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(NZO’s Le Comte Ory. PC: Andi Crown Photography)

New Zealand Opera Provides Braille Subtitles for Live Performances

The company has trialed new, live-synchronized technology that replaces intrusive audio descriptions for blind and low-vision patrons


New Zealand Opera (NZO) claims that it has become the first opera company in the world to offer subtitles in braille to its blind and low-vision patrons. Previously, the company has offered subtitles to these audience members in the form of audio descriptions — but with braille subtitles, patrons can enjoy the music without audible interruptions.

The company has been trialing this new technology during its season of Rossini's Le Comte Ory, which is taking place throughout June 2024. The technology sends the braille subtitles to each audience member's personal braille device, so that they coincide with the subtitles that sighted audience members are reading above the stage.

Low-vision audience members can also receive the subtitles in large text on their own personal screens.

The new braille reader program is called contexts.live, and was developed by NZO General Director Brad Cohen and his colleague Hugh Glaser. The pair hope that other opera companies around the world will be able to use the technology, creating a culture where blind patrons can enjoy opera effortlessly.

"Blind and low-vision patrons have always been at a disadvantage – they haven’t had the same experiences as the rest of the room was having," Cohen said. "For us this is a really important step in leveling the playing field, giving them the same experience and same text as the rest of the audience is seeing."

"The beauty of the technology we built is that it has lots of outputs, they are all live-synchronized to what is going on on stage."

"We would love opera companies to take [the technology] but we see huge potential for conferences or anything where there is an existing script."

"It’s a recognition of braille as the primary literacy method for a group of people, but secondly, it means we are getting the surtitles the whole audience are seeing," said Paul Brown, a blind opera fan and co-director of the company Audio Described Aotearoa.

"People around the world who are braille enthusiasts are really thinking about what this could be used for and what it could open up – potentially it’s a lot."

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