Russell Fewster, Bree Hadley, Sean Pickersgill – Bringing Blind and Low Vision Performers Into The Practice: The Potential Of Haptic-Adapted AR/MR/VR Technologies

Presentation

Russell Fewster (University of South Australia), Bree Hadley (Queensland University of Technology) &  Sean Pickersgill (University of South Australia)

Bringing Blind and Low Vision Performers Into The Practice: The Potential Of Haptic-Adapted AR/MR/VR Technologies

In this paper, we consider the part adaptive and augmented reality technologies can play in allowing blind and low vision to come into the centre of the theatre rehearsal, production, and performance practice, as gatherings from which they have long been excluded. For blind artists, the barriers to participation in theatre making processes are multiple: storylines that position them as symbols of pity, inspiration, or special insight, techniques that privilege occularcentric aesthetics, actions, and interactions above haptic ones, and standard industry practices that fail to deploy even basic braille, text-to-speech software, and touch tour accommodations. In this paper, we report on a project that is challenging the third set of barriers – barriers to getting into the rehearsal space – as a critical precursor to addressing the first two sets of barriers. The project, in collaboration with Tutti Arts, and key Tutti Arts performer Anika Hopper, plans to  explore the way haptic-adapted VR and AR technologies can support the practice of blind performers on stage, in stage ensembles, and in relation with spectators. Current VR and AR technology is directed almost exclusively at sighted people, seeking to provide simulations of increasingly realistic and responsive interfaces between data-rich simulated and real environments. An impediment to engagement with this resource for the vision impaired is the ocular-centric aspects of research and development in this field to date. Our research focuses on integration of haptic interfaces into VR and AR technology mapping spaces – both industry and domestic – to support blind people in safely, effectively, and creatively navigating these spaces. It does this by designing haptic technology to merge with VR. The provision of this haptic interface in an environment such as a mapped renditions of theatre is showing great potential to support blind performers to navigate theatrical space, during training, rehearsal and performance, to experience greater agency in the execution of their stagecraft. 

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Associate Professor Bree Hadley is Study Area Coordinator for Acting and Drama at Queensland University of Technology. Hadley is editor of The Routledge Handbook of Disability Arts Culture and Media (2018, with Dr Donna McDonald), author of Theatre, Social Media and Meaning Making (Palgrave 2017) and Disability, Public Space Performance & Spectatorship: Unconscious Performers (Palgrave 2014), and has published extensively in journals such as Disability & Society, CSPA (Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts) QuarterlyPerformance Research, Australasian Drama Studies, Brolga: An Australian Journal About Dance, and other journals. 

Dr Russell Fewster has directed and taught theatre for over 30 years. He has a strong interest in the community/ensemble aspects of theatre workshops and productions. In 2018 he wrote and directed Earshot an opera that dramatises the healing nature of battlefield pilgrimage. The production partnered with Tutti Arts, with funding from Veterans SA. In June 2019 he delivered an arts workshop program for the Soldier Recovery Centre which attracted the attention of Channel 7’s News. He lectures in Performing Arts at the University of South Australia.

Dr Sean Pickersgill is a Senior Lecturer in Architecture at the University of Spouth Australia. Currently I am exploring the use and implications of game engines in the ontology of digital architecture. This has emerged from a Teaching and Learning Grant for 2004, and a Divisional Research Performance Grant in 2005 that has enabled us to create a mod of a commercial game, and to design and run an elective in Game Design. I completed a PhD in artefact and thesis at RMIT. This focusses on the interrelationship between aspects of German critical theory and the idea of renovation/redemption in architecture.