Inclusive visual art

How can we include people without vision in the visual arts? A collaboration between the Queensland University of Technology’s Design Lab and Art Museum decided to find out. The result was a co-designed inclusive visual art project titled Vis-ability.

Co-researcher Megan Strickfadden audio-describing a painting.

The Vis-ability project pushed the boundaries of universal design to discover multi-sensory experiences.

Equal access to art and cultural heritage remains limited. As a consequence, it privileges people with sight. Cultural institutions are a draw for tourists, but few are considering equitable access to exhibits.

A team of 35 researchers and people with lived experience of blindness or low vision, co-designed 12 outputs. The process proposed alternative ways of engaging with the art collection and expanding understanding of visual art.

Front view of the tube shaped tactile model with two hand shapes indicating it can be touched.
Front view of a tactile model
A tube shaped tactile model with raised portions inside the tube. Someone has their hand at the opening touching the mode.
Side view of a tactile model

The project emerged from Janice Rieger’s conversations with people who are blind. They found it was pointless going to an art gallery or museum because they were told that “art is only for the sighted”.

The Vis-ability exhibition opened in April 2019 at the QUT Art Museum. Visitors had the opportunity to experience tactile models and audio descriptions of selected works on display. Visitors were encouraged to think about senses other than sight when engaging with the artwork. More in-depth understanding of the works added a new dimension to the experience of art. Audio pods concealed the paintings so that all visitors would have to ‘hear the painting‘ before seeing it.

When you went into the exhibition you could see the paintings, you could touch the paintings, and you could hear the paintings. Even people who consider themselves able bodied appreciated that.

Prof Janice Rieger

The Vis-ability exhibition was co-designed with people with disability and reached an audience of 4 million globally. Funding for the project came from the EU Commission and in-kind support from institutions in Canada and Australia.

The title of the short paper by Janice Rieger is, Vis-ability: Design Cultures of Inclusion in Australia and Globally.

Editor’s comment

I was lucky to be involved in the early stages of this project. I joined a workshop where different groups attempted to interpret a painting by creating a tactile model using paper, glue and an any other materials available. The process of creating the model was a learning exercise for everyone involved.

Touching artworks in regular art galleries is forbidden, but in this instance, tactile experiences were encouraged. This added another dimension for people who are sighted. As with many things designed for a particular disability, it turned out good for everyone – yes, universal design!

The top picture was taken during a workshop session. It shows Prof Megan Strickfadden, a co-researcher, audio describing a painting.

A rising tide lifts all the boats:

Inclusive ministries and universal design

Many churches and places of worship are improving the accessibility of their premises. But have they thought of more than just getting in the door? What about faith leaders with disability?

What is good for people living with disabilities is good for all of us, and a rising tide lifts all the boats.

Bill Gaventa
A rising tide lifts all the boats

Traditionally, men have taken all the leadership roles, and in some faiths they still do. But in other faith groups women are gradually being accepted into these roles. Progressive faith-based institutions might also consider gender diverse leaders. So it’s time to push the envelope for broader inclusion and that means embracing leaders with disability.

An article by Bill Gaventa discusses universal design in different forms as a way to be more inclusive. A major role for any faith leader is to pass on knowledge about the faith to followers. That means teaching and learning methods need to go beyond the written word and preaching techniques.

Gaventa writes that ministries are coming of age and that it is time to advocate for inclusion in faith communities.

Four panes of a church stained glass window depict different people needing help.

The primary premise of Universal Design is that those environments, including places like religious education classes and worship services, should be designed, from the beginning, to include a wide variety of people with varied learning styles and needs.

The title of the article is A rising tide lifts all the boats: It is about All of Us. It is nicely written in a conversational style and is wide-ranging. Gaventa also discusses assistive technology, understanding disruptive behaviour and universal design for learning. “A rising tide lifts all boats” is a fitting analogy here as well as for economics.

Whatever way a congregation might get to the point of Universal Design, it puts new meaning on our celebration of the “church universal.”

Books for everyone with universal design

Girl sits with a book flicking pages and looking a little unhappy. Reading is a skill that some people find difficult or onerous, so they miss out on reading for pleasure. But making books more accessible is more than just applying Easy Language. It also requires thoughtful layout, font and use of images. The Books for Everyone Framework describes the book making process from writing to publication. 

Matching readers to the “right book” is more than the issue of genre or reading interests. Readers have varying language skills, functional differences and are neurodiverse. So the question for the publication industry is, “How can they work for inclusion of all types of potential readers?”

