Module 3: Exploring Digital Access

3.1 Getting Started: How do we access digital spaces?

Connect to your own experiences:

  1. Describe how you are accessing this web page.
    • What technology are you using to access this digital space?
    • Which of your senses are you engaging with?
    • Which of your senses are you not engaging with?
  2. Describe any challenges you may have in accessing this web page.
    • What aspects of this digital space are inaccessible for you?
    • What would you desire to make this space more accessible?

3.2 Exploring the Art: How can we explore access creatively?

Disabled artists, scholars, and activists continuously advocate for the importance of considering access when encountering any and every space. They further push us to think of access beyond a checklist of measures to be taken when planning an event or a gathering. For example, disability studies scholar Tanya Titchkosky invites us to consider encountering access as a question:

Scenes of access are opportunities to address questions such as who belongs and how; what do representations of disability mean; when does an interest in disability become elided so as to not yet figure as a necessary participant; and where does all this happen?

Titchkosky, Tanya. The Question of Access: Disability, Space, Meaning. University of Toronto Press, 2011, pp. 15-16.

Within the arts, access further becomes an opportunity to question processes and practices of creation. On access and its role within the creation process, disabled dancer and choreographer Alice Sheppard says:

Access is NOT a dingy thing you do after the fact for those disabled people. What if it had a place in artists’ creative practice?

This question inspired many artists in the creation of their works. It also influenced the creation of the virtual #CripRitual gallery.

Learn About Practices of Access: Before taking a tour, familiarize yourself with some of the access practices that were used in the creation of the virtual #CripRitual gallery.

  1. Image Description:
    • Image descriptions are used to describe visual elements on a web page, including images and videos. They are also referred to as audio descriptions when spoken out loud or shared through an audio clip.
    • There are many ways of describing images, and many artists in the disability arts community are exploring how creative and collaborative practices of image description can invite audiences to experience artwork through a multiplicity of senses. Some are even exploring how image descriptions can challenge the dominance of sighted ways of experiencing art.
    • Read this article by Alex Haagaaard, who is one of #CripRitual’s featured artists, and Liz Jackson to learn about their process of creating image descriptions.
  2. Alt Text:
    • Alt text is a digital way of providing an image description. Embedded in the HTML code, alt text is not viewed through the web page but rather accessed when using a screen reader. Alt text usually provides a more brief description of visual materials on a web page.
    • Just like with image descriptions, many artists in the disability arts community are exploring how to creatively use alt text.
    • Read this article by Shannon Finnegan, who is one of #CripRitual’s featured artists, to learn about their process of creating alt text as poetry.
  3. Captioning:
    • Captioning is the translation of audio materials into text. Captions are used in videos, and are also used during live performances or events. They can be used to depict spoken dialogue or narration as well as to describe sounds, music, and other audio elements. Open captions (OC) are captions that are integrated into videos. Closed captions (CC) are captions that can be turned on or off.
    • Just like there are many ways of describing images, there are many ways of describing sounds through text. There are also many ways of displaying that text in videos and in live performances. Many artists in the Deaf and disability arts community are exploring how to creatively create and present captions.
    • Watch this video by Deafinitely Theatre, featuring video designer Ben Glover describing their practice of “creative captioning.”
  4. ASL Interpretation:
    • ASL stands for American Sign Language. ASL is a language that consists of hand and facial movements. It is the primary language of many in the Deaf community and is only one of many other signed languages used throughout the world.
    • Watch this video by Maryam Hafizirad, who is one of #CripRitual’s featured artists, where she describes the beauty, richness, and colourful life of sign language and the Deaf community.

Take a tour: explore the virtual gallery to identify and learn about different access practices being used. Select a few works that resonate with you and reflect on how questions of access have inspired the creation and sharing of the art works through through the questions below.

  1. How do the artists engage with access practices creatively?
    • Example: Describe how Leena Raudvee uses an interpretive form of audio description to create another way of experiences her performance of “Precarious Gestures.”
  2. How do the practices of access you’ve encountered allow you to engage differently with the artworks?

3.3 Creating: How can access shape artistic creation?

Reflection: Return to your descriptions of accessing this web page.

  1. How do the access practices you’ve explored affect your experience of engaging with the artworks in #CripRitual?
  2. How do the access practices you’ve explored affect your experience of navigating this virtual space?

Activity: Thinking of how to share the artworks to a virtual audience, the artists, curators, and web page designers of #CripRitual were invited to rethink how questions of access could contribute aesthetically to the sharing of these pieces. Choose one of the prompts below to create different experiences of encountering and interpreting the artworks.

  1. With a partner, choose an artwork from #CripRitual to create alternative image descriptions:
    • Step One: Independently create your own image or audio description for this piece. To create this description, you can highlight visual elements of the work, you can describe other senses you are using to experience the work, and/or you can engage with the already existing description by asking questions and highlighting aspects from the description that stick out to you.
    • Step Two: Second, share your descriptions. Discuss the similarities and the differences.
    • Step Three: Incorporating elements from both descriptions, create a new shared image description.
  2. Explore making creative captions by engaging with Khairani Barokka’s “Dust Prayer.”
    • Option One: Record phrases, words, and elements of Barokka’s text onto different strips of paper or onto other materials. Create a collage or a sculpture using these different materials and present the text in a creative way.
    • Option Two: Create a poetic description of the background sounds from Barokka’s video, or what sounds you would imagine as you watch the video.

3.4 Support the Learning

Read more about Access, Creative Practice, and Disability Aesthetics:

  1. Hamraie, Aimi. Building Access: Universal Design and Politics of Disability. University of Minnesota Press, 2017.
  2. Seibers, Tobin. Disability Aesthetics. University of Michigan Press, 2010.
  3. Sheppard, Alice. “Staging Bodies, Performing Ramps: Cultural, Aesthetic Disability Technoscience, Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 5, no. 1 (2019): 1-14.
  4. Titchkosky, Tanya. The Question of Access: Disability, Space, Meaning. University of Toronto Press, 2011.
  5. Turnbull, Joe. “Playlist: The Aesthetics of Access.” Disability Arts Online. 2019.

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