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Friday, 5 October 2018

Blindness Gain and the Art of Non-Visual Reading

I am pleased to announce that on Tuesday 30th October 2018, I will be delivering my inaugural lecture, 'Blindness Gain and the Art of Non-Visual Reading'.

The lecture will celebrate the critical and creative power of blindness. Through a discussion of examples from 19th-century French literature and art, I will argue that blindness is a fruitful theoretical stance available to both blind and non-blind people. My Critical Disability Studies approach will dismantle the traditional hierarchy of the senses and invite new ways of beholding familiar texts and images.

I am delighted that eminent French researcher and doyenne of blind history, Zina Weygand, will be delivering a vote of thanks after the lecture.

The lecture is free and open to all. Please register in advance here.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Blindness Arts: a Disability Studies Quarterly Special Issue

Co-organizing the 2015 Blind Creations conference with Vanessa Warne was one of the highlights of my academic career. As this post written in the conference's aftermath shows, the event was memorable above all for the sense of celebratory community it created. Almost as soon as the conference was over, Vanessa and I began making plans to continue the many productive conversations which started during those few summer days in Egham. We did not want or need to produce a traditional 'conference proceedings': our wonderful audio archive means that all the papers delivered at the conference are still available. Instead we wanted to extend the legacy of Blind Creations by publishing new work which responds to questions raised by our speakers in 2015. Just over three years after the conference, we are pleased and proud to announce the publication of a special issue of Disability Studies Quarterly which we have called 'Blindness Arts'. In our co-authored Introduction we explain that this title functions "in contrast with and as a companion to ‘visual arts'". This extract from later in the Introduction gives a flavour of the intersections between blindness, creativity, performance and access which the issue explores:
In the first section of our issue, we share a set of essays that explore methods for accessing cultural works. These essays take up a range of media, namely sculpture, film, theatre and the comic book, all of which have traditionally been understood as visual forms. The authors in this section challenge this overly narrow perception and share experiments with both audio description and the role of touch. As Fayen d’Evie’s and Georgina Kleege’s individual contributions to blindness studies are noted by other authors throughout our issue, it is fitting that we begin with their co-authored essay, in which they share their work on tactile interpretations of the collections at the KADIST Art Foundation, and call for new opportunities and methods for touching art. Like d’Evie and Kleege, Hannah Thompson also calls for a collaborative approach to blind access. In her essay on audio description (AD) in cinema, she engages with four films with blind protagonists in order to compare extradiegetic and intradiegetic approaches to AD and to argue for its creative potential. Louise Fryer also explores the possibilities and challenges of integrated AD by sharing her experiences as an audio describer who, in a break with traditional models of objectivity and neutrality, took an active role in a play written and performed by a blind theatre group. Arseli Dokumaci shares a video project and essay that together use an exploration of the everyday travel strategies of two disabled people to propose an AD practice shaped by crip time. The final essay in this section, Brandon Christopher’s comparative study of an audio version of a conventional comic and of Philipp Meyer’s tactile comic Life, explores audio and tactile access questions raised in other essays in this section and extends our issue’s exploration of blindness arts to include the comic book genre. Remaining attentive to questions of access, we turn in the next section to the experiences of artists and to works of art that comment on blindness, either explicitly or through their use of design elements associated with blindness. Sculptor Aaron McPeake opens this section by reflecting on the making, exhibition and reception of his works in bronze, offering insight into the role of sound and touch in experiences of them. The role of touch is also important to the art made by Florian Grond and David Johnson. In the issue’s second co-authored piece, they share their experiences as artists collaborating at a distance and they reflect on the central role of blindness in their creation of accessible art. As blind artists, both McPeake and Johnson have encountered sighted misunderstandings of their practices. In an essay that responds to the misrepresentation of blind artists and their working lives, Catalin Brylla proposes filmmaking methods that challenge supercrip narratives and make possible nuanced depictions of the creative lives of artists who are blind. In an essay on the contemporary proliferation of braille as a design element in creative works, including public art installations, made by and for sighted people, Vanessa Warne explores the appropriation of braille as a visual code. Heather Tilley offers an historical perspective on the visual depiction of blind people, analyzing nineteenth-century images of blind people reading by touch and messages about blindness that the visual record shares. A pair of essays in our final section explores different kinds of performances that have been shaped by blindness. Piet Devos analyzes two non-visual contemporary dance pieces and his experiences of them. He also discusses the practice of blind dancer Saïd Gharbi. Offering a personal reflection on her own vocal practice, Emily K. Michael moves between sacred and secular spaces to map the relationship between blindness, vocal performance and persistent myths of compensatory ability. We close the volume with a co-authored essay by Rod Michalko and Tanya Titchkosky that uses a trans-Atlantic journey and a dialogue between the authors to explore the theme of travelling blind and the ways that blindness transforms sighted understandings of the world when it enters into dialogue with them. The presence in this final essay of a series of ‘excurses’ functions as a kind of crip time, similar to the audio description method proposed by Dokumaci. In both cases, the contents of the narrative are translated into a different format so that an ableist timeframe is replaced with space for creative reflection. 
Unlike much academic writing, this volume is free, open access and accessible. Please read, enjoy, respond and share widely.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Multisensory Museums: Volunteers Wanted!