An article from Norway describes a case study of how the Books for Everyone (BfE) framework was used for five fictional books. These books were written by different authors, illustrators and publishers. The article provides suggestions for the publishing industry to accommodate reader diversity in the future. 

A universal design perspective

At the beginning of 2000, books in Norway aimed at adults with dyslexia were often simplified versions of more complex books that were already published. Taking a universal design approach led to an awareness that books should still aim for high quality. 

Rather than just simplifying text, more attention was given to how Easy Language can create high level literature. Consequently, BfE started cooperating with highly qualified authors, graphic novel designers, illustrators, and publishing houses in making new books.

The target groups for Easy Language books was broadened from people with cognitive impairments to everyone who will benefit. The primary target group determined the main adaptation approach applied. At the same time, these adaptations would most likely benefit other readers. Consequently, the universal design aspect of Easy Language was incorporated into the BfE framework.

It is interesting to note that in the last 22 years, Norway has embraced universal design across the built and digital environments. Consequently, it is no surprise that they are now applying the concepts more broadly. 

The processes and framework are described in more detail in the article, The Development and Production of Literature Within an Easy Language and a Universal Design Perspective. The article is open access.

Abstract

Finding suitable books for pleasure reading is difficult for many people with reading challenges. Consequently, authors and publishing houses must consider user diversity when developing books.

Easy Language comprises an important component, which is closely related to other elements which together constitute accessible books, such as layout, fonts and use of images. Moreover, extensive user testing and involvement must ensure that the books meet the requirements of the readers.

This paper presents The Books for Everyone (BfE) Framework, which describes the process from initiation to publication and promotion of Easy Language books, using Norway as a case study. The BfE Framework is illustrated through examples from books and related to the reception and understanding of various user groups.

Braille and tactile paintings

Two men are standing next to a painting. One man has his hands on the painting. Braille and tactile paintings.
Tactile painting at Pune Airport

Audio describing a painting to a person who is blind requires a special skill. It takes more than talking about shape, colour and content. It also requires an interpretation of the message the artist wishes to convey. But what if the painting has tactile outlines, borders and Braille scripts? Braille and tactile paintings became the mission of Chintamani Hasabnis. 

Chintamani Hasabnis creates paintings accessible to people who are blind. This was after watching a young woman crossing the street with a white cane. He thought, “I paint so many pictures but I can’t show any of them to her.”

An article on the News Hook website tells how Hasabnis worked towards creating his paintings. He said it took a while before he realised he had to make something people could touch. A visit to a school for blind children gave him the answer – paintings with Braille and tactile elements. Pune International Airport in India was one of the first places to display one of his paintings. 

Hasabnis has completed 30 paintings, mostly portraits, and of course, sighted people can also share the tactile joy of these paintings. 

The video below, with captions, shows some of the paintings and how the Braille is incorporated into the picture. 

This is not the first example of Braille painting. The Guy Cobb painting below is on the Wikimedia site is from 2010.

A man in a dark suit places his hands on a brightly coloured painting representing blue flowers on a yellow and orange background.
Guy Cobb Painting

Audio Describing for TV and Movies

Cinema packs of popcorn. Audio describing is good for everyone.The art of audio describing has improved considerably since it was first trialled some sixteen or so years ago. Australian produced television programs signal when a program is audio described with a distinct sound. And more movies and stage shows are offering this option. Audio describing (AD) is designed for people with vision impairment, but could sighted people benefit too? 

A group of researchers looked at two questions – the quality of the AD, and the additional benefit to people who are sighted. Currently, the AD process sits outside the creative process. It’s added later in a similar way to captions and subtitles. However, lack of integration can cause misunderstandings about the plot and the characters. 

The research group carried out an experiment with people with vision impairment and sighted people. A short film was shown with enhanced sound effects. For example, bed spring sounds for someone sitting on a bed. Their article explains in more detail and applies the seven principles of universal design to their method. 

In conclusion, the study showed that sound design – that is, non-verbal cues – can replace verbal cues in some films. The enhanced audio description was accepted by both vision impaired and sighted audiences. One sighted participant said that because the AD was integrated into the film it didn’t feel like they were listening to AD. 

It’s universal design!

The article shows the potential for everyone to have an enhanced experience at the cinema and in their lounge rooms. It indicates a strong case for considering AD in the creative process and not leaving it as an afterthought. Integration of AD into the design process is another example of universal design. 

