Tag Archives: Accessibility

Review: „The Wake“ by Tom Murphy with Audio Description at The Abbey Theatre

A few weeks ago we travelled to Dublin to see the latest production by the Abbey Theatre of Tom Murphy’s “The Wake”, a play portraying the materialism of Irish small-town communities in the early 1990s. It reveals how far most members of so called respectable families are prepared to go to satisfy their desire for power and wealth.

Accessible Performances

So far 2016 was a great year for fans of audio described theatre performances and I hope the continuing international interest in Irish arts will further not only creative art production, but also help to increase the availability of caption and audio description for patrons with visual and hearing impairments. I have written about how audio description works and the importance of making culture and arts accessible to everyone in a previous review.

The staff of the Abbey Theatre is very friendly and the lady who hands out the audio devices even recognised us from last year.

The Story

To the dismay of the rest of the O’Toole family, Vera suddenly reappears in her home town, endangering her sibling’s plan to auction the family hotel, which their mother left to Vera, in her absence. Vera however is more hurt about not being told about the death of her beloved grandmother. Although she resents not being consulted about the auction, unlike her money-obsessed siblings she does not really care about the buying and selling of property which she calls “the family game”.

While a lot of the time, Vera isn’t exactly pleasant and despite working as a prostitute in New York, she shows more courage than the others and is the most honest of the characters. Aisling O’Sullivan portrays Vera’s contradictory character beautifully. By coming home, the cosmopolitan, tough Vera turns back into a rebellious and vulnerable school girl for a while and seduces her teenage sweetheart Finbar and Henry, her sister Marcia’s pompous Anglo-Irish husband. Reversing the “Windows of the squinting valley”-theme they stage an alcohol and sex orgy in the hotel, with the whole town watching in horror through the windows. In spite of her eccentric behaviour all Vera really wants is to belong. After all, nobody can choose their relatives and their place of birth.

“What other society, town, civilised country would put up with it?”

To keep up the appearance of respectability, the siblings commit Vera to an asylum for the mentally ill, justifying their betrayal by saying it is best for everyone, including Vera herself. Locking up the most vulnerable members of society and those who simply refuse to fit in, has been a common way for Irish society to “solve” its “problems” for decades – Institutionalisation became the most expedient and profitable response to poverty, illness, orphans, “young offenders” and “fallen girls”. Finbar, labelled “Tinker” by the O’Tooles, too is a victim of institutionalisation. Abused by the priest and after spending his childhood in the industrial school in Letterfrack, he is constantly afraid of authorities and wants to be left in peace. While his dealings in scrap metal may not be entirely clean, compared to the O’Tooles, playing monopoly with the town, he is a straight businessman.

Tom Murphy himself is from Tuam in County Galway and according to a screen with a map, which decorates the stage in the final scene, the action takes place there. One of the reasons why the play resounds with the audience is, that the characters appear to be fashioned from real people. Everyone knows or has heard of a domineering brother married to a doctor’s daughter who gets through life only on pills, a greedy and jealous sister and a pontificating Anglo-Irish barrister with poetic ambitions who is too cowardly to embrace a bohemian life.


However, the play is not only dark, the characters interact brilliantly for some comic relief. Especially the funny dynamics between the feckless but likable Finbar (played by Brian Doherty) and the pompous Henry (played by Frank McCusker) is priceless. Their inability for the most part to understand each others language and thoughts highlights class distinctions, which, although traditionally disputed, do exist in Ireland. The wake-scene is no sugary happy ending, but it includes some great singing, reminding us that these ruthless and troubled people are descended from a rural society, which valued not just money, but also arts, kinship and wakes.


I’d recommend Tom Murphy’s plays in general to visually impaired people, since everything important is expressed in dialogue. I recently read “Conversations on a Home Coming” and while I consider it a great play, read in silence the text became very repetitive. Unlike for example Shakespeare plays which include lengthy monologues, most Irish plays work only on stage. It is spoken language – witty exchanges of one-liners, dialect and colloquialisms, recitations and subtle changes in intonation – that captivates the audience. The language in Murphy’s plays – and the characters who use it – seem simple and everyday, but everything is carefully constructed to present a picture of Irish society, audience members recognise.

When booking the tickets I was told the play contain strong language, violence and nudity. While strong language is almost necessary in a realistic play, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the other two. I don’t mind violence and nakedness, if it’s not just to shock people, but serves a narrative purpose – which it did in this performance.

Audio Description

I thought I remembered the voice from the last time and I actually met the audio describer after one show. It was great to meet the person behind the voice in my ear and to thank her. I asked her if she couldn’t record the AD to make it available for multiple performances. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t work, because as soon as the silences between the dialogues would be a second longer, speech and recording could be out of sync.

There isn’t much to say about the AD. It blended nicely into the background, giving descriptions of cast, costume and changes on stage, while also leaving time to listen to the music. That’s the way it should be. Other audience members commented on Finbar’s comic expressions, when he didn’t have a clue or was too drunk to care what the others were on about. As I do in everyday life, I had to guess these subtleties without being able to see facial expressions and I’m not sure how they could be conveyed through words as part of the AD. The duration of the play was three hours, with a twenty minute interval. And the audio describer stayed attentive during the whole performance, a remarkable achievement.


