via http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/audio-description-project-for-plays.20590469

Tools and guidance
Article on the traditional resistance to the usage of smartphones in theatre spaces: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/8679381/One-in-four-teens-admit-to-using-smartphone-in-theatre-orlibrary.html For further information on the development of Google Glass, please see http://www.google.co.uk/glass/start/ as well as articles in newspapers such as The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/technology/google-glass, and the New Yorker, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/currency/2014/03/whats-the-problem-with-google-glass.html

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Interview with Colin Walker and Dino Squillino, We Are Everyone, 11th November 2013. Interview with Colin Walker and Dino Squillino, We Are Everyone, 11th November 2013. 56 Interview with Colin Walker and Dino Squillino, We Are Everyone, 11th November 2013.

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Article on Sony’s creation of glasses for the cinema sector with in-built subtitles available via http://www.sonyrumors.net/2011/08/30/sony-creates-glasses-provide-subtitles-movies/ and http://www.digitaltrends.com/home/sony-subtitle-glasses/#!yRUqo Article on Motion Pix Access (MoPix) a system developed by The Media Access Group at WGBH to make theatres accessible for disabled users http://ncam.wgbh.org/mopix/aboutproject.html. More about its recent developments can be found at: http://ncam.wgbh.org/mopix/ Article on Cineplex’s Closed Captioning system available via http://www.cineplex.com/Theatres/ClosedCaption.aspx Focus groups and other user testing for digital product development A Guide to using Focus Groups from the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement http://www.publicengagement.ac.uk/how/guides/focus-groups Article on how user testing is preferred over focus groups for digital testing: http://www.dmnews.com/why-focus-groups-and-digital-dont-mix/article/268517/ Article on the steps to take to test a product using a focus group: http://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/how-to/growth-strategies/2013/03/test-your-product-out-with-afocus-group.html

Further reading
For more information on issues of access in relation to the theatre sector in Scotland, please see the Access Scottish Theatre Guide, available via http://www.accessscottishtheatre.com/ For information on theatre access targeted directly at theatre practitioners, please see http://www.accessibletheatre.org.uk/ For more information on previous initiatives by the NTS and Flip into issues of access and equality, please see the NTS’ blog, available via http://nationaltheatrescotland.wordpress.com/tag/disabilityequality-duty/ Further information on the Disability Equality Duty can be found via https://www.gov.uk/equality-act2010-guidance Richardson, John. M. (2013) ‘Powerful devices: how teens’ smartphones disrupt power in the theatre, classroom and beyond’, Learning, Media and Technology, available via http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17439884.2013.867867#.Uxb7efJNr1U Information about a similar project involving the relay of theatre captioning directly to smartphones based in Australia is available via http://www.artshub.com.au/news-article/news/all-arts/theatrecaptioning-goes-mobile-187477 and http://captioningstudio.com/captioning/arts-culture/theatre/

Other examples

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A similar project involving the exploration of the relay of theatre captioning directly to smartphones was carried out in Australia and further information is available from http://captioningstudio.com/captioning/arts-culture/theatre/ The National Galleries of Scotland ArtHunter project (http://www.nationalgalleries.org/arthunter), also created via the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Scotland, explored the use of smartphones in the traditional gallery space. Like the NTS, they experienced similar issues in terms of the receptiveness of smartphone usage in a cultural environment that typically prohibits the use of such devices for fear of distraction. The Culture Juice project (http://www.culturejuice.com/what-is-culture-juice), created by the Edinburgh Cultural Quarter and also funded by the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Scotland, also aimed at supplementing traditional theatre facilities and services with mobile technology.

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