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Using digital to make the arts more accessible

Accessibility is the second key theme emerging from the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts.

In the not too dim and distant past, the word might have elicited groans - another thing to think about, another box to tick. Responding to a variety of audience needs can be demanding especially when it has been about physical space, for example, adapting old buildings to modern day demands. The digital space however, opens up a whole world of opportunity that makes access both an exciting creative and technical challenge that is worth placing front and centre from the get-go.

The fund has supported a number of projects which have demonstrated the democratising aspect of digital. These projects have been able to create arts experiences that level the playing field, so that everyone has the chance to have a similarly rich interaction. Along the way, they have also developed some innovative new technology for the arts. For example:

  • Extant who have created a haptic device to guide audience members through an immersive installation in total darkness
  • Circus Starr built an app for children on the autistic spectrum to prepare for and enjoy a live circus experience
  • Freewheeling are trialling 360 degree recording, editing and display technology to create immersive arts experiences available through affordable, portable headsets for small arts or community venues

What's more, with broader trends continuing towards personalisation in other aspects of our digital lives, the demand from users is also set to increase. Digital offers a means of catering to more needs more efficiently. With some bold pioneers leading the way, we all benefit by being inspired, seeing what really works and learning what assumptions not to make.

Right now we're in a place where designing with access as a key part of the creative and technical brief is still 'desirable' and 'if possible'. But soon we could be at a point where choosing not to design with widest possible access firmly in mind becomes in fact a choice to actively exclude people. Placing accessibility at the fore has led many of the projects we’ve funded to find untapped – and thirsty – audiences. So excluding these people makes for poorer creative offers, poorer social value and poorer business.

Putting access at the heart of your mission

Within the Digital R&D Fund, we’ve found that organisations which place access of the heart of their mission have a natural tendency to give emphasis to the individual audience member or user when designing content. Digital making methodologies also tend do this. They both in different ways pay attention to the user experience and they ensure there are opportunities to listen closely to feedback from users in regular, iterative testing.  It’s not surprising then that when paired together, the result is some incredible digital outputs that work for give everyone a chance to enjoy what the arts have to offer.

Download our guide Making Digital Work: Accessibility.

Author

Anna Dinnen

Anna Dinnen

Anna Dinnen

Senior Programme Manager

Anna was part of the Digital Arts and Media team and was responsible for the delivery of the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts on behalf of the partner organisations Arts Council England...

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