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Seeing in the Dark: New app makes movies more inclusive

by Belo Cipriani

Actiview co-founder Alex Koren. Photo: Courtesy<br>Lighthouse for the Blind
Actiview co-founder Alex Koren. Photo: Courtesy
Lighthouse for the Blind  

For most young people, adolescence is a time filled with fashion and romantic concerns. For Alex Koren, his teen years were the beginning of a quest for equal access for the hearing impaired.

"When I was 13," Koren said, "I went to a camp that had a program for deaf kids as well. We shared bunks, activities, everything. Some of the counselors were deaf and we had interpreters on staff to help bridge the gap, but we were all encouraged to learn some sign and just truly be friends with no barriers."

But as inclusive as the camp felt, Koren discovered there were some activities that could not be truly all encompassing.

"We'd get back to our bunks afterward," continued Koren, "and laugh about what we'd done that night, often inadvertently leaving out our deaf friends who had missed out. It had an extremely lasting effect on me and was probably my first glimpse into the separation that exists between the deaf and hearing communities."

Years later, Koren found himself in a similar situation when a friend with a hearing impairment vented to him about a theater experience.

"When Marty, my family friend, approached me to describe his horrible experience at the theater using an assistive listening device, it brought me right back to those years in camp," he said.

Fueled with the desire to make the movie-going experience more inclusive, the LGBT ally applied to the Thiel Fellowship – a $100K grant awarded by the Thiel Foundation (founded by gay tech investor and PayPal founder Peter Thiel) that allows for young people to drop out of college to pursue entrepreneurial projects – and he received the prize in 2014. Koren left Johns Hopkins University his sophomore year to work on technology that bridges the gap between the abled-bodied and people with disabilities.

Now 22 years old and a Berkeley, California resident, Koren is the co-founder of Actiview – the soon-to-launch mobile app that provides audio description for the blind, closed captioning for the hearing impaired, and Spanish translation to films at the theater.

follow Actiview on Twitter or visit its website at: www.actiview.co.

Belo Cipriani is a disability advocate, a freelance journalist, the award-winning author of "Blind: A Memoir" and "Midday Dreams," the spokesman for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and the national spokesman for 100 Percent Wine – a premium winery that donates 100 percent of proceeds to nonprofits that help people with disabilities find work. Learn more at www.belocipriani.com.

 

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