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Access as the starting point for creativity
Date posted: 31 May 2018
Thanks to funding from digital commissioning body The Space, the 11 Million Reasons to Dance photography exhibition has hit a much bigger online audience. Yet, as producer Louise Wildish explains, it had to be made accessible…
Louise Wildish - Producer, People Dancing
Back in 2014, People Dancing commissioned a photography exhibition entitled 11 Million Reasons to Dance, working with photographer Sean Goldthorpe and with funding from Arts Council England and Unlimited. The resulting 20 high quality images set out to positively profile D/deaf, sight impaired and disabled people who dance and change perceptions that can surround disability. 

The work, which sits alongside a short film programme, has been touring for four years across the UK and internationally and has been seen by more than 200,000 people in 11 different countries.

In 2017, we received commissioning funds from digital commissioning body The Space to present elements of the exhibition online and develop new audiences, further profiling the work. The 11 Million Reasons to Dance project always started from the perspective of creating high quality art and we wanted to reflect that in the digital commission.

We set ourselves a challenge – how could we create digital versions of some of the images that would be accessible for everyone to engage with online? Nothing is fully accessible to everyone all of the time - one person’s needs differ from another - but as an organisation we had the opportunity to explore the realms of access in a digital way. 

Historically, we had regularly incorporated subtitles and audio description, but this support from The Space allowed us to fully embed the ethos of our organisation into our digital product… and promote the 11 Million Reasons to Dance exhibition.  

The starting point was to think about different perspectives and experiences. Whether you’re a dancer, a photographer, a builder, a solicitor…. what’s your experience of the exhibition? What’s your experience if you can’t hear? Whoever the viewer, to us, this had to be an art experience for all. I wanted to make sure that whoever you are - whatever your experience and knowledge of disability, the arts or photography - an individual would experience something that was unique to them. 

We decided to use parallax scrolling to bring the images to life – this is a computer graphic technique where background images move past the camera more slowly than foreground images, creating an illusion of depth in a 2D scene that adds to the sense of immersion in the virtual experience. This was unusual because parallaxing, if used wrongly, can be very inaccessible due to its fast pace and quick movements. This was taken into account and we made sure we used slow movements as much as possible.

There was no way, in 90 seconds, we could accurately describe the images and the emotions in a way that would fully replicate traditional audio description. But using poetry gave us a way we could create an art experience we could incorporate or support, in part, as audio description. It became clear that the audio description/poetry was the main creative starting point as this informed the imagery, duration, subtitles and sounds. 

So the wording was created and edited in collaboration with the audio describer. We engaged a voiceover artist to deliver two of the films; he was chosen because he had a specific spoken word performance style. The fluidity of the soundtrack of his voice, alongside some of the subtle sound effects like rain and drums added subtly in the background, brought a sensory component that further enhanced the art experience. 

The female voiceovers for the Chicago inspired image were provided by women dancers who appeared in the shoot. This was mainly because it’s a strong female image, but also because some of the audio described words around disability and sexualisation were used about the dancers themselves as they appear in the image. The women’s voices lent a better tone for the image than a male voice. This was something we learned and changed in our creating of the work.

As predicted, it was indeed difficult to make the images and the films fully inclusive. Our challenge was to try and create something seamless, something that everyone could engage with and enjoy in some way. 

The fact that traditional media and social media have specific formats and ways of disseminating videos online – particularly around length of film - created issues for us around audio description. I think it’s ok to challenge this, though these methods exist for a reason. Yet have these methods been at all based on disabled people accessing digital media? Should things always be done this way? We don’t think so, and so we set out to find the middle ground, whilst never compromising on quality or access.  

When it comes to providing access on digital, don’t be intimidated by all the work involved – don’t let it stop you from doing something! Find the way that works for you/your organisation and do what you do best in your way. Be creative and find a good producer or digitally skilled producer who ‘gets’ access and what that means digitally – both in terms of budget and creatively. 

Think outside of the box, beyond your current audience and how a language – any language - can translate digitally. Access isn’t an add on, it’s a need, and a way of engaging with more people – and that’s good for business. 

Louise Wildish
People Dancing – Producer, 11 Million Reasons to Dance

Click here to get the full picture on 11 Million Reasons to Dance, its images and new online components