Bridging the Gap, 2021

A collection of electronic components placed upon a printed image of a diagram. These items sit next to an audio interface.

Overview 

Following on from their research in physical and immersive/virtual accessible digital musical instruments, Performance without Barriers is now addressing access barriers in the context of music production. 

Screen readers are widely used by blind and visually impaired people for general computer access. Popular examples include JAWS, NVDA and VoiceOver. A synthesised voice describes software elements which are then navigated and controlled via a standard computer keyboard. Such accessibility tools can be highly effective for general computing tasks such as word processing or browsing the internet. However, our assumption is that it can be challenging to use a screen reader in a context where the user is working creatively with sound. There are two reasons for this assumption. First, music software can rely heavily on visual information, for instance in the use of graphical equalizers. Second, when carefully editing audio material a synthesised voice can be a frustrating distraction that potentially disrupts the creative process. 

The impetus behind this research project is Performance without Barriers’ belief that there are alternative methods for controlling music software, which might improve the overall experience for blind and visually impaired creatives. One area of particular interest is how the application of haptic technologies may reduce the reliance on screen readers. By Bridging the Gap between what sighted and visually impaired creatives experience in the use of music software, we hope to contribute toward equal employment opportunities. 

Following the adage “Nothing About Us Without Us”, the research is guided by the insights of a visually impaired musician and researcher James Cunningham. James has joined PwB as an integral PhD researcher for this project. 

Bridging the Gap is making a concerted effort to include disabled folk at all stages of design and thinking, and I hope that this trend towards a new norm across the board. It’s a privilege and pleasure to contribute my unique lived experience to a project which not only aims to increase social mobility for disabled musicians, but to challenge the biases and stereotypes ingrained in our society.” – James Cunningham. 

People 

  • Franziska Schroeder
  • Andrew McPherson
  • Alex Lucas
  • Jacob Harrison
  • James Cunningham
  • Mary-Alice Stack

Partners 

Acknowledgements 

This research is generously funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. We would also like to thank Jason Dasent for his contribution towards developing the research funding application for this project.