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7 May 2020

Accessibility, Art and Augmented Reality...

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Photo: filmpro's exhibition at the Art Pavilion

Earlier this year, we sent engagement coordinator, David, down to London to check out new developments in arts/accessibility tech. Here’s how he got on!

When London Short Film Festival contacted DaDaFest and asked if any of us would be interested in trying out smart caption glasses in a cinema context, I jumped at the chance. I am fully deaf in my right ear and often use subtitles, so I was eager to see the glasses in action… but also I am a movie nerd and had never watched a film at the British Film Institute on the South Bank!

LSSF at the BFI
After eating my own weight in Vietnamese food it was off to the BFI. I would be taking in six short films as part of the ‘Joyful and Triumphant’ competition. Amongst the films themselves there were some definite highlights. I particularly loved ‘If You Knew’ by director Stroma Cairnes, a beautiful film that captures twin brothers born with hearing loss sharing a day at Canvey Island.

Photo: David using smart caption glasses (left) and being interviewed at LSFF (right)

I had mixed feelings about the glasses. On first inspection and before even attempting to wear and operate them, they seemed clunky, like the glasses you used to get in the opticians for your eye test, albeit more modern and sleek looking. A couple more problems were encountered on wearing the glasses. My partner Alice’s glasses kept falling off, whilst I found the mechanism on the glasses’ arm to be a little uncomfortable.

The settings on the glasses provided options for changing the font size and colour of the subtitles which I thought was a great feature for accessibility. However, with the glasses attached to my head and trying to forget about them and concentrate on the films, I could not help returning to the same feeling; that perhaps the whole cinema experience needs to be accessible for everyone, beyond providing glasses or phone apps. Can all our cinema screenings not be captioned and subtitled.

FilmPRO Augmented Reality Exhibition
The next day I was excited to be invited to an exhibition presented by disabled-led digital arts agency, filmpro, which was taking place at the Art Pavilion, Mile End, as part of Nesta’s Amplified Programme. The exhibition was a pilot for filmpro’s augmented reality (AR) app and featured installations by six different artists. Before viewing the art we were given phones specifically to try out the AR app. You hold the phone to a part of the visual art, or the description on the wall by the art itself and on the phone screen you are provided with options to caption or subtitle the dialogue.

A cool feature with this app I noticed was the extra content for each installation in the app; app users can view extra films giving information about the art provided by the artists themselves. Though of course the app is only useable by those able to hold a phone in front of a piece of art, it is an exciting new development in making new art more accessible.

The installations themselves were really good, I particularly enjoyed Zeynep Dagli’s ‘Negotiation between Madness & Sanity’ which I noticed featured Liverpool-based performer Izzie Major of Fright Wig theatre company. It was also a great chance to meet the filmpro team and get to speak to some of the artists themselves too.

It was overall a useful and inspiring trip. I got to experience new developments in making film and art accessible and meet some of the people behind these changes. Thanks to LSSF, filmpro and of course DaDaFest for the opportunity!


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