Vote for us in the Tech 4 Good 2015 Awards!

» If you only have a few seconds, just read this bit:

Talking Birds’ in-pocket subtitler, The Difference Engine, is a finalist in this years Tech4Good Awards and we need your votes to help us win!

PLEASE VOTE FOR US! You can vote via the Tech4Good website or on twitter using the hashtag #T4GTalkingBirds eg “I Vote for #T4GTalkingBirds @Tech4GoodAwards”

The Difference Engine (named for Charles Babbage) delivers captions, audio description and more to audiences’ mobile devices during performances. The response from people who have used the technology included this coverage in the Hearing Times: “I followed brilliantly because…within Talking Birds someone had created a new way of captioning that I honestly think, with some backing, could be the next big thing.”

» If you have a bit more time, you can read this too:

If you’ve been following Talking Birds for a while, you probably know that we make performances in lots of different kinds of spaces (and sometimes in theatres). You probably also know that we try really hard to make all our work accessible.

In the past we’ve hired sign language interpreters and audio describers, and we’ve used LED captioning boxes – all the conventional (and very effective in the right context) solutions. But somehow none of these really worked for us. And as a rule, they don’t work for – or are just beyond the (financial) reach of – most smaller scale or experimental theatre companies. This means that users of these access services and technologies tend not to consider themselves target audiences for this kind of work – and we don’t think this is fair.

We’ve tried lots of different things to make our shows accessible – you may remember Solid Blue in 2002 where we made a specifically accessible second performance space, the Juror’s Gallery, in the cloister below the long dormitory for which we made the performance – we combined live video feeds showing things that were not seen by the upstairs audience, and brought the live performers downstairs when they were ‘offstage’. We put together a slightly Heath Robinson set up with radio mics, headphones and a rather nervous director, to deliver audio description to audiences for 25/7, our revolving-restaurant-on-top-of-a-tower-block-in-an-Olympic-city show. And when we built the Whale, right from the start we knew we didn’t want people to have to step up into it, but made sure it was accessible to audience members in wheelchairs and pushchairs – and added an induction loop.

Over the last 13 years we’ve challenged ourselves to try to think differently about accessibility – to view it as a creative possibility, rather than an add on or an after thought which spoils your best theatrical idea, which, to be honest, it sometimes had been previously.

And out of this, The Difference Engine was born. A way to deliver audio description, captioning and other stuff – programme notes, translation, misinformation, take away links and reference materials – to the phones and tablets people had begun to carry round with them. And, crucially, a way that our audiences could send things back to us – feedback, comments, their interventions into the show…

We got some funding from the Arts Council to work with Coventry University to build our first prototype and, a few years later, ACE gave us a bit more to make a second iteration. We’ve tested it on a number of different projects over the last 5 years – a chamber performance in an unheated industrial unit in the coldest November since Queen Victoria was on the throne; an installation to mark the closure of the sorting office; an uproarious alternative Christmas show featuring a Danish tourism officer dressed as a goose, to name a few…and every time we’ve had really positive feedback from users.

Despite being a *brilliant* invention (!) it is *fiendishly* difficult to raise funds for! Lots of other companies are interested in using the Difference Engine, but we need to pump a bit more money in and develop the system into a more robust format before we can distribute it more widely – and make more work inherently accessible.

So this year is *the* year. We’re determined to raise that money.

Even though there’s no cash prize, winning this Tech4Good award will really help (as would any spare cash you might have down the back of your sofa…!)

PLEASE VOTE FOR US! You can vote via the Tech4Good website or on twitter using the hashtag #T4GTalkingBirds eg “I Vote for #T4GTalkingBirds @Tech4GoodAwards”