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Shannon Finnegan: My name is Shannon Finnegan, and I am an artist. And I have a disability that affects my movement and walking. And I think relevant to what we’ll be talking about is I’ve been doing a collaborative project with another artist, Bojana Coklyat, for about the past three years, called Alt Text as Poetry, that’s about describing images.

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Andy Slater: And I’m Andy Slater, and I’m also an artist, and I am blind. And I wrote this piece for McSweeney’s Audio Issue that we’re going to touch upon today. I use a lot of accessibility, not only for blind, visually impaired people in my work, but also people who are deaf or hard of hearing, or people with sensory needs and concerns and all that sort of thing. So, it’s a big part of my work in general. So, this whole piece here is kind of a good summary of that.

Shannon: Yeah, same, I feel like that that’s something that we have in common is making work that is both related to our own access needs, but also thinking about cross-disability solidarity. And yeah, thinking about also creating different access points for other disabled people.

Andy: Because if we’re not doing it for everybody, who are we doing it for?

Shannon: Truly. Do you want to talk a little bit more about the piece and how it came about?

Andy: Yes. So, I’ve been working on this research for a few years now. The piece that I wrote is about a researcher in the late 60s who was at Duke University named Dr. Janet Herman. And she worked with a number of blind people and participants in some studies, there at their ocular corrective lab, working with blind people and collecting data, and they’re archiving their experiences with everyday life, and all this other kind of stuff. And she had this theory that blind people can hear transdimensionally, right?

She was studying Charles Bonnet syndrome while at the OCL. And that’s something where blind people, they hallucinate; they can’t see, but they hallucinate things, like people or floating hats and, I don’t know, fabulous weddings and that sort of thing. It’s something that Oliver Sacks has done a lot of writing about. And so, during that time, she said, some of the people there were talking about how they also had these oral hallucinations that were not at all connected to Charles Bonnet syndrome. And the people at OCL didn’t believe her. So, she went out on her own research and conducted this study. She interviewed a bunch of participants from all over the country, different ages, different backgrounds, etc., and came to this conclusion that blind people can hear transdimensionally. They can hear things that are, I guess, the parallel universe, are happening somewhere else, these sort of events, these people, these things, these sounds that nobody else could hear but themselves. And so, she titled this, her theory was crypto-acoustic auditory non-hallucination, and it’s kind of a long, long title, but I love it.

And so anyway, she went and did all this research. And then Duke cut her funding, was like, we’re not going to fund this new age woo-woo, you got to cut it out and go back to what you were doing. And so she said, forget it. She closed up her lab and went back to her practice because—you know, her private practice—because she felt disrespected and they wouldn’t listen to her and all that sort of thing.

So, I found out about this researching science fiction and historical tropes of blindness because I was doing some absurd sound piece where I wanted these quotes from, like, blind space mages and Samurais and stuff from like movies and stuff to do this, you know, ridiculous sound installation. But I found out about this study, while I was just researching that stuff through some message boards or whatever they’re called these days. I thought it was a rumor. I thought it was just, you know, a lie or a hoax or something like that. And then somebody had posted about how her brother was involved in this and how her brother was blind, told his parents that he was hearing stuff too, and they didn’t want him to be doubly disabled. So, they never did anything about it. They didn’t want to admit that their son might be hearing stuff while he can’t see anything. And I had very similar sort of things happen when I was a kid. I didn’t even tell my parents though. So, I intervened on my own.

An abstract line design meant to represent waves of sound. Light blue lines on a black background form the shape of small mountains or hills.
An abstract line design meant to represent waves of sound, light blue waves on a black field. Getty.

So, long story short, I started researching this after running into some roadblocks here and there, I finally got an email from this IT dude to tell me more about this, because apparently, the doctor had recorded these conversations and attempted to record the sounds. So, she sits down in her custom-made studio with our custom-made microphones, that she called transitory sound catchers, and would interview these folks, and attempted to record the sounds, thinking that somehow she’d be able to reach another dimension and record them. The IT dude found these tapes and digitized them for me. I was excited, because I thought I was going to be hearing these amazing sounds and everything.

