Decibels invited 13 Deaf/disabled professional artists and disability arts organisations to submit case studies on the use of technology in their creative practice. We asked the artists & organisations to respond to the following:

  • What arts-based technologies they use in their creative practice
  • Why they use these technologies
  • The advantages & disadvantages of these technologies
  • Any improvements the artists or organisation would like to see

More information about the artists & organisations involved in the case studies can be found here

The case studies can be viewed in full by clicking below:

Aaron McPeake

See More

Access All Areas

See More

Charlie Swinbourne

See More

Claire Cunningham

See More

Dr Ju Gosling (AKA ju90)

See More

Epic Arts

See More

Gemma Nash

See More

Ivan Riches

See More

Jo Verrent

See More

Juan delGado

See More

Kiruna Stamell

See More

Signdance Collective International

See More

Tony Heaton

See More

Zoe Partington

See More

Project Manager: Gemma Holsgrove

See More

Project Researcher: Will Sidebottom

See More

Project Co-ordinator: Debbie Flory

See More

Project Researcher: Will Sidebottom

Will is a singer-songwriter aspiring to be a Music Therapist, currently a Workshop Leader for Chiltern Music Therapy, a not-for-profit organisation that provides music therapy services to people of all ages and many different needs. Will is also a volunteer for Deafax, a charity that develops solutions and opportunities for deaf people, in order to empower and enhance their lives.

Will studied Bmus Commercial Music Performance at the University of Westminster, graduating in 2015
Click anywhere to close

Project Co-ordinator: Debbie Flory

Debbie joined Decibels in October 2014 and spends her time helping out with the day-to-day administration of the office as well as assisting with researching and sending out funding applications and co-ordinating the current projects. Prior to this, Debbie worked for many years in the Financial Services Sector starting as a member of the New Business Team and ending her career as Executive Assistant to the CEO & Sales Director. She was then approached by an ex-work colleague who was volunteering at Deafax, a charity for the deaf, to see if she would be interested in supporting them on their “admin side of things” – Debbie is still there 11 years later! Hobbies include travelling, cooking, reading and spending time with family and friends.
Click anywhere to close

Aaron McPeake

I have always made artwork alongside my paid working practice, which, for over 20 years was as a Lighting Designer and Technical Supervisor for opera, ballet and theatre. When my eyesight fell to levels that had me registered blind (in 2002) I had to abandon that work and I returned to full-time arts education and practice. I have always had a fascination with materials and making processes so, I have continued to make many different types of work using numerous media. Using the many facilities that various art colleges have, I was able to adapt to my low visual acuity by learning new methods of working such as bronze casting as well as re-learning how to work with wood, metal and photography and video. I made this process of adaptation to vision loss the central theme of my studies from undergrad through to my PhD. By taking this approach I was able to develop bespoke strategies and methods of working, which minimized my needs for assistance. For the past ten years I have mainly worked with casting bell-bronze sound sculptures but I do also make other types of sculptural work and films. Because of the difficulties in using editing software [small icons etc] I make almost all of my films in collaboration with Alex Marshall.

I, and the other visually impaired artists I know, seem to use technologies to fill a gap that our low acuity creates. The use of technology is not an end in itself or an integral element to the production process but rather a way to enable me to combat low acuity and continue making with confidence. Furthermore, I think that designing one’s working methods to fit with one’s abilities rather than simply doing something in a traditional, textbook manner is much more important than reliance on assistance.

I divide the technologies I use into two basic categories. The analogue, which includes various types of optical magnification and haptic items that I make myself such as rulers with marks, and the digital, which helps me with communication and computing. That said, I consider myself to be generally resistant to taking on technologies as solution providers. Today there is a sense that there is a technological solution to every problem. To some extent that may be true in that problem x can be addressed in a satisfactory way by using technology y, but my resistance to adopting them is based on two simple reasons; time and money. The time it takes to discover if a particular technology is really worth having and using can be enormous and often the results are not good enough to go through making the investment. So, unless the issue must be addressed I tend to avoid it. In respect of money, all or almost all assistive technologies have what I consider to be a luxury goods level of price attached. There is also the issue of obsolescence (sometimes deliberately built in) where things that work perfectly well have to be replaced by the purchase of the latest version. By relying on assistive technologies one also undertakes a commitment to ongoing expenditure. On the occasions when grant aid may be available, there is a distinct cost in terms of time taken to complete the complex application processes, and that can be off-putting as the application itself may turn out not be successful.

Having purchased products in the past that no longer work I try to keep my use of technologies to a minimum. Beyond the computer, camera and audio recording device which are standard items for most people, auditing my use of technologies shows that large monitor screens is about the extent of my use today. Sometimes updating software shows a deal of change in appearance and has meant I have had to relearn its navigation. Sometimes, I have decided not to. I do not currently use smart phones or tablets (my old phone buttons can be operated by touch) but this is an area I will soon need to address due to wear and tear and I am not looking forward to it.

I believe that the current marketing and media machines are interested in promotion and stories respectively. As a consequence, information about technologies and specific products tends to focus on the sensational rather than the banal and there are too many examples to try and list them [or indeed any] here. What things can do is essential information but equally important is, what these things do not do so well.
Click anywhere to close

Access All Areas

Access all Areas is an award winning theatre company for adults with learning disabilities based in Hackney, London.
As well as mounting professional touring productions through our performance company, we run a range of exciting and innovative projects for people with all levels of learning disabilities to bring their own creative voices to their lives and their communities.