As part of a research project I am running over the summer, we are offering volunteers the chance to come and experience a truly multisensory and immersive museum or gallery visit. See below for details of two experiments you can get involved in!

1) Egham Museum

This is an image of a late-nineteenth-century magnetic electric shock machine such as the one used in Thomas Holloway's sanatorium at Virginia Water.*

If you are interested in taking part in a multisensory exhibition of a Magnetic Electric Shock Machine, come along to the Egham Museum and participate in our free research event! Refreshments will be provided. Egham Museum will be open to volunteers on July 17th and 19th from 10am-4pm, and on July 26th from 12pm-8pm: come and open your senses to new ways of experiencing the museum. For any queries or for more information, please contact Ella Turner or Stephen Pearce.

2) Royal Holloway Picture Gallery

This is an image of Edwin Henry Landseer's 1864 painting 'Man Proposes, God Disposes'.* 

Come along to the Picture Gallery to participate in our research event. Everyone is welcome to experience a multisensory exhibition of the infamous ‘Man Proposes, God Disposes’. The study will take approximately 20 minutes and involves a quick questionnaire. The Picture Gallery will be open to volunteers on July 20th and 23rd from 10am-4pm. Refreshments will be provided and volunteers who have signed up in advance will receive a £10 amazon voucher. To sign-up as a volunteer or for any more information, please contact Ella Turner or Stephen Pearce.

*I usually provide descriptions for any images I include in blog posts: in this case I can't, as doing so might skew the results of our experiments.... 

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Man Booker Prize for (Audio) Fiction

The winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize for Fiction is Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. It is a clever, moving and deeply imaginative book and a worthy winner. But if the judges had read the shortlisted books by ear rather than by eye it would not have won. 

This year I listened to all 6 shortlisted books and chose my own winner based on what I heard. I was using the same literary-merit criteria as the judges, but I added another element that sight-focused readers couldn't take into account: how the audio version of the book contributed to the reading experience. 

Audio books used to be the preserve of bind people. When I was a child, they were a rare and precious thing. Now they are mainstream. Publishers routinely produce downloadable audio books alongside kindle and paper versions and a lot of (sighted) people prefer them; audible is a thriving amazon company and public libraries are finally making audio books available to download via apps like overdrive and Libby. And with popularity come production values. The audio books of my youth were little more than a voice on tape. Now publishers go to great lengths to create a memorable reading experience. They carefully choose a narrator (or narrators) whose voice matches the feel of the story. Sometimes they even add music. Yet despite the popularity of audio books, they are still not taken seriously by 'serious' (aka sighted) readers. When I tell my literature students and colleagues that I read books by ear they are skeptical. 'Audio books send me to sleep,' they say. 'How do you remember what you read?' they ask. This cynicism is insulting because it implies that blind people cannot engage with literature to the same extent as sighted people. More worryingly, it misses one of the points of prose. All the writers shortlisted for the Man Booker care deeply about how their prose sounds. The content of their book is important, but so is its form. They are all writer-poets who crafted their words for rhythm and rhyme as well as sense. Their audio books are the perfect place to experience the beauty of this prose. Yet they are still seen as less 'authemtic', less 'proper' than the printed 'original'. 

