iPad App for Visually Impaired Visitors to Turner Contemporary
Young people from the Visual Impairment unit at the Charles Dickens School, Broadstairs, worked with final year Multimedia Technology and Design (MTD) students from the School of Engineering and Digital Arts to create an interactive iPad app for use by blind and visually impaired visitors alongside Turner Contemporary’s first major Turner exhibition, 'Turner and the Elements'. At the start of the project, students and teachers alike found it hard to imagine how a blind person might use an interactive touchscreen device, let alone enjoy an exhibition made up entirely of paintings. The young people and students worked together over a period of months – researching usability, selecting and discussing the paintings, creating soundscapes and audio descriptions – then testing the app. The project culminated with a visit to the Turner Contemporary and a tour of the paintings using the app itself. All students enjoyed their gallery visit, with one, Tony, 15, saying it was the, ‘best day of his life’. Another, Matt, 15, said, ‘the app makes a real difference. It encourages you to become really involved with the paintings and to enjoy them so much more.’
The app was also trialled with general visitors to the exhibition. Although the technology was new to most, it was easily picked up and many appreciated the extra interpretation that the app offered to sighted visitors – comments included: "The sounds really put you there", "(it) makes you spend more time looking at each picture and noticing more", “using the headphones help you lose yourself in the work, (it) shuts out outside sounds."
The EDA students who developed the app, Megan Maughan and Tomas Kamarauskas, won the Saggitarius Digital prize for the 2012 Best Integrated Multimedia Project and the Highly Commended prize at this year's University of Kent's annual Innovation Awards. Tomas said: “Although an iPad has some great usability features for the blind, the real challenge was to develop an app which could be picked up quickly by visually impaired or blind visitors who have never used the device, and make it enjoyable for the sighted visitors too. It was great to see how today’s technology used with a little bit of creativity can make the art much more accessible and engaging”.
The 'Turner and the Elements' iPad app is now available for free download on the App Store.
'Turner and the Elements' ran from 28 January–13 May 2012 at the Turner Contemporary, Margate.