We believe passionately in the importance of including learning disabled artistic voices at all levels of society, to help create an artistic community that is made more vibrant, more varied and more relevant by including a range of voices.

Over the past three years we have produced two projects and have one in current production where technology has been at the heart of a thought-provoking, innovative aesthetic as well as providing an opportunity to develop the accessibility for the artists with learning disabilities and autism within the cast. Access All Areas strives to ensure artists with learning disabilities have the support, training and understanding to be able to author their own work and within an ensemble to create experimental, immersive theatre. Through intensive training at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama on our Performance Making Diploma course, we have encouraged a new generation of theatre makers to have the agency to use their own voices to create work.

Eye Queue Hear
"Philosophical, mischievous, exuberantly accessible" - The Stage
Eye Queue Hear takes the audience on an audio journey from your theatre around the nearby streets to watch and listen in on the lives of learning disabled artists and their perceptions of urban life. This ground-breaking audio-tour performance is adapted for each location, opening up a beautiful new way of seeing your local streets, and giving you the time and space to fully experience the urban spaces so familiar to you.
Technology was at the core of the process of creating Eye Queue Hear where the artists use their own voices and stories to develop the audio track. The artists layered their words and thoughts with music and sounds to create a score that the audience are submerged in through headphones which guides them through the performance, directed by the movements and choreography of the cast. The audio track is an engaging aesthetic for the audience offering an opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of the minds of the actors with learning disabilities. The audio track also provides a base line as a prompt for the actors to remind them of the next sequence of the performance, being a creative cue to stay in character and feel confident with the knowledge that they are in control of the performance. The editing process offered both agency for the actors and ensured that the performance would always be to the highest standard.

The Misfit Analysis
"Utterly fascinating and wildly creative ... definitely and defiantly different" - Lyn Gardner, The Guardian
“Quirky, informative and funny … an insight into an autistic mind.” – New York Times
Cian has autism. He likes to spin tin-openers. He’s taught all the actors on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time how to be autistic. They’re very good at it.
Journeying through Cian’s mischievous mind, The Misfit Analysis takes us through a world of wheelchairs and blow up dolls in an unconventional exploration of an autistic mind. This is not Rain Man. Using multi-media, video projection and his unique brand of performance poetry, Cian playfully questions the place of disability in today’s world.
The Misfit Analysis uses technology at the core of the performance, the video and animation are creative markers to help pace the one-man-show. During the Edinburgh Festival and Vault Festival it was important that the show was exactly 60 minutes, and these videos ensured that the performance kept to time. For the audience, the animations and films allowed an exploration of the multi-faceted intricacies of an autistic mind more so than on stage.

MADHOUSE re-exit
"You could just hear it outside, the screaming and what have you, you'd think you were going into a madhouse" - Mabel Cooper
A site- specific production set in an asylum, working with 5 learning-disabled artists. MADHOUSE re-exit will be a joyous reclaiming of the history of institutionalisation of people with learning disabilities, and at a time when people are being re-institutionalised and isolated in their own homes, this will echo a refusal to be gently 'put back in'. We have just started development of this piece through Barbican OpenLab, and the performance will be available for touring from 2017.
MADHOUSE re-exit is Access All Areas’ latest project that will use the future of technology, ‘augmented reality’, to blur the reality of the future, present and history of people with learning disabilities. The technology will allow a platform to confront the difficult issues faced by people with learning disabilities in a layered and accessible form, encouraging the audience to explore and develop their understanding of the history and how this will affect the future. The performance will encourage the audience to take a 3D step to imagine the mind of someone with learning disabilities and autism.
Working in partnership with the Open University and University of East London we will also provide creative digital training for people with learning disabilities throughout London as part of our MADHOUSE myhouse outreach work. The project will culminate in The Living Archive: a digital archive of the social history of learning disability aimed at giving people with learning disabilities an accessible way to engage with this history.
Technology is a vital, exciting medium that is always adapting and growing, it gives people with learning disabilities opportunities to author their own work by providing a space for memory and continued growth, it can be used to engage and explore their inner perspectives that most audiences would never have experienced or understood before.
Click anywhere to close

Charlie Swinbourne

I am a Deaf filmmaker. I started writing dramas and comedies nearly ten years ago, and I now write and direct my work. Several of my films have won best film awards around the world, and I have also won individual writing and directing awards.

The aim of my work has often been to express Deaf culture, issues and the community, which is often hidden from wider view.

My script for Departure Lounge, (directed by Louis Neethling) for example, was about Deaf friendship, while My Song (directed by William Mager) was about a girl searching for where she belonged between the Deaf and hearing worlds.

I enjoy making comedies as well as dramas, because I think you can make serious points more accessibly through the cloak of humour.

The Kiss (which I wrote and directed) was about Deaf people feeling patronised in public, while Coming Out (directed by Louis Neethling) was about a boy trying to express his Deaf identity to his mother.

The first time I directed my own script was when I made Four Deaf Yorkshiremen (2007). A production company lent me a camera and a cameraman for the day, and the whole thing was filmed in one afternoon for a budget of £200. I edited it myself over many evenings at the company’s offices once everyone had left at the end of the working day. It went on to get over 150,000 views on YouTube.

