New technology is breaking down barriers on Broadway. New technology is breaking down barriers on Broadway. New technology is breaking down barriers on Broadway. (Photo: Allen G. /Shutterstock)

'Game-changing' new app allows the hearing-impaired to enjoy Broadway shows

GalaPro can also translate any performance to the language of your choosing, in real-time.

Are you going to see "The Band's Visit," the hottest new show on Broadway? You'll likely be told to turn off your phone before the curtains rise. After all, we’ve been told for years that cell phones and Broadway theaters don’t mix. But that may be about to change.

A new app just became available called GalaPro, which uses patented voice recognition technology to provide closed captioning for the hearing impaired. The phone listens to the play as it is being performed and the dialogue shows up as text on your phone screen. No fancy equipment or transcriptionist needed. And not to worry: their unique technology is designed specifically to adhere to and respect the strict rules of theatergoing, assuring there are no phone calls or backlight.

The app was developed by two Israelis with diverse backgrounds: Hagai Pipko, a young entrepreneur who has been working at startups since he was 17 years old; and Dr. Elena Litsyn, a mathematical models expert from Ben-Gurion University, who's also a connoisseur of opera and theater. Rounding out the management team is Yonat Berlin, who previously worked with the DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Festival. Their headquarters are in the coastal Mediterranean town of Herzliya, near where Apple has constructed a 180,000-square-foot R&D lab.

In addition to offering closed captioning, the app can also translate the performance into any language you want. With the click of a few buttons, that confusing Italian opera can be dubbed into English right on your iPhone.

"The idea for the app came up one day while we were attending an opera performance that did have subtitles above the stage but were somewhat difficult to see and only in one language," the founders said. "[It] was born of the idea that live shows, theater, cinema and opera could be an experience anyone can enjoy – breaking down translation, cultural and even physical barriers to make them accessible to all. Once we had this idea, we couldn’t rest. We formed a great team and started to design a system to support all opera and theater subtitling, dubbing and amplification that didn’t require any installations or expensive hardware."

They’ve partnered with the U.S.-based Shubert Organization, the largest owner and operator of theaters on Broadway. Robert Wankel, Shubert's president, called the tool a "breakthrough technology." Added Barbara Kelley of the Hearing Loss Association of America, “This is a true game changer.”

The GalaPro app is just the latest in a string of Israeli tech advancements that are helping the disabled. Google, partnering with the Israeli company Sesame Enable, had paralyzed people in mind when they built the world's first completely touch-free smartphone. A class at the Technion Institute melded a video game controller and GPS tech to create software to help the blind navigate. A popular video chat app from a Jerusalem startup has become extremely popular in the deaf community. And an Israeli industrial designer created a line of luggage that easily attaches to wheelchairs.

At a 72-hour "Makeathon" event held in Israel last year, college students built dozens of new inventions to help people with disabilities in their everyday challenges. They included:

  • Chair Call an app to call a wheelchair to your bedside or back out of the way, clearing space for visitors.
  • Coffee Break – a Rube Goldberg-like coffee maker for people with hand tremors.
  • Ride Sharing – an app that connects people with disabilities to wheelchair-accessible vehicles on Zipcar and Uber.
  • One Hand Sony – a device to hold the PlayStation hand control and play with one hand.
  • Plane Seat Assistance – an in-flight supportive vest, neck brace and leg support for a child with cerebral palsy.


Photos and SlideshowsPhotos and Slideshows

Related Topics: Apps