Touch Post-Covid19: Navigating through deafblindness in the UK via contactless haptic-audio-visual technologies of perception.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: College of Arts

Abstract

This is a public-facing investigation into the impact of touch deprivation on deafblind communities. Building on an existing interdisciplinary research project (Film and Television, and Quantum Physics) at the University of Glasgow, it examines sense perception through the means of audio- visual impairment and investigates how technologies of perception may augment the sensory experience of deafblind people.

Covid19 has acutely heightened our awareness of and restrained us from using the sense of touch. Touching is now threatening lives, but it still remains a vital connection to the world and others. For deafblind communities, who rely on haptic experiences to navigate the world, the fear of touch and intimacy in post-Covid society is likely to impose new challenges and increase social isolation. Working primarily with Deafblind Scotland, and Deafblind UK, and drawing on sensory and media studies, we will create audio-visual documentation of social experiences of selected members, which will aid in understanding their and our new world. We will also develop strategies and new contactless haptic-audio-visual tools/technologies that facilitate safe and reliable communication for individuals. Research findings will reach policymakers, academics, and public audiences through reports that inform policymaking, contactless haptic-audio-visual tools and strategies, online exhibitions and open access data, journal articles, and public awareness events.

Publications

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Title In Touch: Exhibition (as part of Being Human Festivals of Humanities) 
Description Curated by Dr Azadeh Emadi in partnership with Deafblind Scotland for the 2020 Being Human Festival, this exhibition presents a range of perspectives on what touch might mean to us post-Covid19. Ultimately, it feeds into ongoing research on how different experiences of touch might reshape audio-visual art practices and further inform the development of communication tools and strategies. The online exhibition consisted of diverse video and audio arts that responded to the theme of touch. The Exhibition involved two video works co-produced by deafblind members. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact A significant outcome of this exhibition was bringing artists and the deafblind community and artists together. The exhibition was received extremely well by the DB community. Key research themes, such as touch and perception, were developed and tested publically and in collaboration with Deafblind Scotland and the community. This is now leading into the next more comprehensive creative work/exhibition co-produced with DB members, DB Scotland and DBUK. Also, as part of this exhibition, a workshop was delivered. The workshop discussions have informed the research direction theoretically and creatively (including our technology for DB individuals). 
URL https://www.gla.ac.uk/colleges/arts/aboutus/events/being-human-festival/intouchexhibition/
 
Title Interactive Harmony 
Description Interactive Harmony is a multi-sensory curation of photographs produced by deafblind artist Anne Dignan. The artist was drawn to the tactile nature of each object depicted in the photographs. Interactive Harmony was originally exhibited in an all-inclusive manner to evoke a reaction and understand despite disabilities. Each photograph was accompanied by a tactile image created by outlining the object on swell paper and then etching using specialist graphite pens. An embosser raised the lines to enable a tactile interpretation of each image. A narrative for each photograph was produced in accessible formats for all to experience: audio description, braille, large print. Video of these photographs are produced and edited by Azadeh Emadi. Anne Dignan is an accomplished Deafblind artist passionate about accessibility and inclusion in her work. Anne believes that her lack of senses has never been a barrier in her practice in fact it has finely tuned her other sense to compensate for her sensory impairment: hearing and sight loss. The achievements of her work give her great creative satisfaction and mindfulness which in these unprecedented time have kept her motivated. Anne continues to be proactive during lockdown exploring many different disciplines in her practice. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact The PI worked directly with the artist to develop her photographs for a video exhibition. This working together and presenting the outcome to the public audience has been in particular significant to the artist, as she stated, it gave her a chance to share her voice and work with a wider audience. Her view of the world, as a deafblind person, also gave fruitful insight into the world of audio-visual impairment. Her work was part of In Touch exhibition (as part of the Being Human Festival). It was called in In Touch workshop by the audience as inspiring and informative. Her work and experiences are particularly interesting for the haptic understanding of the world from DB perspective. 
URL https://www.gla.ac.uk/colleges/arts/aboutus/events/being-human-festival/intouchexhibition/interactiv...
 