Last year I made my first documentary, Found, which was about Deaf people discovering the Deaf community and sign language, and I’ve just been commissioned to make two more episodes.

My main use of technology in my work is using my laptop to write scripts, email people I’m working with, and market my work using blogging and social media.

The dominant language in the programmes I make is British Sign Language, so I often use my iPhone to talk directly to people I am working with - such as contributors or actors - using video chat through FaceTime and Skype.

I also use my iPhone to record video clips of interviews or workshops, which I can refer to later, and to make notes if I have an idea while I am out and about.

When I am filming programmes, we use video cameras, sound equipment and all kinds of computers to capture the footage and then edit it into the final programme.

When I made my documentary Found, we used a device called an Interrotron which enabled my contributors to look straight into the camera while I was interviewing them – making their contribution look more direct and personal on screen.

I’ve used social media and video sharing sites to share my work with a wide audience. If you are interested in making films, you are now able to make a film on your phone, edit it on your laptop, and share it immediately with a wide audience using YouTube, and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Watch Charlie’s films at the following links:

(A star* denotes the programmes/films Charlie directed as well as wrote.)

Found (2015) 28 mins
Four Deaf Yorkshiremen go to Blackpool* (2014) 28 mins
The Kiss* (2013) 7 mins
My Song (2011) 28 mins
Hands Solo (2010) 15 mins
The Fingerspellers (2010) 8 x 5mins
Departure Lounge (2009)
Four Deaf Yorkshiremen* (2008)
Coming Out (2007)

Click anywhere to close

Claire Cunningham

About Claire Cunningham
Claire Cunningham is a performer and creator of multi-disciplinary performance based in Glasgow, Scotland. One of the UK’s most acclaimed and internationally renowned disabled artists, Cunningham's work is often rooted in the study and use/misuse of her crutches and the exploration of the potential of her own specific physicality. A self-identifying disabled artist, Cunningham’s work combines multiple artforms and ranges from the intimate solo show ME (Mobile/Evolution) (2009), to the large ensemble work “12” made for Candoco Dance Company. In 2014 she created Give me a reason to live, inspired by the work of Dutch medieval painter Hieronymus Bosch and the role of beggars/cripples in his work, and the full length show Guide Gods, looking at the perspectives of the major Faith traditions towards the issue of disability. She is a former Artist-in–Residence at the Women of the World Festival at the Southbank, London and of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queens. In 2016 she is the Artist in Residence with Perth International Arts Festival, Australia and Associate Artist at Tramway, Glasgow. She has recently been awarded an Unlimited Commission for a new duet with choreographer Jess Curtis, due to premiere in September 2016.

Claire’s case study is based on technology in Guide Gods

About Guide Gods
Told through song, text and dance by Claire Cunningham with live music by Derek Nisbet, Guide Gods is a compelling investigation into the attitudes of major world faiths towards disability.

Guide Gods is a fully accessible dance theatre performance staged in the round for an audience of maximum 48 members, sitting on chairs and cushions around the performance space. To ensure universal access we ask venues that all audience members enter the performance area through the same entrance. Audience members are encouraged to leave their coats, bags and shoes on racks outside the performance area to not only make the piece accessible from a technical/ logistical viewpoint but to also make audiences feel invited and comfortable. As well as Claire, the piece features Derek Nisbet on the harmonium and Captioner Louisa McDaid on her laptops. The whole piece is captioned by Louisa and has a recorded audio description by Christopher McKiddie. The audio description is part of the piece and played for all to hear so headsets etc. for audio description or any other specific equipment is unnecessary.

Technology used:
In this particular piece standard audio recording and sound equipment alongside specific captioning software run with two laptops and captioning displayed on two TV screens for audience members to read has been used. We recognise that captioning does not suit all Deaf or hearing impaired individuals and therefore it is vital to us that at least one performance per venue is sign-language interpreted.

Claire aims to ensure that her shows are accessible to all audience members yet the focus is on finding creative solutions, ideally incorporated in the artistic fabric of the work. As part of her process she works with experts to support her in realizing this desire, either through the use of specific technology such in this case captioning software and a skilled captioner and audio describer.
As part of Claire’s practice and process her and the team are researching suitable technology and seeking the input of experts in the fields of theatre, accessible performances, technology and other disabled peers.

Claire has for other works used for example Facetime paired with standard audio description software to create an audio described performance, again working with a trained audio describer and technical manager.

She is currently, together with her artistic collaborators, using video and recording equipment from binaural recording earphones, standard i-phone cameras to a go pro allowing them to record and document their research and find creative uses of these technologies for her next performance.

More information including videos are available on:
Click anywhere to close

Dr Ju Gosling (AKA ju90)

I have been working as an artist since the late 1990s, having previously worked in magazine journalism and television documentaries while I was completing my post-graduate studies. My PhD, in Communications and Image Studies, was the first in the UK to be presented online as an HTML hypertext, combining text with still and moving images and with multiple reading pathways. The development of digital media enabled me to bring together all of my previous areas of interest – performance, sound, text, still and moving images — and combine these, rather than focusing on one field as used to be expected.