When I got the tapes, when I got the AIFF files from this dude, it was just a doctor’s voice introducing the sounds and then one of the sounds, so she would be setting it up, naming the participant, describing, recalling what they said they were hearing, and then there’s a bunch of blank tape hiss and everything like that. Which, itself is like, well, I can’t hear the sounds, but apparently, I know what they sounded like. So, I started taking this stuff and cutting it up and turning it into some kind of ridiculous sound thing and was really interested in all this archival stuff, found stuff, anything to do with blindness, especially from that era, especially like the technology and stuff. And then during my restoration of the sound and clean up, I unlock the sounds, right?

So, you know, like some phase inversion and some transmogrification and things like that. There they were, you know, like there were the sounds that these people announced, like the girls listening to music that sounded like an electric abacus and speaking some unknown language and the electric snakes and all this other stuff that’s in there. And so basically, the piece that McSweeney’s has, I think it’s like 15 minutes, excerpts of this audio with the doctor introducing the sounds, and then, you know, portions of the sounds laid out in succession, along with information about the dossier and other artifacts, and ephemera and stuff that were found when they cracked open her office.

And then you were asked to collaborate by doing sound descriptions of the sounds that were already described. So, it’s just this awesome, absurd game of stoner telephone.

Shannon: Yeah. Yeah. And I think maybe one thing I’ll say, is that part of the issue, the McSweeney’s issue that your piece is in, it’s called the Audio Issue. And part of my understanding of the issue as a whole is thinking about access and the inaccessibility of print-only media and, part of that process, they also wanted to produce a descriptive transcript for the issue. And so, I think that was part of why I was brought in to do sound descriptions. And also image descriptions for the visual materials associated with the piece. And yeah, it was really hard. And really interesting, I think, especially because, there are these participant descriptions that, as I was listening to the audio, really shaped my experience of it. When one of the participants talks about a sound of dancing, I think was one of them, or things like that, it kind of shaped how I heard it.

And so then thinking about how to describe the sounds in a way that felt related to that, or related to my experience of it. I’ll also say, I’m not someone who works in sound very much. So, I don’t have a broad sound vocabulary. And a lot of times when I’m describing things, I rely on metaphor, and, but in this case, there kind of already is a set of metaphors associated with each piece of sound from the participants, because they’re interpreting what they’re hearing, often through metaphor, and so that was kind of interesting for me to try to pull away from metaphor and think more about kind of trying to describe the textures of the sound or, yeah—

Andy: I think that we have a very, at least in the English language, we have a very vast vocabulary to describe things, visually, images, and things like that, but for sound, it’s not as abundant, and it’s all metaphorical. It’s really hard for me not to describe things sometimes in terms of, like, comic books, where somebody gets punched in the face, and it goes “Thwack!” You know, like that kind of stuff.

And I use that onomatopoetic sort of approach to stuff because, so, since I started working on the crypto-acoustic auditory non-hallucination, I did a presentation at the Chicago Disability Cultures Study Conference in 2018, at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and I talked about this, presented some of my research there. And since that time, a lot of the sound work that I’ve been doing, I’ve written this sound descriptive alternative text for a lot of my work because I want it to be accessible, even if it’s just like, in a subjective way, for whoever can’t hear it, or chooses not to listen, and not doesn’t want to hear it.

This whole thing is like, “wow, this is really a great point of access,” whether or not it’s a verbatim description of it, if you’re unable to hear, do you get all of these references?

So, when it comes to describing the one dance piece is, like, the quote is a dance recital, a wooden stage, I am convinced that this person is dancing on their hands. Like, that’s what the quote was. And so it definitely sounds like somebody is clogging, but they’re doing it on their hands or on the ceiling, or whatever the hell it is. That description is already there. And then so you had to take over the responsibility of, like, sound by sound, the qualities of those sounds. I made this to say, I think if you’re not a sound person, you probably still have a vocabulary to define audible things.

Shannon: Totally. And that’s something that in my work with Bojana about image description, I think a lot of times people feel hesitant to describe, for example, art objects, or artworks if they, if they’re not artists, or curators or in that world. But I often find that non-expertise can also be really valuable in description. Like it can sometimes be more direct or, when you’re not an expert, you don’t get as caught up in being right or something, you can just get a little weirder with the language as you’re trying to feel through it.

