This page has been developed to support people applying for a Locked World Commission or for anyone who is interested in applying creatively embedded access to their digital work.
Locked World is a digital born project that will result in a radically accessible digital arts space – conceived by disabled artists – to share and amplify digital work of disabled artists.
BOP will be learning even more about making accessible digital artwork during this project and will continue to share learning and resources along the way.
By digital work, we mean art which has been created using a digital format (for example – video, animation, recorded audio, photography, illustration, writing, games and apps etc.) and will be shared digitally, often online.
BOP embed access creatively into all of its mainstage productions. This means that we think about how people with different access requirements can enjoy our work while attending the theatre. We think about British Sign Language Interpretation for BSL users, Captioning or text for anyone who has a hearing impairment and audio description for visually impaired audience members. BSL Interpretation, Captioning and Audio Description, as well as Relaxed Performances (see our current research), are often an add on to theatre productions, only available on specific dates as ‘access services’. BOP takes a different approach.
BOP does not layer access on top of our productions, instead designing the access into the fabric of a show. How this is done varies with each production as we design these elements in a way that best suits the show – thinking about it’s concept, form and delivery style. For examples of access approaches at BOP productions view our productions pages.
By embedding access creatively from the inception of a project we are able to create a far more universally accessible and enjoyable experience that does not compromise on the creativity and excellence of the work, and does not exclude people for whom such art would ordinarily be inaccessible. Access becomes a part of the art.
This page details lots of practical tips for making digital artwork more accessible. There is no one approach that fits every project because every project is unique. But if you equip yourself with some knowledge and think thoughtfully about your work, we are confident you will find ways to make your work more available to a wider audience, and more exciting as a result.
Who is access for?
To avoid exclusion from participation in the arts it is important to think about the access requirements of the people who are viewing or interacting with our work. Thinking about our audiences means also thinking about the 20% of us that can be considered disabled – we don’t think anyone sets out to make work for only 4 in 5 people. It means thinking about the people who may not be able to engage with our work because they cannot see it or hear it or are not able to access the language within it.
It is very easy to assume that the person viewing your works experiences what you experience and it can be challenging to think about ways of widening access that does not seem to compromise on your original vision. However, if you take the opportunity to view your work through the lens and experience of other people you will open up new ways of making and presenting work.
It is impossible to make something accessible to everyone and it can be easy to be overwhelmed when initially thinking about access. The provocation is to view this approach as an opportunity to make art that is accessible and not add access over the art. What can we unlock when we view access as part of the artform?
BOP does not know all the answers to this and this is why we are excited to create these commissions. We do know that embedding access within the creative process means that audiences with a range of impairments are able to have a more equitable experience of the work. When access is embedded creatively, you remove the barriers that require disabled audiences to expend extra energy to have a less vibrant experience. When access is embedded creatively, you acknowledge and respect human difference. When access is embedded creatively, you communicate to disabled audiences that they are not an afterthought – their engagement with your work is not secondary to non-disabled audiences.
What are some baseline tools?
To provide access for people who cannot access the audio content of the digital artwork, it is displayed in text, on the screen.
This includes: verbal content, such as dialogue or sung lyrics; sound effects, such as phone rings or doorbell; ambient sounds, such as music which creates a specific mood.
Captions can be useful for people who are d/Deaf or have a hearing impairment – especially if they do not speak BSL. Captions can also be useful for people who are highly sensitive to sound and/or process information more effectively in written text. Captions can be useful for accessing content when using the sound may not be possible, for example in a public space.
To provide access for people who cannot access the visual content of a work, visual elements of the artwork are described aloud.
For a video piece this could be describing the action (particularly if it is not made clear by any dialogue), such as a crime being witnessed by a third party. For an image piece this could be plainly describing what is in the image.
Audio description can be useful for people who are blind or visually impaired. Audio description can also be useful for some people when they working with a smaller screen (such as a smartphone).
Sign Language Interpretation
To provide access for people who cannot access the spoken language (English or other) within digital artworks, it is interpreted into British Sign Language (BSL) or another sign language if not for UK audiences.
BSL interpretation can be useful for Deaf people who speak BSL, however some deaf people may not speak BSL, especially if they have acquired their deafness later in life.
These tools are widely and successfully used to increase accessibility but the way they are predominantly used is to adapt or tweak finished pieces of work that are not accessible, and make them accessible.
How do we go beyond the baseline?
Creatively Embedded Access, referred to as CEA from now on, is the practice of building accessibility tools and devices into the creative process, so that the resulting artwork has access embedded within it – the access becomes part of the artwork. The result is that every performance or showing of the artwork is accessible, opposed to having an inaccessible piece of work that is only made accessible when specific tools are employed.
CEA can be used across all art forms, and in all formats. However, the focus of this page is on how to practice CEA within the creation of digital art.