Since I was a child I have written stories and plays, learned to play instruments and drawn pictures, and until I was 16 I trained as a dancer. However, I have a genetic collagen disorder that meant I developed a spinal curvature, as well as not having the required stamina for a professional dancer, so instead I went on to university, initially to study film. Only in my 30s did I return to dance, creating a number of film-dances through recording improvisations and ‘choreographing’ them together in the editing process.

The domestication of digital media has been very important to me, partly because of financial accessibility, but also because the size and weight of professional video and sound recording equipment makes it inaccessible to me. For example, in 1994 I was able to shoot my entire one-hour PhD documentary on a Hi-8 camcorder, traveling to the Channel Islands and Austria as well as around the UK. This would have been impossible just a few years earlier.

I then edited the film on an Apple Mac using Avid software at a time when most people were still using heavy metal tapes on tape-to-tape push-button-operated systems. (This was the point when I acquired the nickname ‘ju90’, after supergeek puppet Joe 90.) However, that still cost me thousands of pounds in studio hire costs; today, I could edit the whole thing on my MacBook Pro using FCPX for a fraction of the cost. Similarly, I have been editing my own sound on a Mac in my home studio since the early 2000s, whereas in the 1990s I still had to find funding for a studio and engineer.

Film continues to influence my practice, and although I always produce an online version of my work, I like to find alternative ways to exhibit it — as lightboxes, projections, and printing on a variety of surfaces including Perspex and fabric. I always use technology in some form within my work, even if it’s only writing notes on the Mac, but more usually for recording and editing sound and still and moving images. Computer-Aided Design (CAD) is on my list to learn next, so that I can create 3D models of the installations that I want to make.

However, the artists I work with have no domestic internet access and very little access to technology at all due to the recent cuts in benefits and services. One of my most successful projects last year was made of rubbish, but still engaged participants from across impairment groups. It’s important to remember that, while some great art does require money to create, it’s ideas and their execution, not cash, that makes great art.
Click anywhere to close

Epic Arts

Epic Arts believes together we can build a society where every person counts. Epic Arts is an international, inclusive arts organisation based in Cambodia and registered as a charity in the UK. We use the arts as a form of expression and empowerment to bring people with and without disabilities together. We aim to promote the message that every person counts through our inclusive education, community and social enterprise programmes. Epic Arts has three programme areas, Inclusive Education, Community and Social Enterprise Programmes.

Epic Arts sees the use of technology in our work as an invaluable tool, particularly for our Deaf students and staff. In Cambodia, communication is limited and many people who are Deaf do not learn to sign until the age of 15 on average. Technology helps with communication and the organisation of our work as well as a tool for reflection and training. In our Inclusive Education programme our Inclusive Arts Course students and our training arts leaders use Facebook groups to communicate via picture based timetables and sign videos as do our dance company Epic Encounters. This platform enables Deaf and disabled leaders to organise their groups and share images and videos to coordinate activities even though they have limited communication skills.

As an international organisation, the work we do is planned and organised across different continents and time zones and Skype is a major factor in enabling this all to happen. Our dance company is led by one disabled dancer and one Deaf dancer and managed by the Artistic Director who is often in a different country. Weekly meetings happen via Skype and incorporate sign language, picture flashcards and images. Deaf arts leaders use video to sign messages to other group members and to communicate with the management staff. Video messaging is also used via WhatsApp.

A research project into the creation of a mobile application for Deaf dancers to create arts based lesson plans was recently conducted at Epic Arts. As many students at Epic Arts in Cambodia can’t read and write, they record via drawings, which is a long process. The research into the possibility of the ‘iPlan’ app explored the possibility of a video and image based planning tool. We hope to make this app a reality in the future and think that it can be helpful to arts leaders with both physical and learning disabilities.

Epic Arts have also produced online music video parodies working in partnership with UNICEF and the European Union. The aim of these videos was to raise the profile of people with disabilities in the mainstream media in Cambodia and challenge negative attitudes in the country. These video were seen by thousands of people.

Shake it Off -
UpTown Funk -
Video and Skype also enabled us to produce a film with refugees with disabilities in Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan.
Exodus -
Within the performance work that we create, we incorporate video projection to assist in the communication of the work. Using images and video helps to make the performances accesible to more people and also bridges the communication barrier of different languages.
Click anywhere to close

Gemma Nash

I am a North West based multimedia artist and digital storyteller, I have worked in the arts for over 20 years. I have a particular interest in sound and photography. My work explores themes of community, social engagement, disability and inclusivity. I produce work using a range of emerging assisted technologies and I am regularly asked to contribute to University led arts research.

Barriers accessing arts opportunities

As a disabled woman with both physical and communication impairments, I have experienced multiple barriers accessing arts opportunities throughout my life. The significance of my physical impairment meant that I was not able to study art at school. However, through technological advances and my own persistence I have been making creative work since my twenties.

I use a support worker and/or assistive technology to break down some of the barriers I face as an artist. Although technology has removed many physical barriers, I still face institutional and attitudinal barriers because of my gender and/or level of impairment. The field of digital media can be quite male dominated and female artists are often assumed to be less qualified or skilled. As a disabled woman I have also experienced situations where people have unfairly questioned my ability and/or autonomy over my work. These types of systemic barriers are much harder to overcome.

