SoundShirts allow people who are deaf, hard of hearing to feel music at Lyric Opera of Chicago

ByJasmine Minor WLS logo
Tuesday, September 19, 2023
People unable to hear music can now feel it at Lyric Opera of Chicago
The Lyric Opera of Chicago is launching a SoundShirt program to help those who are deaf or hard of hearing feel live music performances.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Lyric Opera of Chicago is the first opera company in the world to bring a brand new kind of technology for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

It's called the SoundShirt, and it's changing the way people with disabilities see the opera.

"There's 16 haptic actuators, just fancy speak for little motors. That's the same thing that makes your phones vibrate," said Brad Dunn with the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Each one of these little motors inside the SoundShirt matches the dynamic diversity of the opera.

"This just comes off, and then, we charge," Dunn said.

Those who are deaf or are hard of hearing can feel when the music slows and when it speeds up.

"That was so powerful to pick up on other cues that I was never able to experience before, and that was a wonderful surprise," said Rachel Arfa with the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities.

Arfa said she is profoundly deaf, but said this surprise was welcome.

"It actually enhanced my experience by giving me tactile access to the body," Arfa said.

The Lyric Opera said it's every bit worth the $1,500 per SoundShirt.

"This doesn't replace the music for somebody who can't hear it at all, but does create an experience that is as similar as possible," Dunn said.

And, there's no added cost to those who get an opera ticket.

"It's not something we're making money off of. It's something we're really doing for the community," Dunn said.

The pilot program for the SoundShirt begins on Sunday, Oct. 1 for the Flying Dutchman performance, where 10 SoundShirts will be available.