Israeli startup honored by NYC Mayor for making theater accessible

The Sapolin Awards honor individuals or groups that have contributed to broadening accessibility for individuals with disabilities.

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July 26, 2018 16:11
2 minute read.
A promotional picture for GalaPro showing off its application

A promotional picture for GalaPro showing off its application. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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An Israeli-founded start-up will receive an award from the office of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for its smartphone application that allows people with visual or hearing disabilities to enjoy theater productions.

GalaPro—‘pro’ being short for prompter—was founded in 2015 by Dr. Elena Litsyn, a mathematician at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, and software developer Hagai Pipko. This week GalaPro is getting an Americans with Disabilities Act Sapolin Award, which will be presented by de Blasio at his Gracie Mansion residence.

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(The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.) The Sapolin Awards honor individuals or groups that have contributed to broadening accessibility for individuals with disabilities. The award is named after Matthew Sapolin, who served as the commissioner of New York’s Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities from 2006 until his death in 2011 at the age of 41.

In a statement, GalaPro CEO Yonat Burlin said that the company is “excited and proud” that New York City is recognizing its contributions to accessibility technology.

“The application created a new standard in the United States for accessibility and inclusion,” she said, “and opened the gates of the world of culture and entertainment to new audiences; not only for people with disabilities or people who need translation, but also for local audiences assisted by the applications to follow and enjoy the show.”


The start-up’s flagship application, available on iPhone and Android cellphones, asks the user to choose a show, to turn on or off various accessibility options such as subtitles and audio description of what happens in the show, and then prompts the user to turn off their cell service and to connect to a show-specific Wi-Fi network broadcast by the theater. (These steps prevent patrons from using their phones for other purposes during the show.)

The subtitles themselves, available in various languages, are dimly displayed on-screen in real time, and audio services such as description and amplification can only be used with headphones, in order so that other patrons aren’t disturbed by those using the app.

The app supports a selection of popular Broadway shows, including Chicago, Dear Evan Hansen, and The Phantom of the Opera. The majority of shows currently supported are in New York, although the app includes services for a handful of shows from other cities.

Last month, the application began offering translation services for various shows, allowing those who don’t understand a play’s language to watch with subtitles in their native tongue.

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