My use of technology

I have accessed a range of assistive and/or mainstream technology to support my ability to study, work and most importantly, to be creative.

I use a specialist trackball instead of a mouse for editing in Photoshop, digital audio workstations and other digital arts software packages. The trackball is a five way Esterline unit with useful features including a speed control key, latching drag switch and buttons that allow only up/down or left/right movements of the cursor. This is useful for the fine control needed for editing audio samples and manipulating images in Photoshop.

I take pictures with the help of a tripod, remote control, timer and personal assistant (under my artistic direction). I use a Remote Commander and Infrared Receiver kit, designed for capturing wildlife and moving objects. It is also really useful for people who have difficulty holding the camera still. The remote commander allows you to photograph and film without touching the camera and disturbing the shot.

Due to issues I have had with a track ball causing RSI, I am currently working with Assistive Technology experts to look into the use of eye tracking software. I tested Tobii EyeX, Enable Viacam, Finger Mouse, Leap Motion, Oculus Rift and Steady Mouse. The most useful software for me was the Tobii EyeX – a fairly reasonably priced eye tracking software. Although I found it was too fast for fine control, I could see the potential use it has for screen jumping and scrolling in conjunction with my existing trackball. For example, if I wanted to retouch a certain area of a picture on Photoshop I can jump to that area using my eyes. However, I would then have to use the trackball for the actual retouching process, as the eye tracking software would not be able to give me fine enough control.

In my day to day life I use the trackball for research and writing, as well as accessing standard computer software packages, such as word or excel. As I have a speech impairment I use social media, SMS, and email to communicate with people on both a personal and professional level.

Technology used by other artists

I work with a number of disabled musicians who devise, compose and perform music using capacitive buttons, leap motion and Apollo Ensemble. These devices allow musicians, such as Sarah Fisher and Marc Roland, to play any virtual instrument using a range of movements. The Apollo Ensemble enables the use of switches and movement sensors to manipulate virtual instruments, whereas touch capacity buttons allow any virtual instrument to be played with percussive movements. So if you have enough dexterity to play very basic cajon rhythm, touch capacity buttons can enable you to use these movements to play other virtual instruments.

My advice would be that it is really helpful to get involved with local arts organisations, particularly ones that specialise working with either disabled people or technology. You can start to do this as a volunteer, or participant, it’s a great way to learn new skills, and be part of the artistic community.
Click anywhere to close

Ivan Riches

I am a disabled visual/ sonic artist, using installation, film and sound/ music, as well as filmmaking, written word and painting. I did my MA in fine art at Birmingham School of Art, Birmingham City University and my traditional art teaching experience began at Limerick School of Art and then I went on to teach at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Through my interest in photography and film and by chance I went into filmmaking, gaining my television production training and experience with the Disability Programmes Unit, BBC.

Being noticed working with light boxes and sound installations, I received an in-house artist commission from GE Healthcare, to integrate science with art through various forms of body imaging (X-ray, MRI, Ultrasound and Gamma Camera). My completed artwork was screen based and digitally interactive. Through that commission I developed a passion for using digital media, where I became conversant in using computer technology for editing in Final Cut Pro, image manipulation via Photoshop and Logic Pro for sound and music making. I have been working with digital technology for 16 years and it is now my main area of arts practice.

From my experience of digital music and multimedia, I moved on to working with Drake Music, who provide innovators, educators, curators and advocates using innovative technologies and ideas to open up access to music for deaf and disabled artists and musicians. While working with them I ran a number of projects including a soundscape for a silent film for the BFI Southbank, now on BFI Player.

It was with help from Drake Music that I was able to set up my own Arts Council England funded ‘Sonic Vistas’ project which has been an illuminating and expansive experience. In an extremely short period of time, 7 of us disabled artists/ musicians devised and recorded 5 songs, for which I made 5 film projections (now videos). We performed them live at the Liberty Festival London 2015, part of which was captured by Channel 4 and included in their National Paralympic Day programme, shown in the 1st week of August.
My initial idea was to make 5 films projections with text to inspire our music making. This was only partially working, so we developed a more open exchange between the music making and forming the visuals, achieved through group discussion, recording our music as we developed it and me taking those influences back into my filmmaking and digital arts practice. The other focus of the project was to work with artists who specialised in working with AMT (Assistive Music Technology), this included Soundbeem, an interactive sensor operated music technology and iPad apps. The main ground breaking music making technologies used for ‘Sonic Vistas’ were Kris Haplin’s MiMu gloves, that enable hand and finger movements to trigger a variety of virtual instruments to facilitate virtuoso live playing. The MiMu gloves are still in development and are the brainchild of Imogene Heap and her team. MC Geezer a deaf rapper used a ‘Subpac’, which vibrates to music to allow him to feel what we were playing so he could provide vocals and rap in time to our rhythm and beat.
Click anywhere to close

Jo Verrent

I’m a mix of many things, but most of the time at the moment I’m Senior Producer for Unlimited, a commissions programme for disabled artists run by Shape and Artsadmin. It's a big scheme – and quite complicated with funds coming in from Arts Council England, Creative Scotland, Arts Council of Wales and Spirit of 2012. Most of my time is spent balancing the needs of funders against the needs of artists, and supporting the commissions themselves and also initiatives to improve access to the cultural sector as a whole. What’s the point in raising the profile of disabled artists if the ecosystem they are to thrive in has so many barriers that it makes it impossible?