Lincoln in the Bardo would not have won an audio Booker because it was almost impossible to follow by ear. Apparently the printed format of the book is 'disconcerting': this is even more the case for the audio version. So much so that I gave up listening twice before I finally got through it. According to audible, the book's 'dazzling chorus of voices' was captured by a '166-person full cast featuring award-winning actors and musicians, as well as a number of Saunders' family, friends, and members of his publishing team'. This may sound impressive in a press-release but it leads to a wholly unfeasible listening experience. Even if I were endowed with the mythical super-hearing erroneously attributed to blind people, I would not be able to recognize and attribute 166 different voices. When I listened I only got the vaguest sense of who was speaking, and I learnt more about the story from audible's synopsis than from what I actually heard. This audio book probably works brilliantly as an accompaniment to or adaptation of the printed novel. But if audio is your own way of accessing this text, then you will be frustrated and alienated by it. 

The other 5 shortlisted books all make the much more sensible decision to stick with just one audio narrator. Of these, History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund and Elmet by Fiona Mozley are first-person narratives told by adolescents and both are read by audio-narrators whose voices have the age, gender and accent of their book's narrator: a young North American woman (Caitlin Thornburn) for Wolves and a young Northern English man (Gareth Bennett-Ryan) for Elmet. The fit between fictional and audio voices creates a close bond between listener and storyteller because both audio-narrators do an excellent job of capturing the tone of their protagonists. I am sure that my listening experience of these two novels was more captivating and immersive than that of my sight-reliant peers.

Ali Smith's Autumn is written in the third person, but much of the story is told from the perspective of the novel's protagonist, 32-year-old Elisabeth Demand, using free indirect style. The audio-narrator, Melody Grove, sounds close to Elisabeth in age and provenance, but she also manages to capture other key characters such as 8-year-old Elisabeth, Daniel, and Elisabeth's mother using changes in tone and inflection. Autumn works as an audio book because it has several underlying thematic threads which hold it together; it felt like the audio-narrator understands this and cleverly emphasizes them in her reading.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is also written in the third person but it is less successful than Autumn because it has not one but two protagonists: Nadia and Saeed. The presence of two characters of different genders makes the choice of audio-narrator difficult. If a male narrator is chosen, there is a risk that the listener feels closer to Saeed's story, whereas a female narrator will create a bond which favours Nadia's perspective. In the end, anglo-Indian actor Ashley Kumar was probably cast as audio-narrator because his voice resonates with both the novel's context and the author's persona. Despite the captivating and timely story, and the characters' powerful portrayals, I felt a distance between audio narrator and listener in this book which I did not experience in Autumn.

At 37 hours long, Paul Auster's 4321 takes about as long to listen to as the other 5 put together, and what a delight it was. 4321 is the only shortlisted book entirely narrated by its author. (Apparently George Saunders is one of Lincoln's 166 voices but I couldn't tell which one). When it is done well, as it is here, author-narration works brilliantly. No-one understands how a book should sound better than its author. I was seduced by Auster's narration of Ferguson's lives from very early on in the narrative. Not only did his voice match the main character's personas, his intimate knowledge of the text added a dimension of fluency and connection which brought another layer of emotion and understanding to the reading experience. For this reason, 4321 would be my audio Booker winner, with History of Wolves, Elmet and Autumn close behind.

As more and more people choose audio books over print versions, it seems crucial to include an audio reader among the Man Booker judges. I would happily volunteer.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Reviewing Blindness in French Fiction out now!

This image shows the front cover of Reviewing Blindness in French Fiction by Hannah Thompson. Above the title, a hand is shown reading a sheet of Braille. 

I am delighted to announce that my book Reviewing Blindness in French Fiction has been published by Palgrave in their Literary Disability Studies series.

