ACT News


National Gallery's Tom Roberts' Auslan captioning app helps hearing impaired art-lovers

New technology is coming to the aid of hearing impaired art-lovers.

Visiting an art gallery would seem a predominantly visual experience, but while most art-lovers can expand their knowledge with an audio tour, people who are deaf or hearing impaired usually miss out.

Thanks to new captioning and Auslan tours for the National Gallery's Tom Roberts' exhibition, art-lovers of all abilities can find out the secrets behind the masterpieces, all from the palm of their hand.

The tours are available to download for free on the Open Access Tours app, alongside similar versions for some of Australia's most popular arts and cultural venues.

Hearing impaired gallery regular Haydn Daw said the captioning takes the pressure off for visitors straining to hear audio commentary.

"If you can read it it's so much more relaxing and you can get the story right," he said.

"These captions are quite detailed on each picture so they're very effective … they're pre-recorded so they're accurate, they don't make bloopers like they do on television [captions]."


Mr Daw relies on hearing aids because of age-related hearing loss worsened by his time in the navy; it makes hearing higher-pitched sounds, typically consonants in words, more difficult.

"It's really important that I have access to good audio and the captions or I may not hear properly," he said.

"It does affect my lifestyle if I go out in a group … restaurants are the absolute nightmare … you almost want to give up."

Mr Daw, who is also chairman of Better Hearing Australia's Canberra branch, said things were very different for himself and his hearing-impaired wife during gallery visits before the technology was made available.

"We'd always be struggling to hear what was being said … it makes an enormous difference, if you can get the understanding and background the pictures, it makes the experience much more beneficial," he said.

"These sorts of things have made the deaf community just so much more independent."

Conexu, the company behind the tours, also translated the audio tour for the NGA's Turner from the Tate exhibition, along with more than 30 other tours for Australian venues since 2011.

The Behind the Lines exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House in 2013 also had the captioning and Auslan tours, which were also available on the museum's app.

But Mr Daw said there was still a way to go to improve accessibility at arts and cultural venues for the hearing impaired.

"One of the great problems we have is … [with] hearing loops," he said.

"They're fantastic because the loop generates a magnetic field, which allows the speaker at the microphone to be heard directly in your hearing aids … but in many places the loops don't work properly and there's no one on-site who knows what the problem is and a lot of the time they're switched off."

Auslan captioning is also available on the NGA's own free Tom Roberts' app and on the audio tour headset devices, available for $7 at the exhibition entrance.

The Open Access Tours app can be downloaded for free on the Apple app store and Google Play store for Android devices.