In my own work I use my beloved Mac for about 8 hours a day – usually online and using many site/programmes and apps such as Trello, Dropbox, Survey Monkey, Photoshop, Prezi, and more. I love social media but am quite traditional sticking with Facebook and Twitter more than playing with Instagram, Vine or others (although I love my Tweetdeck). I have dabbled in video editing – at iMovie level rather than Final Cut Pro! For audio stuff I use Audible which is fab for adding sound/voice overs and recording audio description and layering it on to videos or SlideShare presentations.

Many of the artists we have supported have used technology within the work they’ve created in some form or another – from trialling two simultaneous performances of Katherine Araniello’s The Dinner Party Revisited (one with a real Katherine and one with an inflatable avatar and a live streamed projection of her face), experimentations with surround sound and edits to give sensory depth to Richard Butchin’s 213 Things About Me, based on a list of personal traits written by a young autistic woman and The Doorways Project, by Bekki Perriman, a site-specific sound installation exploring homeless culture through the personal stories of society’s most silenced people.

I’ve always worked in the arts and had many roles - as a performer, writer, stage manager, producer and artist. My latest piece, with Luke Pell, was called Take Me to Bed (note to self: if you call a work a name like this, expect the number of crank emails you get to increase dramatically). It was a piece focusing on intimacy, proximity and our different relationship to difference. Part of its development was through our position as Associate Artists with Dance Digital, and won the award for best work in festival at Light Moves festival of screendance.

The conversations and possibilities between disability and digital have always fascinated me – perhaps as technology has been a part of my personal life since the age of 13 when I first got my hearing aids. I now wear a blu tooth enabled Ponto Sound Processing System and love that I can turn my TV up and my husband down! I’ve been interested in getting groups of artists together to explore this overlap and, with Sarah Pickthall, Cusp inc, ran a programme called Short Circuit, and then presented findings at Brighton Digital Festival.

Last year, Unlimited joined forces with the Australian Network for Art and Technology to run UNFIXED – a 10 day creative research residency in Adelaide for disabled artists from the UK and Australia. Working with Watershed and Access2Arts, the period – second stage taking place in the UK this September - exploring compensation and agumentation. If increasing numbers of disabled people are using technology that, rather than seeking to ‘fix’ their impairment, provides for an alternative way of experiencing the world altogether, might we begin to question just who is ‘disabled’?

Hope that provides a brief overview of my areas of experience and interest – and if you need more, I was accessibility champion for Nesta in 2015 so why not check out the publication and video they produced looking in more detail at the R&D projects funded that focused on this area of work?
Click anywhere to close

Juan delGado

I am an artist, whose practice encompasses photography, moving image and installation. I’ve produced an extensive body of work that explores themes of trauma, landscape, disability, migration and gender.

I have exhibited widely including at National Portrait Gallery, London, ARCO’05, Madrid, End of the World Biennial, Argentina, and the 2014 Mardin Biennial, Turkey. I was selected for the 2012 BBC Big Screens programme, in 2013 was shortlisted for the Jerwood Open Forest exhibition, and in 2014 I was awarded a major project commission by Unlimited that premièred at the Southbank Centre, London.

I have been producing work since 1995. My early works consist of analog photography, films and video. In the late 90s, I produced a photographic series exploring the politics of transgender culture titled Transformers. I continued working with analog technology until the early 2000s and with the rise of digital technology I moved on from making art from analog to digital.

Digital technology has made it more accessible for me to further explore my ideas of storytelling and engaging the audience through multimedia interdisciplinary. In 2001, as part of my Master’s Degree in Media Arts, I created my first two- channel video installation, Don’t Look Under the Bed. The mobility of technology has also made it easier for me to produce work and less dependant on having other people to assist me on shoot. I now carry a bag of equipment that consists of everything I need to shoot; camera, sound recording and lighting equipment (LED).

Technology has also made a huge impact in improving my workflow. The Wunderlist app, is a great tool in reminding me of the tasks I need to do. The app easily allows me to add contributors and share documents with my collaborators. My daily communication hugely depends on the Google platform from using the calendar as a diary of meetings and deadlines to using Google drive as a main platform to share documents with my collaborators. I also find the comment section on Google docs very useful as others can make comments at anytime and I can refer back to the historic records if needed.

Due to my hearing loss and access requirements, my main forms of communication with people are in written form if not face to face. Smart Mobile including Whatsapp is a great mobile app for me as I am now available to send texts, pictures and videos even when I am on the go. The quick interaction with others has helped make it much more efficient for me in reaching new opportunities and also delivering my work using this portable technology.

In promoting my work, I use social media to create an online presence. I tweet updates of projects I am currently working on, upload videos and photos on Facebook of events and exhibitions I am part of and my website is a digital portfolio for everyone to access.

Use of technology in work:

Technology has become more accessible for me when travelling; as I generate ideas for future projects through artist in residence programmes internationally. The portability of equipment enables me to be more independent in research, development and the production of new work.

Blogging and social media and my website enable me to keep the relevant people up to date with my work in progress. In addition, I also send newsletters to my mailing list and collaborators on regular basis.

