D2ART: Transforming Disability Arts Through Digital Technologies

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Heritage and Cultural Learning Hub

Abstract

Artists with physical impairments typically have great difficulty and numerous obstacles they must overcome when working on their art. These obstacles can be overcome through the use of head wands, mouth sticks, and custom designed pointers with special grips for holding brushes. Whilst these assistive tools can help make the artistic process more accessible, they often result in unnatural movements consistently repeated on multiple occasions - this, in turn, can lead to other physical issues such as severe neck strain and damage to teeth. Moreover, if any adjustments are required after the initial setup, support staff need to be available to help the artist. This lack of independence and reliance on other people can result in a frustrating and tedious experience for disabled artists that disrupts their creative process.

A digital approach can help address many of these issues by supporting and extending the existing abilities of physically disabled artists, transforming their creative opportunities in terms of artistic freedom and expression. A new opportunity has recently emerged with the release of several innovative and affordable sensors that have the potential to transform how people with physical disabilities interact with computing systems. For instance, sensors and devices such as the Microsoft Kinect, Leap Motion, Touch+, and Tobii EyeX allow systems to accurately track body movements in real time enabling people to interact with systems in new ways. These sensors hold much potential as assistive tools, but no studies to date have explicitly explored how they can be used to create digital tools that support, extend, and transform practice for disabled artists.

Digital tools that utilise these innovative interaction approaches will transform opportunities for disabled artists raising numerous important and timely arts and humanities research questions around their impact on practice, visualisation of creative process, artistic identity, perceptions of authenticity, and audiences/artists' broader perceptions of work. For instance, these sensors can make traditional art forms that are currently difficult or impossible for physically impaired artists to participate in (e.g. sculpting for double amputees or people with severe arthritis) more readily available and accessible in digital form. This, in turn, gives rise to new hybridised art forms (e.g. digital sculpting via mid-air gesturing, 3D printing of digital models, etc.) that have received no attention to date in the context of disability arts.

Our longer term goal, therefore, is to develop a suite of digital tools that support, extend, and transform the practice of disabled artists and to research the impact this has on creative process and output. To successfully achieve this goal it is essential that we initially build an international cross discipline/sector network of academics, practicing artists, disability arts and accessibility organisations, charities, developers, arts/cultural organisations, and user experience specialists (with extensive experience in participatory user design). This mix of organisations and leaders in the field will enable us to explore this area from different perspectives, to co-design and develop innovative prototypes (tailored to the needs of disabled artists), and to effectively evaluate the impact these tools have on artistic practice, identity, and perceptions of authenticity and artistic voice. These different perspectives will also allow us to lead in scoping out the research space and setting the research agenda by highlighting the priority areas over the next five to ten years. This network will also ensure that work will be disseminated across all sectors helping to build a profile around the project and will raise awareness around the potential of digital tools in the disability arts space.

Planned Impact

There are five key beneficiaries of this research project:

Disabled Artists: This project will explore the social and cultural impact of new innovative tools for disabled artists, providing them with greater independence and increased opportunities to engage with traditional and new hybridised art forms. Furthermore, it will assist in encouraging their social inclusion within mainstream arts practice. The technology investigated as part of this project will be inexpensive sensors to ensure that they are accessible to a larger proportion of this practitioner group. An international network of disabled artists, academics, disability arts organisations, charities, and cultural organisations will also be developed thus creating social impact by encouraging a more cross-disciplinary and cross-sector collaborative approach to work in this area that is enabled, rather than impeded, by co-developed artists' tools. The project will move us away from a "one size fits all" approach to accessibility.

Disability Arts Organisations: This research project will have a social and cultural impact on the working practices of disability arts organisations, such as DASH, by enabling them to offer and use new digital tools with their artists and, therefore, to work in new ways. Arts organisations (such as DASH) are key innovators in the support for artists with disabilities and this project will enable them to lobby and facilitate enhanced mentoring, access to cultural opportunities, and facilitate relationships with galleries and venues. Disability arts organisations therefore have a key role to play in making disabled artists aware of the opportunities available and in providing a cultural context to the work.