But I also wanted to say something about so much of sound description being metaphor. I was just thinking about the way, for me, sound is often so connected to mood and feeling and I often feel like that’s what’s missing from image descriptions is that. It’s like too much about what is happening in the image and not enough about how it’s happening, or how that makes a person who’s looking at it feel. And so yeah, I feel like metaphor often helps in terms of getting to feeling or mood or tone.

Andy: Yeah, and a friend of mine who’s a photographer was describing her work to me as ambient photography. I’ve never heard that. What is that? And it’s basically like photos of a lot of her stuff is like photos of abandoned buildings, especially like industrial or educational, like hospital institutions sort of thing, where it’s a photo of a space. I guess through that photo, you get an idea of how rundown and neglected the place is, what it may have looked like, and all that sort of thing. And I hadn’t even heard of that where, ambient sound and music and all that sort of thing is—and ambient lighting, I guess, is another thing people talk about—that I didn’t really have much of a relationship with, but I thought it was interesting, because then I started thinking about it as like a mood, because sound affects me physically. There’s certain sounds that have an effect on my body.

And I know that some people experience that with, like, ASMR, or whatever that stuff is. I don’t think it’s at all similar to how I perceive sounds. Since I’m blind, I use sound for everything, like navigation, safety, making coffee, crossing the street, that kind of stuff, being able to hear people whispering from, like, 20,000 feet away. And so, it’s kind of interesting to hear visual art described in that way. I love it, because it’s like, when, so, I’m a consumer of image descriptions, I guess you could say, I’m somebody that relies on that stuff. And so if somebody was to tell me that it was an ambient painting, well, you need now to tell me what exactly that is. And those are the struggles that I came up with, when I’m trying to describe those kinds of sounds in my own work, it’s like, how the hell do you describe the sound of a big empty room that just has some kind of machinery in it, that’s really quiet. It’s like, how do you do this? And so you have to use the metaphor. I think that it’s the only real way to do it.

And I think it works best when it’s totally subjective. And coming from the point of view of the person describing it. You know, if you said, “Oh, it’s a picture of a brick building.” Okay, cool. If there’s nothing stunning or interesting about it, you could just leave it there. You know, I see so many people go way overboard with describing something so mundane. And it’s like, “Oh, my God.” And then if I’m online, and I’m scrolling through with my screen reader, and there’s photos, and a lot of the times Getty will have alt text tagged on the thing. So, it looks like President Obama in the Rose Garden. Alright, cool. If he were in, like, a dope suit, tell me about the suit, otherwise, pass on. And so those kinds of descriptions are sometimes very, very nice to hear, as opposed to this elongated—a docent telling me the history of this piece, and that sort of thing, where it’s like, you know, I just, I want to give up.

Shannon: It’s something that I’ve noticed. And I’m curious to know your thoughts about this. I feel like sometimes the focus on describing visual information makes it seem like the visual stuff is really important. Like, it ends up putting this emphasis on it. Whereas what you’re saying, that short description can give you the context and then you can get to text or other sound or other parts of the experience that you might be interested in.

Andy: When you’re in a Zoom meeting, and people are doing like access checks and describing themselves and everybody takes like three minutes to talk about what they’re wearing, and that sort of thing. And if there’s like 50 people in the meeting, I understand, totally appreciate that this is being done for my benefit. But sometimes it takes up a lot of time, and I’m a very impatient blind person.

But it is also very interesting if you start to study what people start off with, where they often start off with gender, skin color, maybe what they’re wearing, maybe their age, and then like, what’s behind them. And oh, and then there’s a photograph, or there’s an abstract painting in the back. You should have led with that, told me all about that. Sometimes people will give you information that doesn’t help at all, where someone’s like, I am a cis-het, white woman, like that. So, what does that have to do with what—you know, describe me how you look visually—this is just something where I can go on and on about work, totally isn’t crucial to this conversation.

Shannon: No, I think it is. I think also what you’re bringing up is that blind people also want really different things. I know from collaborating with Bojana, she lives with low vision, and she often mentions her own fashion. That’s something that she really enjoys in those interactions. But that’s also not for everyone. And I think this presumption that there’s one way that we do this, or we always do this, or we always do it in this way, just doesn’t make sense. Because it should be about relationships and being responsive to what people actually want or need.

