Thursday, May 29, 2014

On -isms: Comics for the Blind

I was thinking about comics for blind people today. Obviously, a traditional comic wouldn't really be readable for someone who couldn't actually see the pictures. I've heard of a few blind folks whose sense of touch is so acute that they can differentiate the inks raised up off a piece of paper, but I would think that all that the most simply drawn, single-color comics would be at all useable by even them. Most everything these days is so saturated with ink that no one would be able to distinguish one color from the next.

You could translate the text portions of a comic into braille, of course, but that would only work to a limited degree. Only about 10% of legally blind people in the U.S. can read braille, and that still doesn't count towards the illustrative component of comics. But what if there were a way to make comics a more tactile experience?

It turns out that Philipp Meyer did some thinking along these a couple years ago...
I wanted to make a medium [comics] accessible to more people...

It's not about the particular story I created but more about showing the potential of sequential-tactile-storytelling. Maybe this is just another way to tell stories or eventually it could even be helpful for educational purposes in explaining certain concepts.
He developed a relatively simple 24-panel comic that could be rendered using the same techniques that are used to create braille. In Meyer's version, though, there is no text so there's no braille literacy required.
It's an interesting idea, and one that seems to make sense from a sighted person's perspective.

But, even though Meyer tested it with blind people, I'm sitting here wondering about it's effectiveness. Particularly, he's got panel borders drawn/raised in. It's so obvious as to almost seem not worth mentioning to you and me, who are familiar with comics construction. But what about someone who's NEVER seen a comic? As sighted people, we use them as a visual cue to separate one discrete scene from the next. But it's a visual cue. Does a blind person need that? Does it make sense in their context? I mean, I'm sure that the border can be felt and they can use it to recognize distinct boundaries of some kind, but does that translate into distinct and separate images as well? I'm not trying to be facetious here; I honestly don't know. How does a blind person read that panel border, and is there a more logical way to separate panels here tactilely?

Meyer has written up a pretty detailed overview/history of his project and I'd be curious to see if anyone else has followed up on this.

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