Abbey Theatre Dublin

see Arts & Dissability Ireland for upcoming audio described and captioned performances




2 men and 2 women on stage

Review: CARE by WillFredd Theatre with Audio Description

Although the number of audio described and subtitled live-performances has considerably increased over the last few years, they are still rare outside Dublin. Consequently, I was delighted when I received the Arts & Disability Ireland text newsletter notifying subscribers that WillFredd Theatre Company was to bring its newest production CARE to the Galway Town Hall Theatre. The show featured audio description for visually impaired audience members and subtitles for patrons with hearing impairments.

What is Audio Description?

People may know Audio description (AD) from TV programmes. It is a voiceover telling blind and visually impaired viewers, or indeed anyone who chooses to use it, information that is not conveyed through dialogue, music or sound. For example It would say something like: “John enters holding a folder under his arm. He is a well-dressed man in his forties.” I’m not familiar with the production side of AD, but it is important that the information is as objective as possible, so that the viewers can form their own opinion. Timing too is very important, since the voiceover should not overlap with the dialogue or give clues in advance or too late.

I only learned recently, that being an audio describer is a profession in its own right, which is currently not taught in Ireland. Unlike the AD on TV or DVDs, the voiceover for plays is usually live, since breaks in dialogues can vary slightly. Producing an audio description can take up to forty hours: The describer attends rehearsals, watches video footage, writes a script and finally performs it off stage.

Audience members get a one-ear -piece headset with two wheels, one for turning it on and off and one to adjust the volume. Personally, I think this is better than giving people a smart phone or developing an app because not everyone knows how to use them and the important feature of AD is its accessibility.

Going to the theatre as a visually impaired person

Before there can be an audio description there obviously has to be a play and while for me the AD definitely increases my enjoyment of the performance, plot and acting are still my main criteria when reviewing a play. I’m a regular theatre goer and having AD is the exception. Mostly I have to rely on what there is to hear, the bit of movement I can see from being seated in the front rows or whispered comments from friends. Thus, I tend to go to traditional plays with lots of dialogue. If they were offered with AD, I would give more experimental and dance pieces another chance. While I prefer to go to shows with friends and to talk about it over a drink afterwards, I would go on my own if I really want to see something.

CARE “a show about the people who add life to days, if not days to life”

CARE explores the daily work and private life of four hospice staff members, thus questioning and redefining our associations and often prejudices about what working, living, dying and grieving in a hospice is like.

Having seen numerous Irish plays, I expected something very dramatic and very dark, featuring tragic family stories and heartbreaking last words. Although CARE definitely has its sad moments – and does not culminate in a happy ending as such –, it is a beautiful depiction of compassion and love for people and life – simply summarised as CARE. The action could be set in any hospice in Ireland or indeed worldwide.

Interestingly, the protagonists are not the patients but the staff members: nurses, physiotherapists and social workers. The audience accompanies them through their daily jobs, their tea breaks and their private lives in the latter of which they have to deal with the stigma of pure death surrounding hospices. The main patient, a woman called Anne who is in her fifties dying of lung cancer and her husband and children who have to deal with her eminent death are narrated by the staff members. Having a clothes mannequin representing the patient avoids the pathos and victimisation commonly associated with the death of an individual, but I sometimes thought the patient could have shown some signs of life and agency not only through narrations but also through his or her own speech or movement. The main focus clearly lies on the way individual staff members interpret and deal with medical history, physical complaints, mental anxieties and relatives denying the impending death of a loved one and attending the death bed.  The last days in a hospice are not about dying they are about living as long and as comfortable as possible until the end. It was quite touching to see how the characters did their best to fulfil their patient’s personal last wishes to bring them some final pleasure. The play definitely changed my perception of hospices and the people who work their.

“Life is a sexually transmitted disease with a 100% mortality rate”

There is also some humour in the play, for example when a patient drinks a whole bottle of ”Baileys” through a straw, resulting in a terrible hangover in the morning, only to be cured with bacon sandwiches. To add some cynicism and serious social commentary on the “trolley crisis” in Irish hospitals, the play opens with a scene showing HSE administrators deciding how many beds are available and who gets them by rolling the dice.

I would have been able to follow the plot without audio description, but I would have missed a lot of details, especially the dance piece in the middle and the final Elvis impersonation. In theatre and film visual aspects like set, costume and gestures are important and sometimes not seeing them is missing an essential part of the performance.

The audio description was very good, a pleasant female voice in the background, discretely filling the silences between dialogues and music. There were a few background noises and I had to adjust the volume depending to what was happening on stage. Unfortunately, I missed the introduction describing set and characters who were already on stage when we entered the theatre. Overall the AD was helpful and objective as it should be.

Improving the communication between disability advocacy groups and “mainstream” institutions

As far as I could see, only a friend and I were using the audio description which surprised me, because there are quite a few blind and visually impaired people living in and around Galway city. So where were they? Perhaps, many people who would benefit from AD do not know that it even exists or are not aware which shows are audio described. While the information was widely distributed within the disabled community, it did not appear in mainstream print and online publications. Consequently, nobody in the local arts and theatre community knew about it. Often programme brochures are printed before all details concerning the AD are finalised. Nevertheless, AD should not be regarded as special feature for minority groups of little interest to the general public. Even if the majority of audience members will not use it, they may know someone who would benefit from it and spread the word.

Getting to the venue, especially from county Galway may also be an obstacle, but I have already written about the difficulties visually impaired public transport users encounter on a daily basis elsewhere.

