While I was working on my proposal for the Old and New Media Residency program in January, I happened to hear an NPR story about Stevie Wonder’s visit to the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Wonder was advocating for electronics manufacturers and designers to make their products more accessible for the blind. I followed up on that NPR lead about Wonder’s attendance at the show, and found this BBC video interview featuring the superstar. The stories got me thinking about finding a way to reach out to the local blind community as collaborators on the ringtone project, and, in general, about the heightend sensitivity to sound that many blind people develop. I recall an approach that John Butler, a professor from Ohio University’s School of Film, shared with me back in the days when I was running the Media Literacy program at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. Professor Butler gives an assignment to students in some of his sound production/design classes, asking them to construct “audio maps” so that each student would be able to find his or her way home, from the school, by the sounds they have on the map. He also asks his students to chose a photo or a picture of any kind, and to use sound to “describe” the image, so that a blind person would know what it is. His students may use music, sound effects, dialogue or any other field recordings or “Foley” sounds to aurally illustrate their selected images.
Keeping Stevie Wonder’s recent act of advocacy in mind, it was important for me to me to think of how Locally Toned may “tune into” and focus on the blind community, soliciting their expertise and contributions. Because I can see and hear, I receive both audio and visual call-alert signals (ringtones and wallpaper photo IDs). Since many blind people have a heightened sense of hearing, what sounds might they wish to amplify or set as ringtones useful or interesting to them? [ANOTHER IMPORTANT & RELATED THOUGHT: Can deeplocal help me hack into the vibrate mode of cell phones to program them with a series of different alerts for the hearing impaired who use the devices for text and/or picture messaging? Oh! And will our website be easily accessible to the blind?]
Locally Toned advisor Kirsten Ervin, of Everyone an Artist, directed me to two important local resources–Radio Information Services of Pittsburgh, and the Golden Triangle Council of the Blind. The mission of RIS Pittsburgh is to further the independence, education, and self-reliance of children and adults in Western Pennsylvania who are blind, visually impaired, or unable to read or hold print material, by providing current information from print media and other sources not readily available to them. GTCB’s vision is to continue to be recognized as the leading advocacy organization in the Greater Pittsburgh area in employment, transportation, and accessibility for people with vision impairments. The aim of all of our activities is to encourage people to achieve their potential as valued members of society. I hope to work with and/or through both of these organizations.
For now, I’ve followed up on these wonderful leads Kirsten shared with me, and look forward to considering accessibility issues within the project through collaboration with these local stakeholder-communities. Right now there’s a possibility I might be able to visit on-air with host Marilyn Egan on her RIS show Town Talk, to share Locally Toned’s call for participation with her audience. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!