In this work I show how and why French fiction is fascinated with visions of blindness by identifying and analysing the complicated relationship between writers, readers and fictions of blindness that permeates French fiction. Blindness is a mysterious phenomenon. It arouses curiosity and invites discussion. It is also a multi-layered and multi-faceted collection of narratives. Writers are drawn to blindness precisely because blindness itself is a collection of stories. The stereotypes, clichés and misconceptions which constitute what most non-blind people describe as “blindness”, have been described by David Bolt as a literary “metanarrative”. Whilst many French depictions of blindness reinforce and conform to the various strands of Bolt's mostly negative metanarrative, my work focuses on more positive depictions which question, undermine or deconstruct the prevailing myths of blindness. I re-view a selection of the most interesting, surprising and moving depictions of blindness in French fiction by authors including Brigitte Aubert, Honoré de Balzac, Georges Bataille, Tonino Benacquista, Maxime du Camp, Lucien Descaves, André Gide, Jean Giono, Hervé Guibert, Victor Hugo, Thérèse-Adèle Husson, Paul Margueritte, Guy de Maupassant, Marc Monnier, Maurice Renard, Didier Van Cauwelaert, Fred Vargas and Romain Villet.

Works by these authors contest and overturn received ideas of blindness through both the form and the content of their fiction. When blindness sheds its metaphorical meanings and exists as part of a narrative on its own terms, it becomes a positive signifier of change, desire, success and enhanced subjectivity.


Chapter 1: Introduction
I begin my re-viewing of French fictional depictions of blindness by calling for a rejection of negative misconceptions of blindness. The most interesting depictions of blindness in French fiction are those which challenge stereotypes of blindness and the emerging field of Critical Disability Studies provides us with the theoretical tools needed to do this.

Chapter 2: The French Metanarrative of Blindness
I survey those literary depictions of blindness which reinforce the metanarrative of blindness discussed by David Bolt. Maupassant’s short story ‘The Blind Man’ evokes the blindness-ignorance and blindness-darkness synonymies whilst also using nominalisation and generalisation to dehumanise its protagonist. Blind male characters are represented as weaker, less active and less able to access language than their non-blind peers. Female blind characters, on the other hand, are often portrayed as meek and passive victims of their condition. Non-blind characters routinely trick, pity and manipulate blind characters in these typhlophobic fictions of blindness. The chapter ends with an analysis of André Gide’s The Pastorale Symphony which shows how myths of the blind mystic and of sensory compensation emphasise blind protagonists’ otherness.

Chapter 3: The Creative ‘Look’ of the Blind ‘Seer’
This chapter marks the beginning of  my sustained examination of the creative possibilities of blindness. Through close-readings of novels and short stories by Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo, and Thérèse-Adèle Husson, I show that the unseeing gaze of the blind protagonist often transforms him or her into a surrogate narrator who is paradoxically more adept at gathering information than the sighted narrators usually present in realist texts. In works which feature blind narrators, the process of information gathering and dissemination becomes an even more overt challenge to the traditional supremacy of the sense of sight.

Chapter 4: Non-Visual Language and Descriptive Blindness
This chapter considers works by Hervé Guibert, Jean Giono, Romain Villet and Lucien Descaves which use blind characters to sensitise the reader to the descriptive power of non-visual language. In Blindsight, Guibert uses visually impenetrable language to stimulate his readers’ other senses whereas in The Song of the World, Giono mobilises the presence of a blind character to signal his use of non-visual description throughout the novel. My detailed reading of Descaves’ extraordinary novel of blindness, The Trapped, reveals not only that non-visual description is a highly effective way of communicating with a non-blind reader, but that Descaves includes braille in his novel in order to temporarily exclude his sighted readers.

Chapter 5: Male Desire and the Paradox of Blind Sexuality
In the first part of this chapter, I use readings of scenes of castration and pornographic pleasure from Hervé Guibert’s Blindsight and Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye to suggest that both authors undermine the traditional dominance of the voyeuristic male gaze. In the second part, I explore how the non-visual eroticism suggested by the blindness-castration association is manifested in the descriptions of blind male desire found in Lucien Descaves’s The Trapped and Romain Villet’s Look.