Patrons with disabilities too are paying customers and – like all public sectors – culture and entertainment facilities should be as inclusive and accessible to everyone. Therefore it is essential that culture, media and government organisations establish effective networks with disability advocacy groups to inform the public. On the other hand, people with disabilities should try to avail themselves of AD and similar offers, because if they are not used they eventually will no longer be available.

According to their website:

WillFredd’s work engages with contemporary culture, actively inviting new audiences into the theatre. Through ethical encounters between artists and communities of place, space and interest, the company develop theatre which responds to and represents y elements of these communities.

By developing CARE together with real-life hospice staff and by providing audio description and subtitles to the performance, they certainly fulfilled their objectives. Thanks for considering my special needs as an audience member. I would also like to thank the Arts & Disability Ireland team and the staff of the Town Hall Theatre for an amazing, inclusive night out.

You can still see CARE audiodescribed and captioned in the Pavilion Theatre Dun Laoghaire on May 21st. The next accessible show in the Galway Town Hall is The Plough and The Stars on May 26nd.


Directed by Sophie Motley
Designed by Sarah Jane Shiels
Produced by Kate Ferris
Sound and Music by Jack Cawley and Sean Mac Erlaine
Choreography by Emma O’Kane
Costume Design by Sarah Bacon
Performed by Jack Cawley, Sonya Kelly, Sean Mac Erlaine, Eleanor Methven and Shane O’Reilly


WillFredd Theatre Company

Arts & Disability Ireland

Photo by Marcin Lewandowski: L-R: characters Marie Ruane, John Doran, Paul Curley, Maaike van der Linde

all quotes are taken from http://willfredd.com/

Read my review of last year’s Abbey Theatre production of Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats


close-up of a white and pink blossom with yellow in the middle

Interview with visually impaired photographer Chelsea Stark

Tell us something about your self and why you are passionate about photography.

My name is Chelsea Stark and I am a 36-year-old visually impaired woman. I started taking photos when I was about 12. I found that it was a great way for me to see the world around me. And I really enjoyed it. Over the years I have had several kinds of cameras. The two cameras I really enjoyed using so far are my IPhone 6 and my Sony a 6000.


How did you and do you learn to take good photos?

I have not taken any formal classes or training. All I know comes from practice, practice, practice. I tend to take a picture when I see something that interests me, or something I want to see up close. And sometimes just that little act of wanting to know what’s around me helps me to get some amazing shots.


Do you get inspirations from works of other photographers?

My inspiration comes from my loving husband Robert Park. He is a fine art landscape photographer. He has some amazing skills and amazing images. I learn so much from him every time we go out.


Small waterfall surrounded by green

What equipment do you use and did your visual impairment play a role in choosing the right camera and accessories?

 I have used several different kinds of cameras. Recently I have been using a Sony a 6000 and an IPhone 6. For each piece of equipment that I have used or purchased over the years one key factor was that it must have a live View Setting or capability. It is the only way I can see what’s around me and compose a photo.


What are your preferred subjects to photograph and do you think your choice of objects and styles is influenced by your visual impairment?

I like to photograph animals, flowers and occasionally landscape when it moves me. I use the camera mostly to get a better view of my world around me.

silhouettes of horses on a beach

How do you find your subjects as a legally blind person? Do you have an idea in your head before you go out to take pictures?

I do not go out with any plans or ideas. I find that my best images just appear. I just go out with my equipment and shoot what presents itself to me. I have found that planning sometimes leads to disappointment. And that random photo that you never expected tends to be the best photo you’ve taken all day.


How do you choose which photos to post on your blog and social media? Do you get sighted people to describe them to you?

When I decide that I want to post something on my block or social media, I usually just post what I like. Sometimes I will get an opinion here or there. But It is my page with my rules and my images and I just go with it.


You always write a short text to each photo where it was taken. How important are the location and the story behind the picture to you?

I give a location if possible because the first question I always hear is: where was that taken? By putting the location out there that question is no longer a problem. I believe it’s very important to write a little something about each image that you post. It helps people to get in the right frame of mind while they look at your image. Plus it helps with Google’s indexing.

 Inside of an Southern European looking restaurant

Do you use photo shop programmes and how accessible do you find them?

I use either a program called Aperture or IPhoto. But often I will use built-in features on my IPhone or IPad. The latest version of IOS does a decent job on photo editing. If it needs more work than that, I will have my husband or someone else do some minor tweaks to the image in their photo editing program of their choice. But a lot of times it’s just straight from the IPhone or IPad. The already mentioned Aperture is fairly accessible and also allows me to catalogue photos.


Do you think photos taken by visually impaired people are different to those sighted people take and do you think it is fair to compare them?

I believe every photographer has their own style. And everybody’s images are different, regardless of whether they are blind, visually impaired or fully sighted. I’m not sure if it is fair to compare photographer’s work based on whether they have vision or not.  But if vision is left out of the equation being compared to other photographers is perfectly fine with me.


Would you disclose your visual impairment if you were to enter a photography competition and why yes or no?

Yes I would disclose my visual impairment. I belief letting people know about my visual impairment helps them to understand my work better and makes them see the artwork in a different way.


How do people on the street react when they see you taking pictures?

I’m not really sure. I’ve had nobody say anything to me regarding me taking photos. But I’m sure I’ve gotten some weird books once in a while.

 Three bottles of sauce

Could you imagine making photography your profession? And what are your aims for the future with regards to photography?

