Welcome to our latest issue: Accessibility, Technology and Access! | by Julie Fukunaga | January 2023

This winter edition focuses on disability innovation in documentaries and emerging technology – presenting perspectives from artists, activists, scientists and technologists at the forefront of storytelling and disability justice. It is inspired by existing efforts by our staff at the Access and Disability Innovation Working Group at the MIT Open Doc Lab and Co-Creation Studio.

Blitz lectures by artists, technologists, curators, and scientists moderated by the working group provided the Immerse editorial collective with a starting point for reflection. The publication typically explores new forms of technology that have historically been unsuitable for disabled artists and audiences. One of our thematic papers in particular, an interview with Sacha Wares, Director of the IDFA award-winning Museum of Austerity (2021), is directly inspired by one of the papers presented at the Working Group’s symposium.

With this issue we want to share insights that have inspired us, lessons we have learned in creating and exhibiting art that places access at its heart, empowering people with disabilities in the wholeness of their experiences across the many spectrums and intersections of the recognizes identity. We also want to share the harsh realities the impact of access initiatives that fall short and bring about changes that are unsustainable and harmful.

I ask our readers, creators from across the spectrum who engage (or perhaps persevere) with conversations about disability and accessibility in their everyday lives, to consider these pieces with an open mind. Allow yourself forgiveness, time to “be”. In keeping with the spirit of many of these pieces, sit down with feelings of resonance, appreciation, and unease, and commit to learning and unlearning in the ways that you can.

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Some of these are stories of creative workarounds and “refinements,” breaking apart and manipulating existing systems to envision new realities. These stories speak of frustration, of triumph, and of wanting not just a new status quo, but the steps needed to get there. Others call out ableistic bullsh*t as they see it, like Leora Fridman’s criticism of Apple’s The biggest (2022), the latest disability advert, which they say falls short in nuance and representation. And don’t miss Aubrie Lee’s gripping essay as she explains how technology that might empower her as a wheelchair user and self-proclaimed “cyborg” is instead setting her back.

Our writers introduce us to a range of cutting edge accessible technologies – some of which, like Dylan Fox’s speculative novel about being blind in 2040, have yet to be invented. From Laurel Lawson, dancer, choreographer and engineer, we get an introduction to Protactile and the potential of haptic technology to revolutionize accessible dance and performing arts spaces. In their Zoom Campfire chat, Blind Burners’ Chris Hainsworth and Harshadha Balasumbrian reflect on their collective’s challenges in making a virtual reality (VR) experience accessible to blind and visually impaired creators and viewers – amid the time crunch of Burning Man 2021.

Beyond the baseline of access (which we continue to emphasize as a necessary requirement for showcasing work), this edition also showcases ways to exhibit and cultivate creative experiences that are intimate, intentional, and trauma-informed. In her interview with seeley quest, multi-sensory artist Salima Punjani presents a plethora of ways to structure care in art practice, from heartbeat biodata to bubble baths. The artist and scholar Dr. Frank Mondelli grapples with questions about what it means to include deaf, hard of hearing, and disabled perspectives in her subversive reinterpretation of the hearing test—and raises questions about how to design not just for the deaf and/or disabled audience, but also for a hearing non-disabled audience.

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Now I’m proud to present perspectives from people doing the day-to-day work of capacity building, who are both in solidarity and united to create a more just, accessible world. As the first editor (from start to finish), I am grateful for many things: the organizing efforts, triumphs, and court cases of activists like Stacey Park Milbern, Alice Wong, Mia Mingus, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, who have benefited the disability to do justice to the visibility that we see today. The grace, sheer talent and patience of everyone involved. That we can bring this topic into the world. The labor of love that immerse means to our editorial collective – many applause for co-editor Omar El-Sabrout, who joins this issue.

Output exhibited stories:

Our stories in plain text can be found on our linked archive page.

For more news, discussions, and resources about immersive and new forms of nonfiction, visit registration for our monthly newsletter.

Dive is an initiative of MIT Open DocLab and Dot Connector Studio and is managed by Just Films | funded by the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Gotham Film & Media Institute is our fiscal sponsor. Learn more here. We’re committed to researching and showcasing emerging nonfiction projects that push media boundaries and address social justice issues—and rely on friends like you to sustain us and grow. Join us by making a gift today.