Will more disabled fans be able to enjoy live entertainment through this technology?

In June, Scottish DJ John McDevitt was at Mighty Hoopla, a music festival in London, watching a drummer warm up on stage.

Born deaf, McDevitt learned to speak by lip-reading lyrics, developing a lifelong love of music.

This love helped him build a successful DJ career in Scotland, where he played clubs and hosted a radio show under the name ‘Def Beatz’.

Music festivals posed a problem, however, as he was forced to stay away from the crowds.

“Vibration is a big thing for a deaf person, so going to a festival…I was apprehensive about how I was going to hear it.

“It’s also a matter of trust. You always found me near the speaker so I could feel the vibrations.

But this time he was carrying a secret weapon, or rather carrying it.

Along with a host of other deaf music fans, McDevitt wore a haptic suit designed to enhance his celebratory experience.

The suit had 24 contact points attached to the torso, wrists and ankles which correspond to the various musical elements of the performance and vibrate to create a sensory experience for the wearer.

Connections between the costume and the action on stage have been made possible by the vodafone 5G network, and in a world first, the costume also allows the wearer to feel the reaction of the crowd.

“The guy was doing the sound check of the drums and I could only feel the drums in a small part of the vest, and then the whole band kicked in,” McDevitt explains.

“It was pretty surreal, it wasn’t until the end of the first song that I realized the pads were meant for crowd reaction.

“It was going off on my wrist and I thought what the hell is going on here? I felt involved! I felt like I was part of the crowd, it was breathtaking,” he adds.

How can technology help people with disabilities enjoy live music?

The suit McDevitt wore was a team effort, created by Vodafone, Music Not Impossible and UNIT9. Their goal was to create a multi-sensory experience for people with hearing loss, to help them enjoy music in real time.

“The motivation is for us to create a full body experience for audience members for members who have been limited in how they can experience live music,” says Dani Valkova, Head of Audio at UNIT9.

The suit is intricately designed with real-time recording to aid the wearer. McDevitt described being able to feel the keys on the keyboard, and the suit can even vibrate to reflect when the crowd has their hands in the air.

“It reflects and enhances the energy and interactions of the crowd,” says Valkova.

“We wanted to send a message of inclusiveness and for everyone to come together for the enjoyment of the music.”

How is technology changing sport for people with disabilities?

Meanwhile in the sports worldgiant strides have been made in terms of access for people with disabilities.

Ideas and innovation company AKQA recently tested Action Audio, a revolutionary experience for blind and visually impaired sports fans.

Action Audio combines live commentary with spatialized audio that helps users follow the action on the pitch during broadcasts.

Having already tested Action Audio at the Australian Open earlier this year, AKQA has teamed up with the BBC and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to provide their services to UK viewers.

Closing the gaps in sensory experience for visually impaired sports fans is what Tim Devine, executive director of innovation at AKQA, calls “the datafication of sports.”

“At the moment, there is a lack of information,” says Devine, who points out that the sound spatialization used by AKQA is similar to that developed for use in the metaverse.

“Our role is to work with blind and visually impaired people to figure out what information they’re missing and how we can work on what data they’re missing and spatialized audio to give people a sense of what’s going on in a game. ”

What future for people with disabilities and performing arts?

So far so good, but how can we extend the progress in terms of access for people with disabilities to cultural events?

AFKA has big plans to further deploy its technology and aims to move it to new arenas.

“Next year we aim to launch a field experiment,” says Devine. “I didn’t think we would get to this point at this time last year.”

In the meantime, the haptic suit could soon be available in clubs across Europe.

“It’s a really interesting and promising project,” says Valkova.

“It’s inspiring to think about how we can roll this out and grow and grow the concept. We are able to adapt this setup to different music genres and live performance setups. »

For his part, McDevitt dreams of donning it for one of his DJ sets and hopes it will be widely available to deaf music lovers in the future.

“It’s a no-brainer,” he said.


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