Bridging the Gap - visually impaired and sighted music producers working side by side

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Arts, English and Languages


This research will examine the access barriers encountered by visually-impaired music producers using software-based creative tools in the context of a music production studio. Performance Without Barriers (PwB) an established research team at Queen's University Belfast (QUB), active in the area of inclusive, accessible instrument design, will lead this proposed three-year research project. PwB will collaborate with the Centre for Digital Music (CDM) at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), benefiting from their engineering expertise in electronics hardware design and development. The research aims to bridge the gap between visually-impaired music producers and their sighted counterparts. At the heart of the PwB team is a firm belief that equal and undifferentiated access to technology can lead to equal employment opportunities.

Many visually-impaired people utilise Screen-reading software for computer access. Due to underlying technical reasons, the majority of software used for music production, digital audio workstations (DAWs) for example, remain incompatible with such accessibility tools. On a fundamental level, the nature of control which screen-reading affords, is likely to have unintended consequences on creative processes such as music composition. In this project, PwB will examine accessibility in music production software for UK-based visually-impaired music producers and develop and evaluate alternatives to the screen-reader paradigm. Four main research questions will be focused upon, which PwB believe will lead to greater equality in accessing digital tools used for creative purposes. The main questions we pose are:

Which usability and accessibility issues are inherent in controlling music production software with a screen-reader?
How could the design of tactile control surface technologies improve the usability and accessibility of music production software for visually-impaired music producers?
Do visually-impaired music producers experience a greater degree of cognitive load when operating music production software in comparison to their sighted counterparts?
How do linear ways of accessing music production software parameters, currently the standard of many accessible software packages, inform or change the creative flow of the music production process?

Following the adage "Nothing About Us Without Us", the research is rooted in the disabled community, guided by the insights of a visually-impaired music producer (Dasent) with over 25 years of industry experience. Dasent will join PwB, on a QUB match-funded PhD studentship, becoming an integral part of this proposed research.

DAWs see use in a range of pursuits; music production, music composition, audio recording, audio mixing and mastering to name but a few. The outcomes of this research, therefore have the potential to impact visually-impaired people working with sound and music in several contexts. Furthermore, due to the pervasive nature of accessibility barriers in computing, the research has a potentially global impact. The outcomes of the research will contribute knowledge in accessibility studies, technological influence on creativity, and tactile human-computer interaction.

Three project partners (Creative United in London and two music production studios in Belfast) will support the team in enabling access to industry-standard music production tools and working methods. These partners will support the dissemination of research outcomes and promote the creative work of visually-impaired music producers through industry facing publications and a symposium. A documentary film of the research processes and outcomes has been discussed and agreed on with Outpost Production, Belfast.


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