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What makes access ‘good’ may be thought of like a referee of a sports match: it is there to make the activity work, but the referee is not the focus of the match.

Consideration will need to go into whether the ‘creative access’ elements you may be planning are at risk with competing with the work, or acting as a distraction, when the aim is to enhance the aesthetic experience.

It can help to start the planning process by thinking of access as information.

For example, for a deaf BSL user attending a screening or performance, the information they are missing is the dialogue - the spoken parts. A sign language interpreter therefore has the role of conveying this information to bridge the gap

In the case of a blind or partially sighted person, an audio describer can bridge the information gap by describing movements or changes to a setting that are not conveyed through sound or dialogue.

By considering access as information, it becomes easier to consider where these gaps might arise and for whom they have an impact.

Below are some examples of access curation in practice:

If we were devising a performance piece with the intention of making it accessible to both deaf and blind/partially sighted audiences, then in considering how to bridge the information gaps, we could explore options to embed audio description, captioning, and signing. 

If the piece worked to a fixed script, then pre-recorded sign language interpretation and captions could appear in certain settings via projections. This could be done in a discrete way to match the style, era, or other aspect of the setting, or imaginatively, for example, with characters carrying small projectors with them that fire against walls or hangings as they move around the set.  

Alternatively the piece might be devised to include a BSL signer in the cast so that signed dialogue is inbuilt throughout.  While audio description could be conveyed in a conventional way, through earpieces to those opting to use them, it’s also possible that conveying the features of a setting or key movements and changes could be embedded into dialogue or a soundtrack.   

The writer or dramaturge, as they begin to consider these approaches, may find themselves opting for a multi-access embedded result - or they may favour one route as the embedded route, and leave other access options to be included through discussion with the venue. 

It often depends on how seamlessly aspects of access can be embedded so as not to distract or overwhelm your audience or find alternative formats competing with the work itself. 

A blind artist devising an exhibition might have as their starting point the intention of displacing the visual, and promoting the experience of touch or sound. In factoring in the audience experience, they may wish to elevate the experience of visitors with a visual impairment, and the resulting show will be, for that particular community, accessible in a way that other exhibitions may not be.  

Addressing the access needs of people outside of that impairment group may then depend on their experience in this area, or on discussions with the host gallery or other collaborators. 

The issue of embedding access may often be about addressing existing curatorial rules or practice.

For example, an artist might be casting a sculpture for a particular space where sounds travels well. The existing expectation may be that such a work is to be isolated in some way, but the artist may view this as an opportunity for a work to be both touched and even struck in a way that generates sound.

On this basis, the work becomes accessible to wider groups of people who may have impairments, yet we know that these experiences may be different to one another and are not 100% translatable or interchangeable with another. For a deaf person, they may see, touch, and feel the reverberation of the struck work. For a blind or partially sighted person, they may touch and hear the work being struck, and to some degree be able to view it in the space, or wish to listen to descriptions of its appearance.

Neither impairment group has the exact same experience of the work, yet it is clear that we are in a very different and much more highly engaged scenario than if the work was to be seen alone and kept slightly apart for the purposes of making room for people to circulate around it.   

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If we then factor in accessible tours, and accessible formats for discussing the work or having a conversation with the artist, and then broadcasting some or all of this in accessible formats, then the potential for increased numbers of people to appreciate the work, and with deep levels of engagement, are high. 

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Once these approaches and ideas are noted, then the next step is to consider to what degree these approaches enhance the artistic aims of the artist or writer

Disabled creatives may well have an advantage here in bringing in their own lived experience to inform these decisions.