It would be cool to make photography my profession. Right now my goals regarding photography are just to take some interesting images around me. And maybe sell some here and there. But at the moment it’s just for fun.


Do you have some general tips for blind and visually impaired people who want to take up photography?

My suggestion for any visually impaired or blind person who wants to get into photography, is to get yourself an IPhone 6. It may sound like a silly thing to start with. But it is easy to learn and will cost a lot less then a good camera.  If you find that you actually enjoy photography and you want to get something that will give you the ability to have larger images, the next step would be to do some research on cameras and see which one fits your preferences and your capabilities with your hands and eyes.

Follow Chelsea










Guidelines for picture descriptions

These guidelines were composed by the blind art historian Anja Winter in German. The list focuses on paintings but can also be applied to photographs. You can find more suggestions in how to describe pictures to blind people in our “Your Description” section.

1.  Facts

  • painter
  • title and genre
  • format and measurements
  • technique
  • time of origin



  • composition (fore – middle and background)
  • main object (only what draws the viewer’s attention immediately)
  • colours


2. Impression, Mood

  • detailed description of what is to see in the picture
  • avoiding personal interpretation


3. General background information

  • (If extra knowledge is needed to interpret the picture)
  • Biographical dates of painter and if existing of client
  • Style and epoch
  • Distinctive characteristics from an art historian’s perspective
  • Historical or religious background

Copyright tastkunst 06. 2012


Describing Photos in Teamwork

This text is an afterthought to the description of  Darek’s windmill I wrote together with a friend.

We are always looking for new sighted people to describe the pictures on our blog to the blind and visually impaired photographers who took them and of course to all our other readers.  Most of our “picture describers”, as we call them are students from our workshops in Berlin or people who write professionally or as pastime. However, you don’t need to have a background in journalism, blogging or creative writing. In fact you don’t even need to be an expert on photography or visual arts. While knowledge and interests in these fields can be helpful, everyone can describe a picture. Processing and reflecting visual stimuli comes naturally to everyone who can see something, even if it’s just blurry shapes or light and shade. We do it all the time in our everyday lives and take it for granted without even noticing.

The Fear of the Empty Page

Since I write for this blog, I’ve talked to quite a few people, who said they are interested in our project but wouldn’t know how to describe a photograph to someone who can’t see it. Personally, I think the most difficult thing is to get started and simply try. It’s like writing an academic essay, prose, poetry or even a letter. We are afraid of the empty page, or nowadays the blank screen staring back at us. Once we’ve done the first step and simply started to write something, more words and sentences start to come naturally. Additionally, what we write in this first outburst doesn’t have to be perfect; it can always be changed, edited or even deleted.

The Process of Writing as Teamwork

For me,  writing blog posts and photo descriptions is actually easier than composing academic essays, because it gives me more creative freedom and there aren’t any guidelines, except those we set ourselves. Obviously we want readers to follow our thoughts and like our texts, so they have to be readable, structured and not full of mistakes. And I assume most of us want to write about something that matters to us and our followers.

Especially when writing academic papers, I try to get someone else to read and comment on my text. After reading them over and over again, we tend to overlook our own mistakes. Because we spend so much time developing them, the way we put our arguments on paper appears completely logical to us. Discussing our thoughts with another person often helps to express ourselves better and clearer. And finally we get to talk to another human being instead of sitting alone at our desk all day.

How does that help me to describe a Picture?

It only occurred to me recently, that describing a photograph could involve even more teamwork than editing academic texts, because the whole process of writing it can become a dialogue. It’s like having a jogging partner, if somebody else is involved and to some extend relies on your commitment, chances are you will be more likely to overcome your doubts or laziness or whatever it is that makes you hesitate, and actually do what you set out to do.

So one afternoon I sat a friend down to compose a description with me. We had talked about doing this for months, but never actually got around to doing it. This friend has no prior experience in creative or journalistic writing and only a casual interest in photography. He said his main reservations against writing a description on his own were, that he wasn’t sure how to compose a text people wanted to read and which aspects of the photo were relevant.

Questions over Questions

I still have some sight. Thus, I saw the general outline of the windmill, the blue sky and the green grass and I guessed there were trees. Starting from there I asked general questions to get a better understanding of the outlines of the photograph:

  • What are your first spontaneous reactions and associations?
  • What are the prominent objects?
  • How much space does the windmill take up?, Where in the picture is it?
  • Describe the mill in more detail: shapes, individual parts, colours, textures …
  • From which side are we looking at it
  • Can you see people? How many? Where are they in relation to each other and the mill?
  • What can you see of the people? What are they wearing? What are they looking at? What are they doing? (Body language, communication between them)
  • What else is there in the background? What kind of trees? Where are they in relation to the mill and the people?
  • Are there other details you wouldn’t notice at the first glance? Any objects captured by accident?

After a while I came up with lots of questions. One often led to another. I found the trick or secret was to give my friend prompts and suggestions he could use as a starting point. To find answers to some of the more specific questions like “What do the people wear” he had to look very closely. Sometimes he couldn’t see details very clearly and had to guess and speculate. The picture became almost a story. For example did the orange tiled roof belong to a visitor centre or just storage shed for equipment?

And what if I can’t see anything in the photo?