Andy: Exactly. And I love it when people—I was in a meeting the other day where someone was describing the head wrap that they were wearing—like, oh, well, I want to hear more about that. And then the next person was like, I have on a t-shirt with this band logo. And it’s really hard to read, because it’s a black metal band. So, the logo actually just kind of looks like a thorn bush. I’m like, “Oh, my God, that’s actually pretty awesome.”

An abstract design that evokes the image of an eye's iris, full of waves of rainbow colors, on a black background.
An abstract design that evokes the image of an eye’s iris, full of waves of rainbow colors, on a black background. Getty

I like knowing about passion, because I also feel like that’s something that people don’t really think that blind people care about. But if you saw me out on the town, you would know that I do. It’s pick and choose, and there’s a right time and a wrong time to go overboard with stuff. Right now, we’re just talking about, like, Zoom meetings. Now, if it’s a photograph on Instagram, then lay it on me however you want, I got time. I have time. And I’m totally into it. I have friends who are fashion designers. And it’s the ones that do image descriptions, a wonderful job, and something straightforward about the fit, color. And then the model. And a lot of times I think that they asked the model how they wish to be described, which I think is really important. And then sometimes there’s just this, like, sassy comment, which I love when fashion people come with detail and data and then sass, and that’s just a wonderful combination.

Shannon: Yeah, as you were talking about self-description in Zooms, I was thinking about how I feel like a lot of times descriptions are just boring. I feel like that’s what you were saying about, if the suit is cool, tell me about what it’s like. Sometimes that’s something I think about when I’m writing an image description is, like, what’s interesting here, or, if this isn’t an interesting image, why am I even sharing it? What’s exciting here to me, and then how can I convey that interest and excitement or whatever feeling is associated with it in the description? And not have it be boring. I feel like that is often my goal.

Andy: Right. Absolutely. And a lot of times, it just comes down to who is describing it, like, do you describe the describer? A lot of different communities and cultures describe stuff differently; they get from point A to point B differently. I never want to lose that. I don’t want anybody to think that they have this standard Western WASP-y way of having to do this sort of stuff. And so, when you think socially about the trends on how certain cultures describe stuff, it’s really interesting. When different people describe the same thing on community-created audio descriptions for videos that are found on YouTube— You get fashion week, the same video for fashion week or something, that’s done by somebody that knows all the designers, and knows everything about the fit and the cut and what’s trendy or not. And then you have, maybe a young girl who’s describing this for her blind cousin. We’re like, “Jenny, alright, pause the video, alright, Jenny. Yes, this dude’s the pout, like, this collar, you might just fly away, it’s from 1972.” Or something like that.”

And that’s, to me, it’s like, “Oh, man, this is beautiful.” Because it’s personal and personable. And then when you get kids describing stuff, oh, it’s just fun. And it just reminds you that, like, oh, God, the way that we perceive stuff is totally tainted and dismembered. When we’re kids, we’re taught how to do things the right way, and how to communicate and, like, not so abstract or colorful ways. There was a piece that Tommy Carroll, who is another blind person I collaborate with, that we did at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago for Family Day. And we had all these kids. We would project something from the MCA’s permanent collection, and they would describe it to Tommy and I, and you’d have maybe two kids describe the same image. And then a parent would be like, it’s a cloud in the sky. And then another kid was like, “It’s a golden cloud, but it looks like it may have been originally silver, but after it was put through some long tube, where it squished it out and changed the color, and now it’s flying.” And then the next kid would be like, “It actually looks like something else.” And it’s just amazing. Just keep going kids; tell your parents to sit down.

And anyway, we took the prompts, some of the descriptions, and then, the kids would get up on the stage and be given a bunch of stuff to bang on. And we would kind of do this spontaneous performance, rhythmic performance based on the prompt. So, it would be like, “Alright, now we’re turning gold.” And then they do something different, which I don’t know if they even knew what they were doing, just knew to change. You take the way that kids describe stuff, it’s just inspiring to go and do something different.

