A Blind Aesthetic

19 Mar

This week we focused on how disabled people interact with the web and how web designers can impact the way the disabled interact positively or negatively with the content on their site.

 I was inspired by the different technological adaptations for the visually impaired; for instance, I did not know about the use of a Braille display used in the place of a computer screen. With the use of screen readers, the importance of how we incorporate text into our websites becomes powerfully magnified— this seems to underline Joe Clark’s statement (from “How Disabled People Use Computers”), “text is not a feature of Websites, it is a primitive, a fundamental and unalterable component”, with a thick red marker. The information we choose and how we display it becomes a major factor as to how people extract the message from our site.  

 The important attention to detail to the text that is displayed and the alternate text we attach to images can be improved with CSS techniques learned from http://webaim.org/techniques/css/invisiblecontent/.

 Then I came to a new question: What is the aesthetic experience for the blind? How does being visually impaired affect the way the blind interact with a work of art or the museum? Are they completely limited to a tactile experience? As an art historian, how can we act as mediators for art works for the blind?

 I came across “Somewhere in between Touch and Vision: In Search of a Meaningful Art Education for Blind Individuals” by Karin de Coster and Gerrit Loots. Some museums in Belgium organize touch tours and handling sessions for the mediation of the aesthetic. The article underlined an important question that I would like to research further:

 “What happens when the experience of sight becomes the subject of art itself?”

 Housen’s The eye of the beholder: Measuring Aesthetic Development” tries to address this problem. She ran experiments with blind persons at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; despite being visually impaired, most of the participants used the same cognitive approach to art as those with sight.  However, the aesthetic experience was not just a subjective sensation of beauty, but an experience made possible through conversation and dialogue where the museum guide acts as a translator for “moderating tactile sensations into visual components”.

 This brings me back another question: if the aesthetic experience ceases to be a subjective sensation of beauty, is there such a thing as “art for art sake?” when the aesthetic rests so heavily on a dialogue? If you’ve ever seen Amelie, there is a part where she helps a blind man cross the road and she describes everything in sight, leaving him with an incredible aesthetic experience of the world around him. Perhaps for the congenitally blind the imagination must play a large part, but I think in the end, the aesthetic experience in itself becomes a subjective sensation of beauty.

 How can we act as mediators for the images we place on the web? Both Celeste and Sheri have made comments about the impact of captions beneath the image that I thought generated interesting dialogue. Text is does have a great impact on how we mediate images—for the visually impaired, I think that the ‘large narratives’ make up the details that comprise their overall experience.

At the end of the day, this brings be back to the original point that despite the amazing visual affects and images we can bring to the website canvas, the incorporation and use of text is our most valuable brush.

Of course, it is fun to focus on the visual details of an image as we have done with our photo restorations that were due this week; any advice on how to improve mine would be greatly appreciated!

3 Responses to “A Blind Aesthetic”

  1. marthalindsey March 25, 2012 at 7:21 pm #

    This was a very good and thoughtful discussion of this week’s web requirements which dealt with disabilities. I would a little surprised that none of the sites for this week dealt with federal 508 compliance. Federal Section 508 requires that all governmental buildings, publications, and websites be handicapped accessible. As an employee of the National Park Service who deals with new media and design I frequently need to deal with ensuring that our products meet 508 guidelines. I think that these simple steps and processes could serve as a best practices for making our own sites usable for individual with disabilities. Here are some details on 508: http://www.netmechanic.com/accessibility/accessibility-requirements.shtml

    • mbarkovi March 26, 2012 at 2:55 am #

      Thanks, Lindsey— I thought the website you posted was an interesting link and a good reference for this week; while it’s a regulation for the government I think these guidelines should be useful for everyone trying to make sure that their information is accessible for a more inclusive audience.


  1. Synchronize Watches | Clio in Binary - March 26, 2012

    […] about accessibility on the internet for the visually impaired. Many of my classmates (such as Margaret, David, Lindsey, Richard, Clare, and Sheri)  have also described the importance of accessible […]

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