The tile of the article is, Enhancing Audio Description: Inclusive Cinematic Experiences Through Sound Design. The introductory page has both and abstract and a lay summary. Be prepared for a long but easy read. 

Lay summary

Audio Description (AD) is a third person commentary added to film and television productions to make them accessible for visually impaired audiences. Traditionally, AD is added to productions after they have been completed, meaning that the creative and accessibility teams do not work together to produce the accessible version of the production.

This paper explores an alternative to traditional AD, called Enhanced Audio Description (EAD), whose methods are integrated to filmmaking workflows. EAD moves away from a focus on verbal descriptions and instead focuses on sound design strategies. In EAD the traditional third person commentary is replaced by the combination of three techniques.

The first is the addition of sound effects to provide information on actions, convey abstract scenes as well as indicate time, place, and the presence of characters. The second is the use of binaural audio (3D audio over headphones) to convey the position of characters and objects portrayed on the screen. Finally, first-person narration is used to portray feelings, gestures, colours as well as certain actions.

The application of EAD methods results in a form of accessibility that can cater for both visually impaired and sighted audiences, championing inclusive cinematic experiences. Focus groups with audiences of visually impaired and sighted people demonstrated the potential of the format to be widely enjoyed, and to be offered alongside traditional Audio Description (AD) in order to provide accessible experiences which cater for different aesthetic preferences.

 

Museums, exhibitions and universal design

One of the galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Museums and exhibitions.Museums and exhibitions help us understand the world we live in and give context to our lives. Making the content of museums available to everyone is an important part of the work of exhibition designers.

The Helen Hamlyn Centre conducted research to assist with this. Their findings and conclusions are reported in their articleUsing Design Thinking to Develop New Methods of Inclusive Exhibition Making

The project identified clear guidelines as a necessary factor in a universal approach to exhibition design. The key factor is encouraging designers to be creative and experimental with their designs. Making designers feel like they obliged to follow what they consider stifling requirements is counterproductive. It’s also about co-design and a dialogue between users, the institution and the design team. 

The article is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication.

Arts Access Australia also commissioned a report in 2011, Access and Audience Development in Australia: Museums and Galleries research project.

Inclusive Historic Houses

A white painted two storey home with white pillars all round supporting the verandah.Some good advice from a Masters dissertation on how to create inclusive Historic House stories and exhibits. The emphasis is on overcoming the practice of relating the dominant white male narrative. The dissertation discusses issues of diversity of ethnicity, socio-economic status and belief systems.

Seeking stories of forgotten or overlooked people who occupied the house is one way to address the prevailing white male narrative. Gaston advises:

    • Include diverse perspectives and narratives
    • Connect the past to the present
    • Build with shared authority
    • Make the human connection 

The title of the dissertation is, If These Walls Could Talk: Best Practices for Storytelling in Historic House Museums, by Hannah M Gaston. 

Museum has integrated universal design

A distant aerial view of the huge arch and the park and landscapingIntegrating universal design was a priority in the redesigning of the Gateway Arch Museum in St Louis. A gently sloping plaza, architecturally integrated ramps, and engaging exhibitions. An article in the St Louis online news gives a good run-down of the features.

The universal design concepts allow people to interact with exhibits rather than just look at them. The touchable exhibits are a great success, and there are other enhancements for people with disability. The arch and the park are now easier to access by foot or bike as well. The Archinet website features a brief overview by the architects, and pictures of the museum. The timelapse video of the construction is interesting because of the landscaping of the parkland around it. 

 

Tactile or 3D?

A metal model showing a town layout in relief with Braille on buildings and streets. There is a church and lots of houses and a town square represented.Which type of map is best – tactile or 3D? Three researchers from Monash University carried out a study to see if 3D printed models offered more information than tactile graphics such as maps. There were some interesting findings that were presented in a conference paper. The abstract gives a good overview:

Abstract

Tactile maps are widely used in Orientation and Mobility (O&M) training for people with blindness and severe vision impairment. Commodity 3D printers now offer an alternative way to present accessible graphics, however it is unclear if 3D models offer advantages over tactile equivalents for 2D graphics such as maps. In a controlled study with 16 touch readers, we found that 3D models were preferred, enabled the use of more easily understood icons, facilitated better short term recall and allowed relative height of map elements to be more easily understood.