Charities, Accessibility Organisations, Special Needs Schools and Colleges: Assistive technologies have considerable potential for people with a range of physical impairments. The lessons learned through the project will be of clear relevance to a wide variety of charities, accessibility organisations, and special needs schools and colleges. This potential is demonstrated by interest in the project expressed by a range of these organisations. For example, SCOPE who have demonstrated their keenness to send representatives to project workshops and events, providing a clear avenue for cascading the results of the project and deepening impact.

Arts & Cultural Organisations: This project will focus on the social and cultural influence that new digital tools have on perceptions of authenticity, cultural identity, and the examination of artistic practice where disabled artists have previously been excluded from participation due to impairment. This will encourage arts and cultural organisations to challenge their assumptions of working with disabled artists - not just in terms of accessibility, but also around new forms of commissioning and curation due to the nature of new, emerging, hybridised art forms. As such, this project will facilitate cultural and social impact by increasing opportunities to exhibit new art forms co-developed with disabled artists, providing an improved offer which is based on content not access. In turn, an improved visitor offer will impact on the visitor economy.

SMEs: The use of new technologies in the disability arts space will create a new, untapped, commercial market. We anticipate that in the near future UK SMEs will want to develop products for the global market of disabled artists, as well as for able-bodied artists who want to adopt such tools. A recent visit to the ASSETS2014 conference (the leading international conference on assistive technology) in New York confirmed that no businesses are currently working in this area. As such, this project will have economic impact by providing significant opportunities for SMEs to lead the way in co-developing highly marketable tools for disabled and non-disabled artists.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description There are several significant key findings and developments from the project:

1. Development of a Multi-Disciplinary Cross Sector/Discipline Network

Through the project we have developed a strong network of disabled artists, disability organisations, charities, special needs colleges, assistive technologists, and academics interested in developing the area of assistive digital tools for disability arts. This network actively contributed to the research completed on the project and is also keen to collaborate further on future funding applications and research projects.

2. Current Practice of Disabled Artists

Results from an online survey that we conducted with disabled artists found that a majority of respondents were not currently using any form of digital assistive technology to support their working practice. Many of the artists we worked with also explicitly stated that they were not familiar with eye/head tracking, mid-air gesturing, and motion tracking as a means for creating work. Interviews with artists also highlighted how several of them had given up hope of working with particular art forms due to their impairments. However, after using the technology in the evaluation sessions, the majority of artists stated that they can see how these types of assistive digital tools can provide new opportunities around artistic practice and beyond.

3. Opportunities and Issues around Digital Assistive Tools for Artistic Work

The lab-based user evaluation sessions we conducted with artists demonstrated the potential of a range of digital tools to enhance access to existing artistic and creative software. However, whilst these tools help make traditional software somewhat accessible, artists also had great difficulty in performing basic tasks (e.g. selecting a tool from a menu, resizing a shape, etc.). This is primarily because these applications have traditionally been designed for mouse and keyboard interactions where it is easy (for example) to rapidly select small icons. Attempting to perform the same actions with your eyes or head movements, however, is much more problematic. It was clear, therefore, that simply bolting new technologies onto existing software and platforms (e.g. Windows, Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.) will not result in optimal user experiences. We need new interaction approaches and designs that better support disabled people using these types of assistive technologies to produce creative work.

