One of the main observations made from the initial technology evaluation sessions we conducted with disabled artists was that the technology should not just focus on supporting creative work, but also all of the other tasks that are involved around artistic practice.
This can include responding to email correspondence, managing budgets, conducting research online, updating a website or blog, and numerous other important tasks. These types of activities can be particularly time-consuming for some disabled artists as they are typically completed on a computer.
This can cause significant barriers for people with physical impairments who may be unable to use a “standard” mouse or keyboard for controlling their computer. In such situations, artists have to find clunky workarounds that at least provide some access to the software and applications they require (or they have to be reliant on someone else to assist them).
This additional time spent doing administrative work takes time away from creative pursuits and can become incredibly frustrating and tedious. We therefore need more tools that better support all elements of a disabled artist’s practice to ensure that they can maximise the time spent producing creative work. We wanted to explore this further in the last stage of work on the D2ART project and this post provides an overview of a recent field study we conducted.
In this study we wanted to give artists some technology to evaluate in their own working environment over an extended period of time. One of the main motivations for this is that it can be difficult to get a genuine sense of how people find using new technologies in shorter laboratory based studies. We felt that conducting these tests “in the wild” would provide a deeper insight into the potential of assistive tools for influencing artistic practice.
We gave artists a Windows laptop, a Tobii EyeX sensor, and the OptiKey software (pre-installed onto the laptop). OptiKey is open-source software that provides the ability to communicate with others via eye gaze and text-to-speech technology – it also provides features for navigating the Windows interface and other software (see this post for an overview of OptiKey).
We met with artists to initially provide them with the equipment and to show them how to set everything up. In that first session, the artists were also provided with an overview of how OptiKey works and asked to complete a few simple tasks to enable us to collect some baseline data (e.g. emailing someone, writing some text, and browsing to a specific website).
Artists were asked to use the tools for at least a week and were given a series of daily tasks to complete. This included activities such as sending emails, browsing for something on the web, and using other “media” websites such as YouTube to explore how accessible they were to use.
We also simulated the process of the artist being commissioned for DASH’s Art Express project. Artists therefore received an automated email every couple of days (which appeared to be from DASH) and were asked to respond to any requests made – these included editing and updating a budget spreadsheet, completing an online profile form, and digitally signing a contract.
All tasks were designed to take no longer than 15 minutes to complete – artists were asked to spend this amount of time on each task and not to feel obliged to carry on if they had not completed it in that time-frame (although they were of course free to carry on). They were also asked to keep a journal to document interesting observations and highlight any issues they may have experienced.
After artists had been briefed we left the equipment with them to carry on with the tasks in their own time. We then returned to pick up the equipment (between 1-3 weeks later) and asked them to again complete the initial three tasks we set in the first session. We also interviewed all artists to explore further how they found using the technology and how they felt it could influence their artistic practice.
This study has highlighted some very interesting points around use of the technology and broader impact on artistic practice – we’re now looking at bringing all the work together and publishing everything in the near future.
As always, please get in touch if you’d like any further details around the project.