While being able to see the main objects in the photo helped me to start the dialogue, I think this method would also work for someone who is completely blind. You would just have to start with the very basics. Maybe after a while the blind person could tell the image he or she has in her or his mind so far, while the sighted person compares it to the photo and adjusts the description accordingly. Feel free to try it out and let us us know how it went.

A photo is like a person, you have to spend time with it to get to know it

I wouldn’t have noticed the little people on my own and if we wouldn’t have talked about it in such detail, we both would have flicked over the picture quite quickly. After spending some time with the picture it became more to us than just a nice shot of a windmill in the countryside on a bright summers day. We speculated where the mill is, who the people are and how they know each other.

Nowadays we see hundreds and thousands of pictures in the news and in social media. While it is great that almost everybody can take and share photos nowadays, sometimes I think this mass distribution lowers our appreciation of them. So, if you want to spend some more time and thought on an individual photo, describe a picture for our blog and maybe even do it with a friend.




detailed view of the Casa Batllo Balcony

Barcelona through the senses by Nivi Morales

My name is Nivi Morales, I live in Leamington Spa in the UK. I have a mild case of Retinitis Pigmentosa and have gradually been losing my peripheral vision for the last 14 years. My interest in photography intensified in the last 5 years. The fact that my eyes naturally frame scenes really helps producing interesting images.

I am a self taught photographer and see the art as a way of therapy. It makes me feel grateful for being able to see and capture images. I enjoy sharing those images with others. The aim of my photos is to capture the moment. I work at my best when I stand still, take a look at what I am trying to photograph and let it talk to me. On occasion I would use multiple shots and select the best one. I try to play with natural light and refrain from using flash.

Occasionally I find myself cropping photos when post editing, because I did not see things appearing at the periphery as you might imagine, the camera sees better than me.


Last Christmas I had the opportunity to travel to Barcelona. This was my first trip abroad after going through a period of considerable sight loss and making subsequent adjustments. In this blog post I would like to talk a little bit about the trip, my experience as a tourist with visual challenges in a busy city and how I am adjusting my photography technique to fit around this new phase in my sight.

I had been to Barcelona a few times before and enjoyed the visit. Yet this time I was coming back with my assistant, the white cane. I had a mix of anxiety and excitement about the idea to experience the city and the Spanish culture I have known my whole life in a different way. I was very lucky to have been invited to stay over at a very close friend’s so that left the worry about accessible accommodation out of the way. Since my friend had to work a few days during the Christmas period, I decided to venture out and visit a few Gaudi buildings. Here are my recollections.

Casa Batllo


the facade of the Casa Batllo lit in the dark

Built between 1904 and 1906 as a private home for the Batllo Family, who made their fortune out of trading textiles, this architecture masterpiece is well known as structure that has no straight lines. My favourite areas were the balcony and the loft, featuring original wavy arches.

Casa Battlo facade in daylight

There is also a stunning open structure in the middle of the building which ensures that natural lighting and air get through every room. It is covered by blue tiles. The colours, reflections and structures made me feel like there was an acquarium in the middle of the house. Truly magical! I manage to capture a few details of the balcony and the roof, despite the fact that it was a very busy day.

Palau Guell

a lamp and walls inside the Palau Guell

This was one of the first important commissions of Antoni Gaudi when he was young. It was built between 1886-1890. I felt truly blessed to be able to see his style in raw state. The whole structure mixes gothic architecture with Gaudi’s own ideas. It’s probably one of my favourite buildings so far.

The building was designed for the Guell family as an extension of their home in the Ramblas area. It had a space for visitors to park their horse carriages. The design allowed the members of the Guell family to peak and see how other visitors were dressed before receiving them, and then probably go and change themselves accordingly to receive their guests.

Guest hall of the Palau Guell

The hall, with high ceiling can also be used as a private chapel. Palau Guell is rather dark, most mosaics and walls are brown and grey; sometimes it reminded me more of a church rather than a family home.

La Pedrera

Internal balconies of the La Pedrera

One of the most famous modernist buildings in Barcelona; it was built between 1906-1912. The work was commissioned by Pere Milà i Camps and his wife. The idea was to create a family home as well as a block of flats that could be rented.

One of my favourite corners of this place was the roof, with its wavy chimneys and vents that look as though they came from another planet. I also loved the fact that each of the internal windows of the flats had a unique design around them. Finally there is a beautiful staircase leading to the art gallery – which I did not have the change to see. The staircase itself is full of colours and intricate design with furious attention to detail, typical of Gaudi.

New photographic challenges

The main challenges I faced were finding a comfortable way of shooting now that one of my hands is busy with a cane, fitting in my mental image with what appears on the camera, and shooting in bright day light.

To get around the first one, I chose to use the cane elastic and sling it around my wrist. For shooting I increasingly found myself using the viewfinder, instead or relying on the camera’s LCD screen as I did in the past. This made it easier to shoot in daytime, when it is brighter. It also helped me see the details of what I was shooting better as well as fitting the image I wanted to produce with what came through the camera.

I have also learned to trust the camera, as I cannot tell as well as I used to whether the image is focused or not, but I do know the functions of my camera well enough so I take the shot when it is telling me to do it. I still have the challenge of finding things making their way into the periphery of the images – like road signs and people – without me noticing – but I am finding my way around it through post-editing.

Editing photos

Palau Guell parking area

Finally for post-editing I have been relying more and more on my large monitor to fine-tune images. This has helped tremendously. As a mac user, I found a piece of software called Affinity photo, much more affordable than Photoshop but with very good quality. To avoid eye strain, I try to edit small batches of images at the time and take regular breaks.