Title Notes on the Inner Eye 
Description This is an experimental video, co-produced with Issy McGrath, a creative interpretation of her experience of being deafblind during Covid. She has Usher Syndrome Type II and is severely deaf as well as completely blind. Navigating a rural path during the pandemic, this video piece gives a unique insight into how she touches history, touches time, both through her body and her inner eye. All material (including the music was captured and produced by Issy during the Covid19 pandemic, with the support of her husband and in the company of her retired guide dog, Ice. The material was later composed by Azadeh Emadi, in consultation with Issy and Deafblind Scotland. Issy McGrath studied at the University of Glasgow and graduated with a degree in Education. She went on to do a postgrad at Oxford Brooks University and qualified to become a teacher of the deaf. Issy went on to work in a variety of educational settings with deaf and deafblind children, 15 years of which were at managerial level. Issy has Usher Syndrome Type II but continues to enjoy playing the flute, swimming and going out and about with her retired guide dog, Ice. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact This work was exhibited in In Touch as part of the Being Human Festival. The work is informing the research on touch post-covid. It's also the beginning of a more comprehensive work with Issy and other members of the Deafblind community. The work allowed testing out ideas and developing working patterns with participants. It gives fruitful insights into the experience of deafblindness and sensory experience of the world. 
URL https://www.gla.ac.uk/colleges/arts/aboutus/events/being-human-festival/intouchexhibition/notesonthe...
 
Description These outcomes were achieved within four months from starting the project and during the extreme lockdown and social restrictions. The initial objectives, as promised in the proposal, are met in the following format: Public engagement event (exhibition), data collection and creative interpretation of deafblind participants (two creative audio-visual works), a public workshop involving deafblind members, artists, academics, and the public. More outcomes will be delivered as the research progresses and with more needed time. Data collection/analysis, creative development, technological enhancement are simultaneously progressing.

Curated in collaboration with DB Scotland, we presented the initial stage of the research in an online exhibition and research workshop In-Touch, as part of Being Human Festivals of Humanities (Nov/2020). This also included the creative audio-visual interpretation of two deafblind members co-developed with the research team. Through this innovative platform and collaboration, we explored how different experiences of touch might reshape audio-visual art practices relating to the senses, and further inform the development of communication technologies and creative strategies.

Currently, data gathered from Deafblind communities, using ethnographic and practice-based methodologies (including the creative outcomes/exhibition and workshop) highlights different and subtle forms of information processing due to impairment that can reveal knowledge of the environment and time hidden to and different for ordinary senses. For example, members ultra-imagination and scrutinised sense of perspective opens valuable questions on our use of digital technology and an understanding of the world and its representations in film and media art and theories, which relies highly on the sense of seeing.

These outcomes and findings are feeding back to the research and are further studied and explored by the research team. These are tested via our developing haptic technologies.
Exploitation Route The current outcomes are primarily relevant to the creative sector and those interested in a better understanding of deafblind experiences and issues:

The workshop provided an open space for learning and discussion. There was an extensive question and answer session, where audiences and presenters (including deafblind presenters) exchange ideas and explored new ways of understanding touch and sensory perceptions. We believe that participants have given opportunities to take away key findings and apply them in their specific areas of research, creative practice, or personal interests.

On the other hand, the online exhibition opened up space for creative and critical questioning on our understandings of sense of touch. Bringing various points of view and creative approaches on touch, which involves deafblind members and their experience at its centre, has given fruits for thought to audiences as well as participated artists. There is a genuine interest in understanding and better engaging with deafblind communities.

Creative outcomes co-produced by deafblind members, highlight ways in which fully-abled bodies can expand their perception and work toward a more inclusive society. At the same time, specific aesthetic forms might become useful for questioning our conventional methods of communication. These works are essential for awareness-raising.
Sectors Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description Through a public workshop and online exhibition, the research reached wider audiences beyond academia (i.e. the public and broader deaf-blind communities). It involved artists with disabilities to present in the exhibition and has encouraged new members of the deafblind community to engage with researchers and creative practitioners, to produce creative works and present in a workshop for public awareness-raising. These have enhanced the community's voice and confidence. Also, the outcomes raised public awareness, which included an online exhibition of the audio-visual interpretations of deafblind experiences during and post-Covid19 (was developed in collaboration with Deafblind Scotland.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description In Touch: Workshop (involving deafblind community, artists ,scholars and public) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This interactive workshop - co-developed and presented alongside the In Touch exhibition with the charity Deafblind Scotland - provided a meaningful insight into the experiences of the deafblind community. Alongside artists and scholars they reflected on and challenged our core notions of how we sense - and make sense of - the world. This event was presented by the College of Arts at the University of Glasgow as part of the Being Human festival, the UK's only national festival of the humanities (12-22 November). Led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy.

Members from Deafblind Scotland, an artist, and a scholar from UofG presented in the workshop. The workshop had a cap for 20 participants, which was filled quickly and a waiting list of 30. People from deafblind communities, artists, academics and public members attended the workshop. The workshop sparked great discussions and highlighted a shift in perception of touch as well as deafblind experiences of it. DB participants expressed great satisfaction with the event and their participation and the inclusive nature of the event. Afterwards, there was an increased expression of interest for similar events.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/in-touch-workshop-tickets-117813193433#