Most of my current work is digital and it is online available in Vimeo, YouTube and I use Dropbox to store my work and share files.

Accessible Archive and Exhibitions:

I have and inventory of my photography and video work, time permitting; I generally produce two backups on external hard drives. In the past, my inventory would be saved on CD’s and DVD’s. Now, more stable platforms are available and I use a portable external G Tech 3TB/6TB hard drive. My photographic analogic work is currently digitised with an Epson V550 scanner.

When exhibiting my work I produce a subtitled version: I spend time and energy to make my exhibition as accessible as possible.
I produce an A/D description, easy read text, and drawings related to the concept of the work are produced alongside the work. I deliver an accessible (BSL) artist talk and panel discussion about issues related to the artwork and increasingly use Twitter for this too. I also provide an artist commentary about the work, which I make available to visually impaired audiences. Finally, I dedicate time to showcasing my exhibitions and events at disability and deaf art networks and organisations to reach new audiences.
Click anywhere to close

Kiruna Stamell

I have been a professional actress for over 15 years, starting in Australia. My professional career began in a mainstream commercial context of film, with my debut in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge.

A move to England introduced me to the disabled arts community and a more diverse theatre and arts practice. I found this to be more inclusive than my artistic experiences had been in Australia and discovered many opportunities as a performer. My career is a mix of commercial theatre and film, alongside an accessible arts practice. I now also produce, under my theatre company which I run in partnership with my husband Gareth Berliner, A Little Commitment.

Technology had a profound effect on my career. It connected me for the first time to the disabled community through the internet. It also allowed me to contact and connect with other artists, meaning I was able to find those directors, agents and producers who were open to difference and not immediately going to dismiss me because I was also a person with dwarfism as well as being an actor.

Technology has also been used in productions I have worked on, specifically to provide access to the performance for disabled people. This has been via projections, which provided additional visual cues such as pictures or subtitles, or the use of audio description technology to make theatre accessible to blind audiences. Even basic hearing loops in buildings like theatres and cinemas and at the point of customer service at box office, has opened doors for disabled people.

However, the biggest influence has been the way technology has connected disabled people. I have also been able to self broadcast via my website and blog. In addition to this I have been able to contact and connect with other artists and find support, discover shared experience and develop new ideas. The internet has meant I can plan and discuss my access needs for work, find more accessible accommodation and reach more people to ask for help. It has also meant I have helped others.

Sharing my show reel, dance videos or simply shouting out to a potential collaborator has all been made possible with the internet and social media.

Some of the challenges presented by technology is that much of it is limited in terms of its accessibility. Subtitling videos for example can be difficult and when new social media apps are introduced it can be really hard to work out how to do something like subtitling.

The production I am working on at the moment has a great cast made up of disabled and non-disabled actors. We’ve created a Whatsapp group to keep everyone up to date with cast social activities and create a fun way for the group to bond and communicate. We’ve also used Glide to share signing videos and younger cast members have been toying with Snapchat. It helps to create a level platform for access amongst the cast.

I would like to see a way of subtitling made easier online. I would also like to see accessibility built into social media apps as standard. This would also be extended to audio descriptions of photos and videos.

In future a way to shrink the script so I no longer need to rehearse with bulky pages in my hands would be so freeing. I often use Text to Speech to listen to a new script for the first time too.
Click anywhere to close

Signdance Collective International

Established in 1987, Signdance Collective (SDC) is an international dance music theatre company led by Deaf and physically disabled artists. SDC was established as a platform to further the artform signdance, which is a fusion of international sign language, dance, theatre, live music and film (digital). The Company travels widely and incorporate influences from throughout the world.

Here are some examples of the use of technology in SDC’s work:

1. Using film as part of the company’s performance – this did work when the film told part of the story, neither did it work as a backdrop, because the audience cannot focus on so many things at once. Example of work utilising film: TRAVELLING with CAROVANA SMI, see the video for more on this piece:

2. Using film works when we wanted to perform to very large audiences. We used a film maker with a live camera as in a live rock concert to point to the sign language, as the sign is small the film enables it to be seen. Worth noting is that we didn’t just focus the live camera on the hands but the whole performer as we feel sign doesn’t make sense when you isolate the hands. Example of work: ‘CALIBAN AND MIRANDA’ directed by Garry Robson was the most successful:

3. We have worked for many years with the BBC developing a visual media platform to visualize radio drama. We worked on several projects with BBC Radio 4 , using film and the BBC’s Digital platform to show the sign-language version and sign theatre versions of the radio work. This has been a great experiment , and we have learnt a great deal from it. Here is the BBC interview with Signdance Collective:

4. As a company on the road, we utilise Skype and other means to communicate, explore new artistic ideas , develop forums even direct projects from a-far. Sometimes this doesn’t work because live performance is a 3 dimensional form, and when you have a camera on it no matter how good, you miss the depth.

5. David Bower, SDC’’s Artistic Director with composer Luke Barlow have explored greatly through digital means the sounds of tinnitus, and developing music and visual pictures through sound to picture translators. The result was a piece of work called ‘LISTEN’: Three Films + One:

6. We have found recording work from rehearsals useful for us as choreographers and when working collaboratively over long distances.
Click anywhere to close

Tony Heaton

I am the CEO of Shape but also practice as a sculptor alongside this role. I make sculpture from whatever materials are most likely to convey the idea. I like to work collaboratively, which fits in with my role at Shape as we are facilitators in many ways for artists and institutions.