Making inaccessible work accessible by using the tools outlined above is better than having no access at all but it does have its drawbacks. For example, when adding captions or sign language interpretation to a film, these are usually added at the bottom or off to the side – in order to not block too much of the screen. However, this can result in a “tennis effect” as the viewer switches from the access to the action, which can be very tiring for some viewers. Likewise, adding alt-text to images increases their accessibility but it also has its limitations; alt-text is often only a few sentences capturing the core imagery of a picture.
Where do I start?
Below are suggested approaches for beginning to integrate the process of embedding access into your creative practice. Please take what works for you and adapt what doesn’t work for you. BOP are excited to be on a learning journey with you and part of our work around Locked World and the commission is to identify and create ways of expanding the guidance we are giving beginning with here.
In its essence, CEA practice is about considering the multitude of ways in which humans receive and process external information (mainly through the 5 basic senses – sight, sound, touch, taste and smell). One approach is to use awareness of these senses to embed different methods of communicating information into your creative work. This will help you to create work which is creatively engaging for an audience with a wide range of information processing needs.
How do people take in and process digital art?
Vision and hearing are the main external sensory systems stimulated via digital art.
When watching a film, for example, light is detected by the eyes and is translated into electrical impulses, which send information to the brain about colours and shapes etc. However, if, for example, an individual’s eyes do not detect light (often termed as a ‘visual impairment’ or ‘blindness’) the brain may not receive this information. However, the sound vibrations from the film may be translated very clearly by this individuals’ auditory system and passed on to the brain in full.
All information received by the brain is then subject to perception and understanding. To follow our example given above, the auditory information received by the brain will then be passed through a number of different areas of the brain in order to decipher the tone of voice being used, deduce where the scene is set via different sounds used etc.
To give another example: an individual may be able to see letters on a screen, but their perception of what word is formed is different from the word read by someone one may expect as ‘neurotypical’. This individual may have a ‘learning disability’ or identify as ‘neurodivergent’).
It is impossible to know all of the possibilities of human difference in relation to information processing. However, having an awareness of the potential of this difference is a key starting point.
What are the barriers and opportunities in processing art?
Many disabled people face a significant number of barriers when looking to engage with digital artwork. This can be due to access not being layered on. If we think about the barriers that people experience we can also see the opportunities for methods of creatively designing in access.
For blind / visually impaired audiences, some of these barriers can include:
- Visual artwork with no alternative text (written or spoken) or sound provided
- Visual artwork with very factual alternative text, which does not give a descriptive feel for the piece of creative work
- Video work in British Sign Language (BSL) with no sign language interpretation into spoken English
- Sound-based work which relies heavily upon visual elements for understanding
For d/Deaf audiences, some of these barriers can include:
- Audio drama / podcasts with no transcripts
- Video work with no captions
- Video work in spoken English with no Sign Language Interpretation into BSL
- Music / sound-based work with no visual interpretation
For autistic, learning disabled and neurodivergent audiences, some of these barriers include
- Music / sound-based work which has distortion / dissonance / multiple counter-points and is not prefixed with a sensory trigger warning, sensory synopsis or alternative version
- Music / sound-based work with sudden / loud noises and is not prefixed with a sensory trigger warning or sensory synopsis
- Video work which includes fast / flashing / spinning movements and is not prefixed with a sensory trigger warning, sensory synopsis or alternative version
- Video work which included flashing / bright / spinning lights and is not prefixed with a sensory trigger warning, sensory synopsis or alternative version
- Work which contains themes which might be confusing or distressing having no trigger warnings / content warnings
- Artworks which are not sufficiently contextualised (e.g. the purpose of the work is not explained or is not clear)
- Written text-based work with no visual or auditory interpretation
- Work which contains excessive jargon – not written in plain english)
How do we get creative with access?
Start considering CEA as early in your creative process as you possibly can. Any of the tools above can be utilised and integrated during the creative process, resulting in the access being embedded within the digital artwork itself.
When artists and makers begin working on a new project, a significant part of that process is considering what the audience will see, hear or feel. As you undergo that process, make a conscious effort to include people who would normally experience barriers in accessing your work as part of this ‘imagined audience’. As you try to come up with ways you can remove those barriers within the structure of the work, this will begin the process of embedding access creatively.
It is important to think about the context of the piece of work that you are developing – what is the most appropriate and creative way to design in access? Just as with BOP mainstage work, you will not apply the same approach with every piece of work.
Some examples of embedded access
As accessible digital work is in its infancy, we found it quite challenging to locate examples of digital artworks with creatively embedded access. So, here are some examples of how BOP have used creatively embedded access in the past:
In the future we hope to be able to provide examples and case studies as a result of the work created through Locked World.
Hints and Tips
- Consult disabled creatives during the process of embedding access into your work
- Think about the possibilities of making more accessibe work, not the limitations
- Ask us! If you have any questions about this work, or want to connect because of this work get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org