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I See What You're Saying

A Symposium to Launch the Workshop on Inclusive Co-Creation of Audio Description (WICAD) With Museum Visitors Who Are Blind, Partially-Blind, and Sighted at UMMA

Speech bubble that reads: I see what you're saying.

Creating inclusive museum experiences for people with varying abilities that range from blindness to sight is the focus of an upcoming symposium and workshop led by Audrey G. Bennett, University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design. The two sessions will take place on Saturday, June 24 at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) in Ann Arbor. 

M Photo Audrey Bennet23 EK 20
Audrey G. Bennett

For many years, museums around the world have offered audio descriptive guides’ as a way for partially blind, blind, and sighted visitors to navigate exhibitions. In her collaborative research at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., Professor Bennett worked with blind, partially blind, and sighted participants to co-create audio descriptions of select artwork at the National Portrait Gallery, learning that their input is crucial in developing inclusive access by marginalized communities. 

In partnership with UMMA, Bennett is launching a generative co-creation of an audio description educational program that brings together museum professionals with community members to co-create audio descriptions of select artwork from UMMA’s collection. Our approach offers museums an outreach program that engages the full diversity of their communities through multi-sensory, multimodal, and collaborative interpretation,” says Professor Bennett. Through WICAD, we aim to broaden participation in the museum experience.”

The first session of the upcoming symposium is a public panel discussion from 8:00 — 10:30 am, moderated by Professor Bennett and featuring experts from the fine arts, disability and museum studies, and audio description including panelists Joel Snyder, Elizabeth Guffey, Felix Gomez, Deirdre Hennebury, and David Chung.

Headshot of Joel Snyder

Joel Snyder is known internationally as one of the world’s first audio describers,” a pioneer in the field of Audio Description. Since 1981, he has introduced audio description techniques in over 40 states and 65 countries and has made thousands of live events, media projects and museums accessible for people who are blind or have low vision. Most recently, Dr. Snyder was named a Fulbright Scholar to train audio describers in Greece over a four-week period in 2019. In 2014, the American Council of the Blind published Dr. Snyder’s book in English, The Visual Made Verbal – A Comprehensive Training Manual and Guide to the History and Applications of Audio Description. It is available in Braille, as an audio book, and in Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Russian, and Chinese; an Italian edition will be released in mid-2023.

Elizabeth Guffey

Elizabeth Guffey is Professor of Art and Design History at the State University of New York, Purchase College. She is the author of Retro: The Culture of Revival (Reaktion, 2006) and Posters: A Global History (Reaktion, 2015). She is also co-editor of Making Disability Modern (with Bess Williamson, Bloomsbury, 2020), After Universal Design (Bloomsbury 2023) and author of Designing Disability (Bloomsbury, 2018). She is also the Founding Editor of the peer-review journal Design and Culture (Routledge). Her scholarly work has appeared in a variety of venues, including Design and Culture, Design Issues, and the Journal of Visual Culture. As part of her efforts to bring design and disability studies to broad publics, she has also authored essays in a range of publications, including The New York Times and The Nation.

Félix Zamora Gómez headshot

Félix Zamora-Gómez is Ph.D in Romance Languages and Literatures with a specialization in 20th-century Spanish visual arts, film, and architecture. Félix is the Irving Stenn, Jr. Fellow in Public Humanities and Museum Pedagogy at UMMA where he works in the department of University Learning and Programs as Irving Stenn, Jr. Fellow in Public Humanities and Museum Pedagogy. In that capacity, he designs engaged-learning experiences using the museum’s collection for courses visiting the museum as part of coursework. He has also curated the exhibition A gathering, currently on view at UMMA.

Deirdre Hennebury headshot

Deirdre Hennebury is the Associate Director of the Museum Studies Program at the University of Michigan. A designer and interdisciplinary academic, Deirdre’s research and teaching centers on museums: their histories, architectural forms, exhibit designs, and social impacts. Deirdre’s exhibition practice has focused on facilitating audience engagement in the space of the gallery and to increasing attention to access and accessibility concerns. Since serving as the first Collections Fellow at Cranbrook’s Center for Collections and Research in 2011-12, Deirdre has curated and developed exhibition programs for Cranbrook, the Detroit Center for Design and Technology, the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, and the European Cultural Centre in Venice, among others. Deirdre holds degrees from Princeton University, Harvard University, and the University of Michigan.

David Chung headshot

David Chung is a professor at the Stamps School of Art & Design and director of the MFA Program at the University of Michigan. He is also a core faculty member of U‑M’s Center for Korean Studies. Born in Bonn, Germany, and educated in the United States, Y. David Chung is a visual artist and filmmaker known for his films, multi-media installations, drawings, prints, and public artworks. He began his career as an animator and filmmaker-experiences that ultimately led to installations combining new digital imaging technologies with traditional drawing and printmaking. Chung’s work has been exhibited at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Asia Society, the Walker Arts Center, the Wadsworth Atheneum, Project Rowhouses, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Gwangju Bienniale, the Tretyakov Gallery of Art (Moscow), the Williams College Museum of Art, and in a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Following the panel discussion is the workshop – WICAD. This event will be attended by three co-creators (one blind, one partially blind, and one sighted), a museum professional, a scribe (e.g., the researcher), and an observer. 

Volunteers are being sought for the workshop on June 24 and future workshops. Organizers are looking for blind, partially blind, and sighted volunteers. Participants should be less experienced museum-goers or consumers of audio descriptions. Instead, the project requires relatively unbiased individuals about museum audio descriptions. After participating in the workshop, participants will be asked to complete an online survey about the experience that will take about 30 minutes. Lunch and snacks will be provided, and each participant will receive a $180 gift card for their time. 

Anyone wishing to attend one or both sessions can complete the RSVP form. Anyone selected as a participant in the afternoon workshop will receive an invitation with additional information and instructions for the day.