Analysis of hand movements revealed the use of novel strategies for systematic scanning of the 3D model and gaining an overview of the map. Finally, we explored how 3D printed maps can be augmented with interactive audio labels, replacing less practical braille labels. Our findings suggest that 3D printed maps do indeed offer advantages for O&M training. 

The full title of the paper is, “Accessible Maps for the Blind: Comparing 3D Printed Models with Tactile Graphics“.  The article is also available on ResearchGate. 

Libraries need accessibility and universal design

A silhouette of a person between two rows of books on library shelves.While non-disabled designers and librarians do their best to make library experiences accessible, students with disability hold the key to success. The idea of co-design is not new in building design. However, libraries are both a building and a service. This is the issue tackled in a research study where students showed how to implement accessibility and universal design.

The level of accessibility for students with disability has improved, but it is still not enough. Restrictive rules, lack of adapted communications systems and unsuitable signage are part of the problem. Students with disability should be involved from the outset when a new product or system is introduced – it’s a universal design approach.

The article on the research study found three main ideas: communication, service and usage. The researchers said that if they learned one thing, it was the importance of giving a voice to students with disability. Also, mutual learning and knowledge sharing was found to build good relationships between staff and students.

The title of the article is, “Giving a Voice to Students with Disabilities to Design Library Experiences: An Ethnographic Study”, and is available in PDF or in text/html format

Abstract

Although librarians generally display an inclusive management style, barriers to students with disabilities remain widespread. Against this backdrop, a collaborative research project called Inclusive Library was launched in 2019 in Catalonia, Spain. This study empirically tests how involving students with disabilities in the experience design process can lead to new improvements in users’ library experience. A mix of qualitative techniques, namely focus groups, ethnographic techniques and post-experience surveys, were used to gain insights from the 20 libraries and 20 students with disabilities collaborating in the project. Based on the participants’ voices and follow-up experiences, the study makes several suggestions on how libraries can improve their accessibility. Results indicate that ensuring proper resource allocation for accessibility improves students with disabilities’ library experience. Recommendations for library managers are also provided.

 

Netflix seeks inclusion both sides of the camera

Netflix inclusion report front coverNetflix has worked on getting an inclusive workplace and now they want inclusive content. Their inclusion report shows where they stand on inclusion factors. Now Netflix wants inclusion on both sides of the camera. There is still a lot of work to do.

The Netflix report is based on a study conducted by the University of Southern California. While they have made a lot of progress there is still more to do especially with racial/ethnic groups. The report has some interesting statistics. For example, 52% of all leads/co-leads were women and girls. Female film directors were not as well represented. The biggest area for reform now is the racial/ethnic contributions.

Title of the article on FastCompany is, This is how inclusive Netflix’s original programming really is.  

The Netflix webpage has a video outlining the content of the report, Sowing the Seeds: Inclusion takes root at Netflix.  There’s and audio version too. 

Come-In! Guidelines for Museums

The graphic depicts the service chain that begins at arrival, all the elements and amenities at the museum to the shop and the exit.Not all museums are grand institutions such as the British Museum. Many small museums are run on the efforts of volunteers, donations and entry fees. So, upgrading premises, exhibits and interpretive signage to be accessible to all poses challenges. But legal obligations require adjustments to provide accessibility. It also means that people with disability can join as volunteers more easily. The Come-In! Guidelines from Europe tackles some of the issues for small and medium-sized museums. 

Come-in! Guidelines provide a practical way forward for small and medium-sized museums. It lays down some principles to guide processes and to meet legal obligations. Language, the “service chain” and staff training are the key aspects of the guidance. The principles include:

    • Disabled people have a right to be included in all the activities of museums and galleries.
    • Museums and galleries should engage in a dialogue with people with disabilities to find out what they need and wish, and how to deliver it.
    • Barriers to access for people with disabilities should be identified and dismantled to enable and empower them to participate. 
    • Universal design principles should be the basis for inclusive practice in museums and galleries.
    • The implementation of best, inclusive, practice should be adopted to ensure that disability issues are included in all areas of a museum or gallery’s activities.
    • This process must be ongoing, long-term, achievable and sustainable. It should be reflected in the museum’s policies and strategic planning, and implementation should be led by senior management.

The European Union acknowledges its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Consequently, the document is framed with this in mind. The information in this guideline is good for any attraction or tourist destination. The Come-In! Guidelines are detailed and practical, and not just policy words. 

If you have difficulty downloading the document from Academia, you can download the PDF directly

The graphic is from the Guidelines.