Putting all these measures in place is allowing me to continue to enjoy this art I love so much.

Tips for visually impaired and blind travellers

I have always been fairly adventurous in my travels, but as I live with a progressive eye-condition that has flared up a bit over the last year I found myself getting a bit anxious about finding my way through Barcelona’s busy streets and new travel routes. I managed to tame my anxiety by putting a few adjustments in place which I would like to share.

  • Book in advance online or via telephone: Most travel landmarks will allow you to purchase the ticket online or via telephone. They might even give you a time slot for visiting or charge an extra fee to avoid queues. Use these facilities to book your ticket, I found it facilitated my visit enormously. Also booking a morning slot will ensure skipping most of the long queues and crowded streets.
  • Learn about the landmark you are visiting: Doing homework about the places you are visiting when travelling is common sense, but it becomes even more critical when you are using your senses in a different way. Most touristic attractions websites will have information about their structures, accessibility access put in places and challenging areas for visitors with mobility challenges. This will make it easier for you to request assistance when visiting the site.
  • Study the travel route: Map route options from where you are staying. I strongly advise making your visit in the morning especially if you are using public transport as it is going to be less crowded; depending on your knowledge of the place, consider asking for assistance when travelling by bus or metro/underground. Most countries in Europe will offer this service. If unsure, find a reliable taxi that can get you to the venue and back.
  • Ask for assistance: On arrival at the venue ensure to inform the people you might require assistance. If you did your homework well you are likely to know which areas are going to be challenging – i.e. stairs or low lit spaces. Also remember to book your audio guide. Assistance is always available for disabled visitors. Also, as I soon found out it will also give you the opportunity to learn things about the site than what you would have through the audio guide. You will also be able to feel the kindness and warmth of the people at the place.
  • Give yourself extra time: Because we use all of our senses in a different way it is important to take more time to grasp it. Use your hands to feel the handrails along the stairs and – if allowed – feel the pillars and walls. I learned this lesson the hard way as I was trying to rush through Casa Batlo. It made my visit less enjoyable than I would have liked. I made up for it spending more time in the other two sites I visited.

Casa Battlo macro shot of balcony

Looking back I feel Gaudi’s work is smooth, it flows through all the senses with its intricate structures, attention to detail and flawless finishing. I have been to Gaudi’s buildings in the past but I have never experienced it this way as I was mostly relying on my sight. I feel very fortunate to have been able to experience it and photograph it in a different way.

Text and photos by Nivi Morales

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App Review: can Image recognition Apps be Useful to Blind and Visually impaired photographers?

Nowadays the app store offers a large variety of free and paid image recognition and magnification apps. Most of them are designed to help blind and visually impaired people to identify everyday objects such as written documents and household items like cans or bottles. However, all these projects take visual impressions and convert them into text or speech output, which in a way makes them similar to our photo descriptions. Of course our descriptions are written by real people, putting their own interpretations and associations into the texts, and not by machines, using image databases to recognize objects. Still, we were wondering, if some of the apps could be useful for artistic purposes e.g. to help blind photographers to identify what’s in front of their camera or to sort photos after they were taken. I found numerous detailed tests of the various apps, but none of them focused on the artistic aspect.

Work in progress

Throughout the next weeks we are collecting apps to feature in our comparison. The aim is to get a comprehensive list of apps and to test them not on household items, but on photo motives such as landscapes, people and animals and artworks like paintings, sculptures and photographs from our blog. Therefore, we encourage you to send us names of image recognition apps and pictures of the above mentioned things as test motives. Of course you can also do tests yourself and send us your results to be published here. Are there any other apps you use to take or modify pictures? I’ll do my tests with an IPhone and IOS apps, but Android tests are also welcome. Some of the below mentioned apps work with live-recognition, so I’ll try them on potential photo motives.

I’m especially interested in how the apps deal with more complex motives such as portraits, group shots and images working with light and shadow as well as subtle colour shades. Are the live-recognition apps good enough to focus on an object before taking the actual picture? And are apps working with already taken photos good enough to help us to sort pictures or even to decide which ones are ‘good’ and ‘bad’?

Here are my initial lists of apps and thinks I want to try them out on. This is just a very general outline of the test, so feel free to add suggestions in the comments below or e-mail us at picdesc@gmail.com

Apps to test

Some of the apps are especially designed for visually impaired an blind users, others are shopping and price comparison apps.

  • Aipoly Vision (iOS, Free)
  • CamFind
  • Leavesnap
  • TapTapSee
  • ThirdEye Technologies Inc. (iOS, Free)

Test objects:

Naturally I can only test things I’ll find in my surrounding or objects we have pictures of in our blog. This is just a random list of things coming to my mind at the time of writing.

  • Different animals
  • Beach, mountains
  • reflection in water or glass
  • sky, sunset, moon
  • fire or candle
  • Portrait, only part of a body
  • group of more than 2 people
  • tree, leave of tree, flower
  • house, staircase
  • car
  • food
  • writing on a sign or wall
  • shop window
  • statue,
  • painting

Please feel free to send us items to add to the list of apps and objects. We look forward to reading your suggestions.