I have always drawn and been interested in creativity in its widest sense, drawing, writing, playing. Art was my favourite subject at school because it was easy and I was lazy, I went on to art college and then later to university where I studied Visual art, Psychology and Social Administration. I majored in Sculpture.

Alongside making art, and for the last 35 years or so, I have supported other disability-led organisations administratively, organising, protesting, promoting. I did this initially as an activist through the setting up of Access Groups to lobby for access and inclusion and more formally through paid roles, including the initiating of NDACA, the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive, this led me to my current role as CEO of Shape.

I think of technology in its widest sense, from web design, CAD, to the tools I might use as a sculptor, epidiascopes, power tools, cutters, chisels, sanders, compressors and lifting equipment.

I have a website which acts as my ‘window on the world’ – it’s an easy way to tell people about what I do as an artist, show some examples of my work, the concerns within my practice and it has my CV and profile.

Shape also has a (much better) website to promote our work, tell our news and stories and promote the work of disabled artists who we work with across all our projects.

I use technology to create CAD (computer aided Design) renders of ideas to show prospective commissioners or funders what an idea or sculpture might look like in situ.

In presenting to Channel 4 TV for the competitive commission for the Paralympics to create the sculptural intervention on the Big 4, I was able to fully render through CAD how the sculpture ‘ Monument to the Unintended Performer’ would look, including the shadows it would cast and what the neon aspect would look like illuminated at night.

With the sculpture Gold Lamé, I was able through CAD to show how the Invacar would look sprayed gold and hanging from the ceiling of the space in the Bluecoat gallery in which it was intended.

I can also visualise through CAD how the neon piece, ‘Raspberry Ripple’ might look to inform the technicians who will make it.

In directly carving marble or stone I will likely use technology to lift the stone, to cut it, power tools via a compressor to carve the bigger elements, these are often used as labour-saving and for speed. But using this kind of technology costs money, I need additional technical expertise to utilise it and the down-side of using power tools is the need for care, the tool can work much quicker than the brain and you can’t add bits back on!
Click anywhere to close

Zoe Partington

Zoe Partington's work explores how disabled people are represented and medicalised by professionals and the dilemma that exists in society around disabled people having independence. Disabled people believe the 'social model' of disability paves the way forward for full inclusion but the infrastructures that exist to support disabled people continue to keep us segregated because the professionals with the power use the medical model to assess and measure us.

In 2012 I began creating a piece called, 'First Impressions' an installation that explored and experimented with mapping disabled peoples journeys through urban space in High Wycombe. This was devised and developed to creatively expand on the barriers in urban realm and design. I had just been out to Japan and Denmark to look at urban space and meet the worlds leading designers on shared space and urban space Lars Gemzoe and Jan Gehl. I wrote a report called 'Naked Space'.www.architecture-insideout in 2007. It was apparent to me that design and architecture for disabled people was in many ways still working on the old ethos of adapting the environment for disabled people by introducing way finding into urban realm. This meant that I really need to engage designers in a much more detailed way to understand to create design without barriers for disabled people in the first place. As a conceptual artist I began experimenting and considering the alternatives through debate, discourse and my art using technology to embrace 'new thinking'.

This was achieved by mapping these journeys in different ways using technology. Prior to this without the digital capture and technology I would speak and present the case for re-designing urban space by showing images and speaking about the barriers facing disabled people in these spaces. However I realised the way to capture my targeted audiences was to use as I've described earlier 'medical data' to throw the same tools back to the professionals as disabled people are measured with constantly. This was my little way of getting my own back on what is an archaic system. However my idea was to input a twist and a new way of 'the' 'disabled' framing the so called, 'problem' that problem not being the 'disabled person' but the inaccessible environment presented to us. The journeys of disabled people were captured by using technology, quite simple sensor recording devices that athletes used to monitor heart rates pulse, sweat, speed etc.... This seemed very signifiant in light of this 2012 Cultural Olympiad commission. My participants wore sensor monitors and I captured their heart rates on the journeys, recorded the journey with binaural sound, and recorded the actual journey on film. I also recorded the disabled person narrating and commenting on their journey.
The R&D I collated culminated in projecting these powerful visceral projected journeys inside a white cube my (sterile medical space) to create a sense of place and a calm environment to ensure audiences were immersed in these journeys. It combined sound, narration, text and the films which were edited to confuse the viewer.

The challenges were many lack of time, budget for something which was quite experimental, needing other technology buffs to assist with these interventions as being partially sighted myself I needed support so I was relying on others to support me with the technology. I felt these challenges could have been reduced if I as a disabled person had more access to training and engagement in environments with experts who could show and teach me the kit.

I am so excited by the use of technology in my own work I have continued to develop this with 'Sound Canvas' and 'Turning it on its head' but I know I need at least 2 years and experts and an inclusive space to really build an installation that can expand on the work I have achieved so far. I am also finding that often funders don't understand the complexity of what I am trying to achieve through the experimentation and I am relying on others to understand the reference points I use in my work. Often the commissioners are missing the point as I am not creating porcelain flowers but I'm determined to keep the ideas flowing and moving to the next level.
Click anywhere to close