And so with the stuff that Dr. Herman recorded, there’s people there that are like that. There’s bios for every participant from that day of that recording session; there’s some people that are senior citizens, some that are middle-aged, and they’re in their 20s, and then some that are teenagers, and they kind of take different approaches on how they describe stuff. Some people are grumpy; some people are matter-of-fact. And then some people are just really out there and the kids I feel are more to the point, because it seems like these imaginative sounds are just part of their lives, because they’re kids.

I feel like they were conveying, “This sounds like an electric eel, the electric eel that they have down South, but it’s not in the water, because I’m afraid of water, so I wouldn’t be near it,” or something like that. They’re like, “Oh, my proximity to this— I don’t like water, so I’m not going to ever be near water. So, I don’t think that this sound is coming from somebody in some kind of water-world.” I have no idea. I would love to know more about what any of that stuff had to do with anything. But it is really just kind of like, is the sound this thing makes one that goes “blee-blee-blee-blee.” That kind of sounds like an electric snake.

Shannon: Yeah. Something that Bojana and I have run into over and over again, when thinking about image description, is that there’s been this kind of traditional standard of “objectivity,” which, as you were saying, just doesn’t really, like, (A) I think it often produces boring descriptions and, then, (B) what is objectivity? Like we’re all experiencing things so differently. And this idea that there’s a universal or mainstream experience for a sound or an image just makes no sense to me. When people say objective, really what they mean is mainstream or white male, a middle, all those things instead of actually being something that could be objectivity. I think that’s something that’s been really exciting to me about description on social media. So much about social experiences that I think people do often feel more comfortable stepping into their own voice a little bit, and getting a little bit more flexible about the descriptions. And I’ve noticed this for me also. I feel that way more on Instagram. And then even on my own portfolio website. For some reason, I’ve felt the need to button up my descriptions a little bit more recently. I was like, “Why did I do that? It’s not better. I should just use the same descriptions from Instagram. Those ones are, I think, a better experience of the images.”

Andy: Well, and what’s really great about Instagram is that you have two places to include your image description. So, one, you can put in the caption where people usually write in that field, and then you can also, if you go into Advanced Settings, you can add alternative text. So, if somebody is using a screen reader, which is the technology that the majority of everybody’s devices has native now that speaks content on the screen of your computer, or your phone or whatever, in case somebody isn’t familiar with that. When I swipe over onto an image and the cursor is on that image, then it will automatically read me that content, and that text itself is invisible to sighted people. And so you can have an image description in your caption content, and then you can also have either the same one or a different one that’s hidden. And I always like to call it invisible ink where I have a different thing written in as the alt text. If you have a screen reader, then you get the inside joke. Where it’s like, “Here’s a photo of my dinner, you know, spaghetti, meatballs, blah, blah, blah, blah.” But then in the alt text, “So yeah, the meal was really good.” “But today’s Janet Jackson’s birthday.” “I love Janet Jackson.” That sort of thing.

So, you can hide this stuff in there, too. And that’s what I think is really fun about Instagram. And I think you can do that in Facebook. But then in, like, TikTok, you have character count, so that you have to put in the same thing that you do all your hashtags and stuff like that. There’s no alternative text; there’s no invisible ink text opportunities or anything. So, then you have like a character count of like how much you can put in there. So, now you’re compromising—maybe not compromising, but you’re giving yourself limitations on what you can describe. So that a lot of the times people either just blow it off or, like, this image isn’t important, I’m wearing a hat. Or people will just try to cram as much as they can. Limitations are good things, you know, having options. That’s cool.

I just wish that more people got into the practice of doing so. There’s a lot of blind people that don’t do it. Some blind support Facebook groups and people who are totally blind, people with all kinds of different levels of vision, and there’s some people that, they don’t need to use a cane, and they have low vision, but they’re able to see on their computer, etc. And they’ll post an image without any kind of description, and it’s like, “Hey, congratulate me. I just won this award.” And I’m just always like, [image description], it doesn’t exist. I’m going to be a jerk about it, because I’m sick of this not being part of our culture. Whereas captions are a part of deaf culture, and so—

