In or Out?

Last summer I learned that art and music are not accessible to everyone. Each morning I receive an email from Art Daily, the ‘first art newspaper on the net’. It’s one of the best parts of the day: looking at the art on display around the world; learning of lost sculptures discovered, relics saved, paintings auctioned and notebooks preserved. I always get excited because I hope I’ll find something that will capture my attention.

Click on the above to hear an audio transcription of the Accessibility page content
Screenshot of online art magazine about disabled fear being forgotten
Leanna Benjamin, a playwright in Leeds, May 19, 2021. Benjamin said she worries venues may drop the online ways that have flourished during the pandemic. Mary Turner/New York Times.

On this particular summer’s day, it was a different kind of attention. I saw an article on the front page of the Art Daily newspaper that read: ‘Disabled people fear being left behind as UK culture venues reopen’. Surprised with the heading, I read the article by Alex Marshall in which he talked to people with disabilities such as autism, deafness and being wheelchair users. Each person shared their experiences.

“Disabled people make up 22% of England’s population and have diverse requirements — such as wheelchair access, audio description or for ‘relaxed’ performances where audiences are allowed to make noise.”

Who knew?

After reading the article, I thought about how art is one of the few things that binds us together without prejudice or status. Most of us would acknowledge that art and music are available both physically and digitally. However, discovering that not everyone has access to either is, well, a major disappointment.

I think the issue isn’t money, it’s not even technology. It’s knowledge, and that includes yours truly.

Alex Marshall’s article marked the beginning of a journey in which I wanted to learn how to make my music more accessible and in turn share any learnings with other artists. I’ve spent the last year and a half reading, watching, listening and learning about how we unknowingly make things that should be accessible, inaccessible. Some forums and groups have been super helpful answering my questions.

Image designed by Katy, also known as walking.on.wheels on Instagram
Accessibility is more than a ramp. Image credit: Katy Nash

Earlier this month I found a brilliant post on Instagram by Katy, otherwise known as @walking.on.wheels. Katy’s visual shows us things to consider, many of which we can do ourselves. I must admit that managing the creation of braille lyrics and sheet music was a steep learning curve, especially the sheet music. I’ll share more about this very soon. I’m hoping my hurdles become your long jumps as artists learn to create art accessible to all.

This Accessibility page

On this page I’ll publish accessible lyrics and/or sheet music whenever I release new material, starting with Stop Walk Talk. You’ll find three to four versions of PDF lyrics (Regular, Large Print, Open Dyslexic, Braille). For some of the songs I’ll make available braille sheet music.

I’m also compiling a checklist of things you might be able to do yourself and a list of useful resources I’ve discovered along the way. Thanks to some amazing conversations!

Words Matter

Here are some examples of what you can do.

Make PDF’s of lyrics in a sans serif font, a large font, in Open Dyslexic and in braille. Use Fiverr to have your song transcribed for sheet music. If you have a home studio and use midi data, download the resulting score and midi files. If, like me, you can’t read music, have someone check it over before providing it to a sheet music transcription service. I was in good hands with Noah Lawson of Dot The i’s. The RNIB offer a free personal transcription service.

For those who are D/deaf, have a sign language interpreter included in your live performances or music videos – this is my biggest challenge so I’d ask anyone reading this to get in touch. In your videos, create a full description and upload your own closed captions instead of relying on YouTube’s AI (artificial intelligence). Consider creating lyrics videos so you can choose an accessible font and people can enjoy the beauty of your words.

Use CamelCase

CamelCase is useful in programming since element names cannot contain spaces but is essential when creating hashtags that combine words.

“Use what’s known as ‘camel case’ for the hashtags in your tweets – #ABitLikeThis. When you do, it means screen readers used by people who are blind or visually impaired will hear the words individually rather than as a long incoherent word, as is likely to be the case if no letters are capitalised” Ability Net.

Kathy Muir Website homepage shows the accessibility icon

Finally, for websites, get a free accessibility plugin that allows the user to change the font, the font size, the font colour, grayscale and contrast. I use One Click Accessibility.

Use alt text and image descriptions; make sure filenames of photos and documents make sense were you to say them out loud; create audio descriptions, and when you post an image on social media, at the end of your post take the time to write words that describe the image you’re sharing.

Next steps and thank yous

Please get in touch and tell me what more we can all do. Together 🙂

Huge thanks to XL Braille Limited, Dot The i, Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), The Bristol Braillists, and the Facebook Group Braille: Learning and Networking for sighted people learning Braille, Ability Net, Susan Merrick, Performance Interpreting.


Stop Walk Talk

Stop Walk Talk song and video

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