4. Digital Tools for Wider Artistic Practice

Another key finding from the research was identifying the need for more digital assistive tools to support wider artistic tasks (e.g. email correspondence, managing/editing budgets, ordering of supplies, managing contracts, conducting research on the web, etc.). These are tasks that many disabled artists struggle to complete as they are typically undertaken on a computer and can therefore become hugely time-consuming (thus resulting in time away from creative work). It was clear that a more holistic approach is required in the development of digital tools for disabled artists. This is a new research area that has received no attention to date and an area we intend to explore in further detail with the multi-disciplinary network of partners developed through the D2ART project.
Exploitation Route The research outcomes have highlighted potential in the technology, but also identified areas where further work is now required to address key interaction issues. We are therefore working with D2ART and other partners to explore funding opportunities for a new project investigating the creation of innovative designs/tools that better support disabled artists. There is also a keen desire amongst partners (academic and non-academic) not to lose the momentum developed through the project - we therefore intend to continue working with project partners (e.g. National Star College and SCOPE's Beaumont College) to look at the wider potential of the tools beyond the arts. In particular, we intend to examine the possibilities around helping to enhance independence, improve confidence, and make communication more effective for disabled students. The research outcomes can also help inform the design and development of other assistive products (e.g. OptiKey) to ensure that the interaction issues that artists experienced are effectively addressed through inclusive design principles.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.d2art.org
 
Description The project has generated societal impact through exposing disabled artists to new innovative technologies that can help support their practice and present new artistic opportunities. Several of the artists have subsequently informed us that they have purchased some of the technology they used on the project and are using it to support creative and other work. Involvement in the project has also led to new opportunities for artists - for example, one emerging artist we worked with has recently joined the DASH board thus opening up new networks, possibilities, and experiences around her practice. The highly collaborative nature of the project and the strong emphasis placed on working directly with artists, organisations, and other stakeholders has resulted in high levels of public engagement around the work. In particular, the project has made those working in the disability arts space more aware of the innovative tools available to support practice and the new types of opportunities they present for creative expression. Moreover, there have been examples of economic impact - for instance, the project has supported further grant success with one of the established artists we worked with recently being awarded significant Arts Council England funding for a new project. This artist was made more aware of the digital opportunities available through participating in the D2ART project and was therefore able to add a strong digital component to the application (thus adding a new dimension to her work). We also saw some broader impact around health and welfare - for example, one artist had been putting off an important surgical procedure as it may have led to the loss of the ability to communicate vocally - through seeing the eye tracking technology it gave this artist the confidence that in the worst case scenario they could still potentially communicate effectively.
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description Beaumont College 
Organisation Scope
Department Beaumont College
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We gave students at SCOPE's Beaumont College the opportunity to use digital assistive technology that could support artistic work and wider activities.
Collaborator Contribution Beaumont College facilitated a visit where we tested some assistive technology with their students. They also provided expert advice during the project around their experiences in using assistive tools. Moreover, they lent the Digital Humanities Hub some of their equipment prior to making purchases to ensure the technology was suitable for the D2ART research studies.
Impact This collaboration is multi-disciplinary - the Digital Humanities Hub focuses broadly on exploring the use of digital technologies across the arts and humanities. SCOPE's Beaumont College is a large special needs college based in the Further Education sector. The main outcomes of this work include (1) feedback on the potential of the Enpathia device and (2) making staff and students more broadly aware of the possibilities of innovative technology to support creative work.
Start Year 2014
 
Description DASH 
Organisation Disability Arts Shropshire (DASH)
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We provided technical expertise around the types of technologies we could explore with disabled artists. We also provided facilities and equipment for conducting lab-based evaluations of technology and face-to-face interviews with artists. Moreover, our research expertise and experience in running user evaluations enabled us to collaboratively explore the potential of a wide range of assistive tools for disabled artists.
Collaborator Contribution DASH provided expert advice around working directly with disabled artists and were able to support us in recruiting artists interested in working on the project. They were also crucial in advertising and disseminating the work through their newsletters, website, email list, and significant social media following. Furthermore, DASH collaborated on the design of the research studies to ensure that there was a "real-world" context to the work and that we were addressing highly pertinent and important issues in the disability arts space. They also participated in the user evaluations we conducted with artists and assisted with data analysis.
Impact This collaboration is multi-disciplinary - the Digital Humanities Hub focuses broadly on exploring the use of digital technologies across the arts and humanities. DASH are a non-academic charity working in the disability arts field. The outcomes from this collaboration include (1) a deeper understanding of the current practice of disabled artists, (2) feedback from disabled artists on the potential of assistive digital tools to support creative work, and (3) wider dissemination of the research across the disability arts field and beyond.
Start Year 2014
 