Facebook Group Challenge: Find the Blind Photographers in “Photographers with Disabilities”

I recommend the Facebook group “Photographers with Disabilities” to everyone wanting to get in touch with other disabled photographers. As the name suggests, it is not specifically for blind and visually impaired photographers, and personally I like the openness of the group. It helped me realize that other disabled photographers require different equipment and working environments to photograph. While I need a big display, speech software or tactile buttons an someone to help me to select the good pictures, others may find it difficult to hold a camera, or to get the right location and perspective while sitting in a wheelchair.

Most members post examples of their work in the group. Sometimes with comments where, when and how it was taken, but without alternative text (caption describing in more detail what is to see in the picture). I’m “guilty” of this myself. Thus, while being a member of this group if you are completely blind, may not be that rewarding, there are occasional links to articles about disabled photographers and discussions about photography and equipment in general. The group currently has around 450 members, but not all of them are constantly active, so there isn’t too much traffic. It offers a great platform for questions, discussion and inspiration.

Challenge: Find the Blind Photographer

I recently posted a link to an article by a fantastic blog called Sandy’s View entitled “How do blind people take pictures of things” under which some blind photographers contributed their motivations to take pictures. Out of this discussion developed the idea to ask EVERY group member to post one of his or her best pictures in the comments. Subsequently, everyone who wants to take the challenge is to like every picture which he or she thinks is taken by a blind or visually impaired photographer. This is not intended to single anyone out and it doesn’t really matter if you guess right or wrong. It’s just to make people think and to show, that after all there isn’t such a difference between sighted and blind photographers. It’s more about the photographs themselves and the emotions and feelings they convey, than about the person who took them. However, to make this  a meaningful experiment please share a picture in the comment to the link posted to the group by Tina Franziska Paulick on the 15th of January and don’t forget to like only the pictures which you think were taken by blind or visually impaired people

Join the Group Here.



Comics Empower – Audio Described Comic Books

Cover of the comic book Wynter

Comics Empower, an online comic store for the blind and visually impaired, makes comics accessible to readers who cannot see them. This includes giving people who have lost their sight, back the pleasure of enjoying a comic without needing someone to read it aloud to them.

Comics are the most visual literary genre I can think of. I remember trying to read them with a giant magnifying glass back in my school days. However, I couldn’t share my sighted friend’s enthusiasm. I never saw the illustrations as a whole, because only a segment of the picture was visible in the magnifier and I had to move it around all the time. If they were printed in a fancy font, I couldn’t even read the speech bubbles. From that time on, I was more interested in audio and later electronic books, where I can imagine all the action in my mind. Thanks to many amazing people I meat through this blog, I now know that blind people can be brilliant visual artists and photographers, so when I heard about Comics Empower, I decided to give Comics another try.

How it Works

To Guy Hasson, the initiator of the project “comics are not a visual medium, they’re a storytelling medium. I’ve always been a writer, and at the very origin I come from prose. And in prose, I can make you see anything and feel anything. So it was easy for me, to translate the visual pictures (called panels) into the story behind it”.

An audio described comic is a bit like a mixture between audio described films and our photo descriptions: a sequence of actions is presented in a series of separate and static pictures. Not only the speech bubbles, but also pages, panels, and texts are described in a way that doesn’t break the rhythm of the story. The description focuses on the plot, without slowing down action and suspense. For example colour and style of the pictures are only described if they fulfil an essential function in the storyline.

Twenty-two to twenty-four pages of comics are translated into thirty to thirty five minutes of audio recordings. Readings also include the letters pages, where the editors, writers, or publishers interact with the readers. In one letter a blind reader tells how he talked with a sighted friend about a comic and was told by this friend that he knows the comic almost too well.

The Story behind the Project

Guy writes texts for film, theatre and science fiction for more than twenty years now. He started the Comics Empower campaign to give real people the opportunity to tell their own stories. He talked to more than a hundred interviewees about their personal experiences with Comic books and heard lots of amazing stories, how people were empowered and encouraged by their favourite heroes. Naturally, the participants were inspired by heroes who resembled themselves. Black kids growing up in a white neighbourhood in America identified with black heroes, lesbians with a lesbian version of Cat Woman and so on. Guy realized how important these fictional characters are in many people’s lives. They are models of strength and kindness and remind us of how much we can achieve even in difficult situations.

Aurora – A Comic about a Blind Hero

But there are almost no heroes with a physical impairment, never mind a blind one. To fill that gap, Guy wrote Aurora, a comic that is published in the audio described version before it is reworked into a conventional comic. Every month a new episode goes for sale in the Comics Empower online-store. Here’s what Guy says about the main character:

Daniel Price was blinded in battle. Yet he is the only man who can save Earth, the only man who can activate an ancient robot fighting machine, called Aurora. He can no longer fly it properly, since he can’t see. And he can’t aim properly for the same reason. But the Aurora is the only weapon who will save the Earth. Daniel will just have to find a way to be a hero.

Unlike Daredevil, one of the few other blind heroes who recently made the news, Daniel has no supernatural sixth sense. Like most real blind people, he will never get his sight back; he has to adapt to his new situation. Daniel is here to show blind and visually impaired children and adults, that they can be super-heroes in their own ways too.

Getting Started

If you’re a complete newcomer to comics, have a look at the free First Timer’s Ultimate Guide to Comics to get started. It will tell you what to expect from an audio comic and how the reading experience differs from that of sighted readers. So far all customers of audio comics are blind, because sighted comic fans still haven’t overcome the blockage in their minds, that comics are exclusively visual. Guy hopes, that eventually, audio comics become more widely popular as Audio books did already.