Shannon: I think especially with social media, it’s like, every person who’s uploading images to those platforms has to add alt-text or image descriptions in order to make those platforms accessible. There really is this broad need for this practice. I’ve heard some interesting conversations recently about the accessibility of writing image descriptions that I also think is really interesting in terms of cross-disability solidarity, or the messiness of building or being part of these communities, and people who have chronic illness, for example, like on a high pain day—writing image description really doesn’t feel accessible in this moment. And I’ve seen some cool practices with people asking for help, being like, “Hey, I’m not feeling good right now. Could somebody put an image description?” Could somebody else write the description? Or some more collaborative thing?” And those things are also always really interesting to me in terms of thinking about this more shared or collaborative approach. Kind of going back to this idea of: there isn’t one way to do this that everyone has to do. We can all build this practice in a way that works for our own body-minds.

An abstract line design meant to represent waves of sound. Light blue lines on a black background form the shape of a flowing wall
An abstract line design meant to represent waves of sound. Points forming light blue lines on a black background take the shape of a flowing wall. Getty.

Andy: I really do appreciate that. I wanted to put this photo up, it’s timely; I’m going to get to the image description. Because right now, I don’t want to do voice-to-text dictation over and over and over again, because it keeps screwing up. I don’t have the energy to type this. I just don’t have the capacity to do this the way that I want to. So, if they say like, “Posting this image. Image description forthcoming.” I totally appreciate that. And then a lot of the times people will just drop in a description of it anyway. On Instagram, I’ll always add an image description. On Facebook, sometimes I’ll just put it up and be like, I don’t know what’s happening. Can someone describe this? And people will.

A lot of the times, it’s like, “I don’t know what this is, give me give me a heads up.” Or it’s like, I do my best to describe what it is that I know is there. And a lot of the times I’ll take a photo of something, like, I’ll take a picture of my dog. But first of all, pet my dog’s face to see if I can tell what their expression is. That kind of thing. There’s a lot of planning that goes into it, and a lot of attention, but it’s not necessarily any more than anything else.

A lot of people think that it’s a burden to have to do this. And a lot of times, it’s just because there’s intimidation. You know, “What if I do it wrong?” It’s like, “Well, it’s your photo.” In Apple, it’ll read the text of like a Twitter screenshot, or a meme, and that sort of thing, sometimes it’ll say, “This image contains food.” And it’s like, “Okay, that’s cool. At least I know somebody ate.” You know what I mean.

And then on Facebook, you can go in and get more descriptive, or extended descriptions that the AI will try to tell you what it is. So, we can rely on that, or we can just very briefly do our best. If you want to communicate with me, then that’s cool. If you’re a member of the blind community, and you don’t want to communicate like that, then I will very harshly call you a sellout.

Shannon: Yeah.

Andy: There’s just so many different ways, if you’re an artist, to make your art accessible to disabled folks, deaf and disabled folks. In your own personal life, you can just do it. You can turn on, automatic captioning on stuff. Whether that’s reliable, I wouldn’t know, but at least there’s that option.

Shannon: Yeah, and I feel like this is a tension that I often feel comes up when I’m talking to people about access, which is like growth, this sense I have of, something is better than nothing and start where you are. Do what you can and don’t get so wrapped up in doing it wrong that you don’t do anything. But then also being like, this is a practice and something that you’re going to be continuing to learn about for the rest of your life. You’re not just going to do it once and then have it figured out and be done.

And I often find it’s a little bit hard to navigate that with people in terms of this, like, “Come on in. Let’s get going.” But also, don’t stop there. Keep going and keep learning and keep writing descriptions as a type of artistic practice in and of itself, and a type of craft or creative writing practice. Other forms of writing or creating, you can practice it, you can try out different things and experiment and be like, “Oh, I tried that. And that kind of flopped.” Or, “I want to do it this way, this time.” Or—

Andy: Just consider it experimental. Yeah. Let’s experiment with it. And that’s something that you all teach in the Alt Text as Poetry workshops, too, right?

Shannon: Yeah, experimental approaches. I felt like an important way of pushing back against that kind of normative way of describing. Let’s get a little looser. And make lots of experiments that may not work. Let’s try it out. Let’s see what happens.

Andy: Have fun with it.

