New York beyond Sight
2010 International Award Commendation
The audio descriptions of famous and lesser known landmarks of New York are compelling. and enjoyed by visually and sighted people alike.
It the first website to our knowledge to provide audio descriptions of urban heritage and spaces.
It is one of the few websites worldwide to provide purpose-made outline drawings which can be printed out and copied as tactile images for blind people on a ‘tactile photocopier’. These here are of architecture – possibly a first.
New York Beyond Sight sets an example for cultural cities worldwide and contributes empowering and practical solutions towards comprehensive accessible cultural tourism for disabled people.
New York Beyond makes famous and lesser known New York City landmarks, art and architecture accessible to visually impaired people through verbal descriptions. These are recorded by prominent New Yorkers (politicians, writers, actors, artists, authors, business and community leaders) who chose to describe sites they love and have personal connection to. The descriptions help people who are blind to form mental images of what they cannot see. They enable blind New Yorkers to gain knowledge of their urban heritage and offer a rediscovery of city spaces that so many people take for granted. They are of interest to New Yorkers and tourists alike.
New York Beyond Sight has began to add purpose made black on white architectural drawings on the website. These can be downloaded and printed on ‘swell paper’ using special printers available at libraries, schools and centres for visually impaired people in the US and worldwide.
The quality of the audio descriptions and tactile images is informed by guidance and support from Art Education for the Blind/Art Beyond Sight, who have extensive experience in these areas.
Art Education for the Blind/ Art Beyond Sight (AEB) has a unique mission: to make art, art history, and visual culture accessible to people who are blind and partially sighted. AEB provides and promotes the many important, tangible, skill-building, educational, psychosocial, and quality-of-life benefits of art education, museum visits, and art making for children and adults with sight loss – to give those who cannot see equal access to the world’s visual culture and the opportunity to experience the life-enhancing power of art. AEB creates methods to make the worlds of art, art history, and visual information accessible to blind and visually impaired people.
AEB designs hands- programs for students with disabilities and implements professional development programs for educators. It has undertaken a Multi-site Museum Accessibility Study, a three-year research project involving major cultural institutions. AEB raises awareness and brings together researchers, scholars, and blind, partially sighted and sighted art lovers.
AEB has created a number of tactile books and resource materials for use by museums, schools and other educational institutions. The website includes a number of interviews with visually impaired people which are posted on you-tube
Involvement of disabled people
The verbal descriptions, when first written, were reviewed by blind users for clarity and language and revised, as necessary, before being recorded.
Visually impaired interns and staff were consulted for contrast and legibility.
Screen reader users tested the website for screen reader compatibility.
Consultation confirmed that architectural terms and art terms should be explained when they are first introduced and also that sound effects, i.e., recording of the sounds heard at the sites, be it a waterfall in the park or street traffic is very effective.
The project has raised awareness among the New Yorkers doing the recordings and also among staff at the sites featured.
“But mostly we learned that people do not need to have any sight loss to enjoy these recordings, and that they could be used very effectively to promote awareness of people with disabilities in our city. One of the first reactions we get from people is along the lines: ‘Oh. It never occurred to me that so many New Yorkers do not know what city landmarks look like when they pass them on the street every day.’
“As a very mobile and very curious person who is totally blind, I have found listening to prominent New Yorkers describe their favourite artistic manifestations to be very interesting and motivating, because they are frequently describing treasures at venues I have frequented without being aware of the things they are describing. Hearing their descriptions makes me want to return to those familiar venues and explore the formerly unknown treasures… We, whether disabled or not, visit so many places in this cultural Mecca (New York City). I am sure these descriptions can inspire others just as they have inspired me.” Richard Donald Smith, PhD Music scholar and music teacher at the UN School in NYC
“This website has enriched my life and given me an educated and enjoyable appreciation for the greatest city on earth.” Ruth Bieber, Canadian Playwright, theater director, educator and author
“New York Beyond Sight is a wonderful online program that not only makes New York Cityís landmark architecture and public art accessible to people with vision loss through verbal description, but also serves to pique peopleís interest in New York Cityís history.” Caroline Ashby, Senior Outreach Librarian Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library
It is hoped that this project will be a model for cities around the world; enquiries have already been received from Los Angeles and other cities.
Descriptions are added yearly to this site – often because users mention sites that have not been described and that they would like to know more about, and as a result of feedback from public programs more tactile diagram is being added. This project has potential to be adapted for other places and other cultural heritage projects. The tactile diagram facet has particular potential for future development.