Writing Competition

For those of you who always wanted to publish their own stories, Comics Empower are hosting a competition for blind and visually impaired comic writers at the moment. Check out the rules here and discover the super-hero in you!

 Twitter @ComicsEmpower




A blind art photographer tells her story: part 4 taking pictures with reflex cameras & extra equipment

Dear hobby photographers,

After giving a general overview about photographing with phones and compact cameras, I’ll take a big leap now and talk about reflex cameras also known as DSLR (single-lens reflex).


To be precise, there is another camera type called Bridge camera somewhere in between compact and reflex cameras, but I’d repeat myself a lot if I’d talk about them separately. Generally speaking the Bridge is bigger, has more options and produces better quality pictures than compact cameras. It also doesn’t need additional equipment. It is more expensive than compact but also less flexible in it’s usage than reflex cameras. The smaller models often don’t have the settings you will need in difficult light conditions. Of course Bridge cameras are okay too, but most producers treat them like the step child and the variety of models decreases every year.

Some facts about reflex cameras

As the name already suggests, it really uses a mirror. The original picture comes through the lens where it is reflected by a mirror onto a focusing screen. From there it is transformed onto the sensor. This allows the photographer to see what the final picture will look like even before it is taken. So he can still change his position or the settings. When the trigger is pushed, the mirror slides back and the picture is projected onto the sensor.

Some analogue cameras also work with this method, but they’re mainly used by old-school professionals and artists. The disadvantages are obvious: films with a limited capacity have to be used, there can be defects in the material and you’ll only know what the result looks like after the pictures are developed. Especially people without sufficient sight to use image processing tools have no possibility to edit the pictures, although some people say that’s the beauty of analogue cameras in general.

Megapixel and Display

To start with: You don’t have to worry too much about megapixel when it comes to reflex cameras. Firstly, the sensors used are mostly significantly bigger than those in compact cameras and secondly technically speaking it is still possible to increase the number of megapixel in DSLRs. Thus, they are especially suitable for people who want to print big pictures or who have to magnify parts of a picture. The displays of DSLRs are also bigger. And you can use the digital zoom if the optical zoom can’t bring the motive any closer, without getting a blurry result.

Some technical details and extra equipment

In order to really use a reflex camera, you’ll definitely need extra equipment. This is an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time. Special equipment is rather expensive, but it also increases the flexibility and functionality of the device.

This is what you may have to buy:

1. Lenses

DSLRs are mostly sold as a so called body consisting only of the necessary electronics. It is more or less useless on its own so you’ll definitely have to get a lens. There are numerous types available, so you should think about what you want to photograph before you buy one. Of course lenses are interchangeable and many photographers have two or more of them.

The easiest thing to do is probably to buy a kit. They are on special offer from time to time and include the body and at least one lens. These lenses are usually good for beginners, because they are suitable for landscapes, portraits, animals, group shots and maybe also architecture. Sometimes the kit includes a second lens, which is mainly constructed to photograph objects from a greater distance. However, you should think carefully before buying, because even the cheaper DSLRs cost between 600 and 700€.

2. Filters

There are numerous kinds of filters. Most of them are so called effect filters and not really necessary. Filters can be made of glass but other materials like foil are used too. Usually, they are screwed on top of the lens. Some filters colour the whole picture in different shades of a colour. Others alter the original motive completely by multiplying the object in the main focus or by adding a prism effect. There are also filters which add artificial flames or stars to the picture. They are useful for people, who like to play around with their motives without using photo editing programmes.


Useful and almost indispensible for outdoor photography is a polarisation filter. It is mostly circular and sometimes simply called CPL-filter. It is worth buying for the following reasons:

  • It eliminates unwanted light reflections on non-metallic surfaces like water or glass.
  • The green of grass and leaves will look more natural, because the CPL filters the blue light reflections coming from the sky. The human eye normally doesn’t even see the slight blue tinge. But the difference is noticeable when looking at the picture afterwards or when comparing photos taken with and without filter.
  • The blue reflected light of the sky will also be filtered, consequently the blue of the sky will be stronger and form a more visible contrast to the white clouds.


Are the best selling, but in my opinion rather unnecessary filters. They are meant to disperse all the light reaching the lens to protect the picture from unwanted reflections. They can be extremely expensive. Most modern lenses however already have an integrated UV filter. Many photographers use UV-filters simply to protect the lens, but be careful, filtering too much UV light can have an adverse influence on the quality of photographs.

3. Sun blocker

A sun blocker is also screwed on top of the lens and blocks out sunlight from all directions. It has mostly a cylindrical shape and is used for taking pictures when the sun comes from the front or the sides. It prevents the sun from casting rays or unwanted spots of colour into the picture. That sounds strange but can actually happen.

4. External flash

An external flash is not necessary for beginners. Commonly the inbuilt flash of the camera is very good. An external flash is needed, if the internal flash is not sufficient enough to light up the whole picture. The external flash is connected to the camera by a cable or infrared. There are also external flashes which are screwed on top of the lens. They are mostly ring-shaped and not only useful for close-ups but also for shots in the dark, because they produce a considerably larger ray of light. There are also external flashes in different colours, but think about whether you really need them or not before buying.

These are all the general things about reflex cameras. There are no maximum bounds when it comes to quality, price and number of available accessories.