A screenshot of six people meeting on Zoom. Each has a creative and colourful virtual backdrop behind them.
Top row left to right, Tanya Raabe-Webber, Krisstel Bentley, Jaqueline Cooley. Bottom row left to right, Tristan Bentley, Jo Cairns, Dan Land.

A disabled artist’s view on accessible tech

In November, we announced that a Paul Hamlyn Foundation grant was allowing us to further support our artists. In an exciting development, Tanya Raabe-Webber from ArtStudio01 shares what that support has meant for the collective and offers some invaluable insight into the role of assistive technology for disabled creatives.

Who are we?

Firstly, let me introduce you to ArtStudio01. We are an inclusive collective of 10 individual artists working with a shared goal. That is: to make our own work, on our own terms, to support each other, to pursue our artistic ambitions, and contribute to the contemporary visual arts sector without compromise.

A painting of an art studio with multiple people working in.
Tanya’s portrait painting of ArtStudio01 in their physical studio.

The global pandemic hit us head on. Lockdown, self-isolation, and shielding meant we had to shift to a virtual space completely and immediately, stopping all our future plans. Here’s what happened next…

Lockdown One arrived! I quickly checked in with all the artists to see how everyone was and to see how we could continue ArtStudio01 online in this emergency situation. Not everyone had access to either Wi-Fi or technology, but for those that did, we quickly migrated to ArtStudio01 in a virtual space with the support of an Arts Council individual artists emergency grant.

An artist sits at her desk surrounded by work and materials. On an easel in front of her, a tablet displays a video call with other artists.
Tanya in her studio with two ArtStudio01 artists on Facebook messenger AS01.

There were still some ArtStudio01 artists who couldn’t join virtually due to lack of support or access. For those that did have tech, it proved to be inadequate, outdated, and unusable for streaming online. What could we do? As an unincorporated group, funds were seriously restricted for us.

Unlimited and Paul Hamlyn Foundation stepped in with their forward thinking, enabling us to be funded. We could buy new accessible mobile technologies and test the usability and communication of this for our new virtual ArtStudio01.

Our Tech and Test project was born, devised in two phases. In phase one, four ArtStudio01 artists received new mobile tech (iPad Air, iPencil, iPad case and stand, and creative apps) to test and stay connected to each other in our new virtual studio. In phase two, we will respond to the usability of this tech with new tech for three more artists. This will connect all our artists in our virtual studio whilst developing their creative practices in their own homes, reducing isolation and increasing connectivity.

Collage of three photos. First photo: A woman using crutches stands 6 feet from two people who have just received boxes containing iPads. They all look happy! Second photo: Two people hold up plastic boxes they have just received which contain iPads. Third photo: A selfie taken by two women showing the arrival of a delivery.
From left to right: Delivery of iPads ft. Tanya Raabe-Webber & Jaqueline Cooley. Krisstel and Tristan Bentley with their iPads. Tanya Raabe-Webber, Jo Cairns and Dan Land.

We downloaded Procreate and other apps tailored to the artists individual interests and access requirements. We then supported their learning by developing a series of ‘how to’ videos, digital screenshot tutorials, and an easy read help guide.

We would like to give a big thanks to Becky Waite, Blue Room for guidance and support in the making of our easy read ‘how to’ iPad guide. We then tested this, along with the tech and help guides, in a series of remote group and 1-2-1 sessions with all of the artists.

A screenshot of the list of items found in the 'Tech and Test' kit. On the left, the items - an iPad, iPencil, stand, etc. - are listed. On the right is a digital photograph which has been annotated to show which bit is which.
What comes in the Tech and Test kit.

The artists were not familiar with the easy read format to begin with, not having experienced this type of communication design before. So, we looked at this together and reviewed its usability. After much debate the artists decided that it should also include advice on how to use Zoom, so is still a work in progress.

An easy read guide to using iPhotos.
An easy read guide to using iPhotos.

We also tested different iPad communication apps versus Zoom with the artists to see what worked best for our needs as disabled artists and as disabled people. These include using text messages on iPad to promote connectivity, Zoom orientation and screen sharing so we can support and learn from each other, and FaceTime for promoting peer support. We also set up a shared photo album in iPhotos so we could easily access and share our artworks remotely for posting on our social media.

Screenshot of three people facetiming.
Testing FaceTime (Dan Land left, Tanya Raabe-Webber right and Jaqueline Cooley little square)

We found that FaceTime was good for video calling but we couldn’t screen share, so zoom worked best for studio sessions. Messages on iPad is great as we can text each other and we’ve now got a group so we can share tips and tricks. I am building a resource of screen shots as a ‘how to’ digital resource to enable independent learning, which is proving really useful.

As a collective, we all feel that the iPads and apps have hugely improved our virtual studio experience and improved access with clear sound and video streaming. The artists liked the iPad stands for their sturdiness and flexibility, the iPad can be angled up or down so that we can see each other making our work. They also liked the fact that they could move around their house, giving them choice of spaces to take part in virtual ArtStudio01.

An iPad sitting on an iPad stand. It displays the home screen.
An iPad at home with an ArtStudio01 artist.

 

We found that some of the iPad accessibility features are really useful, improving our disability access when using iPad technology, especially when we are in our virtual studio space.

Here’s what the ArtStudio01 artists said:

Tristan Bentley said, ‘I like short videos to help me learn how to use Procreate. I like making text art in Procreate and using my fingers as gestures to undo and redo.’

Jo Cairns said, ‘I like the choice of brushes in Procreate and experimenting with layers and over painting. I like to tap things to see what happens.’

Krisstel Bentley said, ‘The iPad on the stand is like a touch screen monitor and it feels safe and sturdy. I have discovered that I can share and save photos on my memory stick between my phone and the iPad.’

Dan Land said, ‘I’m using Procreate to create and animate characters from my video game that I’ve written called Psionivator. I’ve also downloaded the app Reason Compact to make my music on.’

This is just the beginning of our new future. We are really excited about the potential of this mobile technology. We all want to learn more and have already begun to explore film making and sound making and are looking forward to future collaborations with DASH Young Talent, Blue Room, and Figment Arts artists.

Follow our website, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to see our work.