When most of us create art or entertainment, the last thing we’re thinking about is how someone with a disability will interact with our work. Accessibility is usually an afterthought, if it’s addressed at all.
So we end up with Braille transcriptions of books. Versions of movies with every scene narrated aloud. Closed captions that are sometimes inaccurate or missing altogether. Theaters and stadiums without adequate wheelchair access. And websites heavy with videos and images that are impossible for people with visual or auditory disabilities to enjoy.
The result? People with disabilities are often missing out on huge parts of our common culture. It’s impossible to truly adapt so many forms of media for people with disabilities — but if the media were crafted with their needs in mind, it might be possible to create versions that everyone can enjoy.
That’s just what Phillipp Meyer, an interaction designer from Copenhagen, is trying to do with his new project: a “tactile comic” for the blind. He realized early on that simply embossing the images from traditional comics so they could be felt like braille wouldn’t work. How would a blind reader be able to sort out what the image was supposed to represent?
So he took a different approach. He decided to tell the simplest story possible, using only circular shapes as characters. There are no words, and each shape is punched into the paper in a way similar to braille. Each panel is surrounded by a slightly embossed border to help readers follow the flow of the story. The story of the comic is immediately obvious to both sighted and blind readers — two circles meet, fall in love and have a child.
The most interesting part of Meyer’s process is how he went through several prototypes, taking his comic to different blind readers to see if they understood it or if he could somehow improve the experience.
He tried out multiple character designs for his simple circles to find the versions that were easiest to distinguish from one another. He even added an introduction in braille explaining how to read each frame and progress through the story after he realized that someone who was born blind wouldn’t be familiar with the sequential format of a comic strip.
The result is a beautiful, universal story that everyone can instantly understand and enjoy — you can read about Meyer’s creative process and see the book on his website.
While even Meyer himself admits he’s not sure if this is the only way — or even the best way — to adapt comics for blind readers, the project raises interesting questions. What if other designers and artists took this same approach toward creating art that can be enjoyed by people with different abilities? What would tailoring the creative process with the needs of disabled consumers in mind mean for writers? Film directors? Educators?
There’s only one way to find out.
Photo credit: Philipp Meyer