Shannon: Yeah, exactly. One thing I want to say before we wrap up is also just that, when it comes to image descriptions, or alt text, blind people in blind culture should be at the center of that practice. I’m sighted and I engage with other sighted people who take it and run in their own sighted direction with it. And I think that’s something that I’ve been thinking about also a lot recently, just not putting so much of our energy into describing visual things, but also putting more energy into making non-visual things and supporting blind artists and creators in making whatever they want to make.

Andy: If you have an initiative to describe your entire archive of things, your museum and stuff, you’re going to need to call on a lot of people. But it’s also like, you know, don’t stop, just making somebody else’s art accessible for us, help us make accessible art with support or funding or just acknowledgement that there’s blind artists, and we don’t all try to take photographs. There’s some of us that aren’t. We don’t care about making art for a sighted audience. It’s just kind of, like, whatever, if I use visual imagery or anything like that, and any of my art, I have to openly say, I’m making it accessible for sighted people, because if I took a sound piece, and I sat you down, you don’t have nothing to look at. So, you can’t immerse yourself, but if I give you something to look at, even if it’s the iTunes visualizer, you’ll probably pay more attention to it, than if it’s, you know, yeah—

There’s this history of well-to-do or well-meaning philanthropists putting together an art show in the lobby of a fancy bank. But if you want to submit you have to send a photo or a painting, you’re continuing to force blind people to only think that art is for sighted people. We’ve got to get them into the museums and galleries, get people in there so they feel comfortable and then just show them, like, why is this important? Why the hell should I care that I’m here, and give some options, have some more sound-based or tactile work in there, or just even more blind and disabled artists and stuff like that being represented.

A blind person is not going to have the same exact lived experience as a deaf person or somebody who’s like physically disabled or whatever. But we have a very common experience with ableism. And then just adapting our own lives to get by because society’s ableist and that sort of thing. So, we may not know exactly everything that’s going on from shared experience, but we get it. So, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, there’s references understanding all of this sort of thing.” So, that’s my commentary to galleries and art institutes or institutions.

Shannon: I think it’s ultimately about a redistribution or change of power. There’s been this tradition of being like, “Okay, we have all this non-disabled artwork, and we’re going to grant disabled people access to it.” Instead of being like, “Okay, actually, disabled people can be artists, can be creators, can be in leadership positions, can be curators, and I think more of that, obviously. We need to go much further down than that. Right?

Andy: I think we would be in bad taste to not drag publishers that fetishize books and will not release or publish anything, ebook or audiobook or any of that thing, on its own. In that case, it’s only accessible if you are in an academic institution, if you’re in school, and that sort of thing. Publishers are like, “Oh, it’s not a book, I can’t hold it, it can’t go on a shelf. I can’t show it off. And it’s not a real thing.” It’s still a book, man. You know, books are accessible books. As my friend Leona Godin says all the time—she’s a publisher, and she’s had to deal with that kind of stuff—”Well, why are we going to include this digitally?” And so that’s what’s wonderful about the McSweeney’s thing is that they’re just kind of like, hey, we can do this. And it’s fun. And you know, the issue itself is like a box full of stuff that’s got all kinds of stuff. And my thing is presented in a little dossier. And so, you’ve got that, but then you also have it in such ridiculous depth, for the online version, where everything is described and accessible. And like the whole thing, it’s an Accessibility Initiative by this, I don’t want to necessarily call them absurdist or satirical, but this wonderful world of fiction and not an academic or educational resource in which you expect that to be. It’s like, “Hey, here come the bunch of Merry Pranksters to wave it in your face.”

Shannon: Anything else you want to touch on before we wrap up?

Andy: What’s that sorry?

Shannon: Oh, anything else you want to touch on before we wrap up?

Andy: No, I just want to thank you and everybody for listening to me ramble.

Shannon: Yeah, no, it’s fun to chat and yeah, excited to hang out and looking forward to future hang outs.

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BMJ: British Medical Journal, Vol. 328, No. 7455 (26 June 2004), pp. 1552-1554
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 115, No. 45 (November 6, 2018), pp. 11369-11376
National Academy of Sciences
Grey Room, No. 60, Acoustic Modernity (Summer 2015), pp. 110-131
The MIT Press