Description National Star College 
Organisation Creative and Performing Arts
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We gave a classroom of students at National Star College the opportunity to use new digital assistive technology that could support artistic work and wider activities.
Collaborator Contribution One student from National Star (an emerging artist) participated in the D2ART research studies. National Star also facilitated a separate visit where we took some new technology we were exploring (Enpathia - a motion tracking sensor) for students to evaluate and explore its potential to support artistic and creative work.
Impact This collaboration is multi-disciplinary - the Digital Humanities Hub focuses broadly on exploring the use of digital technologies across the arts and humanities. National Star College is a large special needs college based in the Further Education sector. The main outcomes of this work include (1) collaboration with a disabled student (an emerging artist) in the core D2ART research studies, (2) feedback on the potential of the Enpathia device, and (3) making staff and students more broadly aware of the possibilities of innovative technology to support creative work.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Birmingham City University Faculty Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Dr Chris Creed gave a research seminar at Birmingham City University (within the Computing, Engineering, and Built Environment (CEBE) Faculty) which enabled dissemination around the key motivations and findings of the project to academics and other staff.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description D2ART Twitter Account 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A Twitter account @d2artdigital was created to disseminate key events and activities around the project. Tweets on the account have received 25,000 impressions between April 2015 and March 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016
URL https://twitter.com/d2artdigital
 
Description D2ART Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An external website was developed around the D2ART project that included blog posts describing the research we were conducting and some of the key research outcomes from the studies conducted. This site has attracted 1,155 worldwide users and 3,138 page views (between 12th May 2015 and 7th March 2016)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016
URL http://www.d2art.org
 
Description Digital Humanities Forum (Internal Event at UoB) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Chris Creed spoke about the D2ART project at an internal University of Birmingham event ( the "Digital Humanities Forum") to around 40 academics working across the arts and humanities. This led to discussion after the event and a new collaboration that has resulted in exploring the accessibility of online cultural archives with another academic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Digital and Disability Dissemination Event (University of Birmingham) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Dr Chris Creed and DASH (Paula Dower and Mandy Fowler) led an event around the theme of "Digital and Disability" (at the University of Birmingham) where the key motivations/findings around the D2ART project were disseminated. This was attended by around 30 delegates (across academia, industry, and the arts/cultural sector) and enabled the key themes and impacts of the research to be presented from both academic and non-academic perspectives.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description National Star College (Evaluation Session) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact We collaboratively ran a session with staff and students from National Star College. This involved testing a piece of assistive technology with a classroom of around ten disabled students and four staff. In particular, four disabled students directly used the technology which highlighted some interesting usability issues that need to be addressed. National Star College is also keen to do further work in this area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Poster Presentation at the British Human-Computer Interaction Conference (Bournemouth) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Dr Chris Creed presented a poster paper at the British HCI conference around a key theme of the D2ART research (i.e. results and findings around the use of eye gaze tracking for creative work). This conference attracts a wide range of international academics and provided an opportunity to disseminate some of the key findings from the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description SCOPE's Beaumont College (Evaluation Session) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact We collaboratively ran a session with staff and students from SCOPE's Beaumont College. This involved testing a piece of assistive technology with five disabled students. We also spoke with four members of staff about the work and more broadly about the D2ART project. This session highlighted some interesting and useful usability issues around the technology evaluated. Beaumont College is also keen to do further work in this area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Talking Humanities Blog/Magazine 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This activity involved writing a piece for the Talking Humanities website (https://talkinghumanities.blogs.sas.ac.uk/) which is curated by the School of Advanced Study (University of London). This article discussed the focus and importance of the D2ART research and included a link to the project website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://talkinghumanities.blogs.sas.ac.uk/2015/10/01/the-human-side-of-computing/