Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

PWR 91LF: The Art of Access - Disability, Creativity, Communication

Main content start

Dr. Lindsey Felt discusses her course PWR91LF.

Have you ever watched a subtitled TikTok video or Instagram story on mute? Captions and speech recognition — which originated as assistive technologies for deaf and blind people — undeniably shape the way creators and audiences produce and consume digital media. So why are the communication technologies we use to read, write, and create inaccessible to a statistically significant percentage of audiences? According to the CDC, 1 in 4 people identify as disabled. The ADA’s legal protections for Americans with disabilities is rarely enforced in digital domains, and WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) compliance is estimated to be less than 3% among top web sites in 2022.

But what if we thought about access as a tool for creativity and engagement? Recently, artists like Christine Sun Kim have experimented with closed-captions for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing by reimagining subtitles as poetry rather than as a transcription of spoken word. In this course, you will have a unique opportunity to collaborate with renowned disabled media artists who are reimagining what art can be when access is integrated into its aesthetics—such as a VR experience that features Deaf artists and storytellers with avatars that can sign in real time.

Through readings drawn from disability activists, scholars, curators and artist-designers (Amanda Cachia, Alice Sheppard, Sins Invalid, and others), we will investigate what constitutes “creative access” in the arts and in media. Guest talks, artist-led workshops and case studies will guide you through a self-designed project, such as a work of accessible media art, a curatorial proposal for an exhibition, or audio descriptions for a digital artifact. This class provides a rare inside look into professional artist-designers’ practice and research, equipping students to critically engage in disability justice-centered communication, storytelling, and collaboration. No previous artistic experience or expertise is required. This course is open to all students but can count toward required NCR coursework for those students who are part of the Notation in Cultural Rhetorics.

Major Assignments

Design Case Study Analysis 

(1,000-1,250 words; 4-5 pages)
You will identify and analyze an example of a work of art or media that illuminates an example of “creative access.” In this analysis, you’ll consider ways that this case study enables or inhibits access/accessibility for different audiences. For example, you might investigate an example of audio description of a live dance performance, or study the use of plain-text summaries for a podcast, or an interactive installation that invites visitors to experience the work haptically. 

Creative Access Project

This project will be developed over three stages: a proposal, a complete project, and an artist statement/reflection.

  1. Proposal (800-1200 words and 5-minute presentation pitch): You will identify a target audience or community of your choice, and develop a 800-1200 word proposal for extending creative access in a digital platform or technologically mediated space. You will consider how your own access choices align with this medium, genre and audience, as well as who will participate in and co-produce this work of access labor; you’ll also reflect on potential “access fails,” conflicts, or obstacles you might encounter through the technical or social infrastructure of this platform. As part of the development and revision process, you will pitch this project in a five-minute presentation to the class to receive feedback on your plan.
  2. Project: In this final project, you will develop a set of tools, access materials, or even a work of art/design protoype that incorporates creative access principles. Past student projects include a VR gallery for media art produced by disabled artists, a tactile and audio game for non-visual players, an adaptive ribbon skirt for Indigenous community members, and a 3-D printed tactile model of a rock-climbing wall to facilitate route-reading for blind climbers. These materials may become part of a documentation archive or presented in a public showcase at the Stanford DisCo space, interest and schedule permitting.
  3. Reflection (500-750 words): You will compose a final reflection that will function like an extended artist statement that explains the issues and questions of access/accessibility, what techniques, tools and methodologies you drew on, your process of collaboration, and what your overall purpose and intended impact was.

Prerequisite: WR-1 requirement or the permission of instructor

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Course Feature: Cultural Rhetorics track. This course does not fulfill the WR-1 or WR-2 Requirement