Chapter 6: Silenced Sexualities: Listening to the Voice of the Blind Woman
Unlike the examples of blind male desire discussed in the previous chapter, the voices of blind female characters are much harder to hear. Blind female protagonists often remain silent in their texts: they are frequently unspeaking objects of the sighted male gaze and when they do speak, their words are often filtered through the voice of the male narrator. Detailed readings of Thérèse-Adèle Husson’s Reflections and Didier van Van Cauwelaert’s Jules shows how it is possible for a blind woman to subvert many of the stereotypes of blindness in order to express herself.

Chapter 7: Blind Assassins
This is the first of two chapters to focus on a specific literary genre, in this case the roman noir. Close readings of detective fiction by Fred Vargas and Brigitte Aubert show how this traditionally ocularcentric genre can be subverted by the presence of blind characters who encourage both other characters and the reader to reconsider the assumptions they routinely make about blindness. By comparing how male and female blind detective figures relate differently to the crimes they are solving, I also show, in chapters 5 and 6, that blind men and blind women are treated differently by both friends and enemies.

Chapter 8: Science, Fantasy and (In)Visible Blindness
Science fiction’s fascination with invisibility tells us more about blindness than it does about vision. Taking Maurice Renard as my main example, my detailed readings of The Blue Peril and The Doctored Man show that rather than reinforcing the supremacy of vision in the hierarchy of the senses, narratives which present us with different ways of seeing can in fact be read as celebrations of the powers and possibilities of blindness.

Chapter 9: Conclusion
I use Tonino Benacquista’s critically acclaimed 1991 roman policier, La commedia des rat
és to show how French fiction’s most interesting representations of blindness are those which draw attention to a range of stereotypes of blindness before using surprising imagery, plot twists, characterization or stylistic features to undermine the reader’s expectations. This novelistic subversion encourages the reader to look again – or re-view – his or her understanding of blindness. Blindness is best understood as a multi-faceted and multi-layered collection of narratives which, when re-viewed together, testify to the powerfully creative potential of blindness. 

Reviewing Blindness in French Fiction is available as a hardback or e-book from Palgrave or amazon. If you are interested in reviewing the book, please get in touch.  

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

A Sensory Tour of the Watts Gallery

As part of my ongoing work on creative audio description, I have been collecting different ways of experiencing museums. In March I had two very different experiences at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and at the Guildhall Museum in Rochester. This weekend I took part in a sensory tour of the Watts Gallery, led by visual artist Monica Takvam. The Watts Gallery is a collection of late-nineteenth-century painting and sculpture by British artist G F Watts, one of the leading artists of Victorian England.

When we met Monica, she explained that rather than giving us a traditional audio-described tour of the paintings, she wanted to take a much more immersive approach to the collection. Before leading us into the gallery itself, Monica asked us to think about the surrounding grounds. We were encouraged to listen to our surroundings and asked to choose words to describe our sense impressions. Once in the gallery, Monica encouraged us to break with conventional ways of experiencing art. Rather than looking at the paintings and sculptures, she asked us to smell them and to find any that smelt particularly strongly. It had never occurred to me before that even sculptures which are more than one-hundred years old still smell of their materials. Paintings too carry the smell of oil paints in them, and a stronger smell can suggest several layers of paint.

This photograph shows me with my nose pressed close to Watts' cast-iron bust of Clytie

Instead of describing the whole collection, Monica focused on one picture, Watts' painting of Greek mythological figure Clytie. First, Monica encouraged the non-blind members of the group to participate in a collaborative description of the painting. Then she took us outside to a half-hidden sunken garden where we were able to touch a stone bust of Clytie which Watts made as a study for the painting. We also had the chance to explore the cast-iron bust pictured above. By juxtaposing painting and busts, Monica cleverly used Watts' own artistic practice to create a sensory experience of the painting.

In the final part of the tour, Monica, who is the artist-in-residence at the Watts Gallery this year, introduced us to her own work. I was particularly drawn to two photographic portraits of blind people hanging on the wall of her studio.

This photograph shows one of Monica's artworks. It represents a man's head and shoulders. The man's features appear blurred because they are behind a sheet of Perspex. Holes in the Perspex form words in braille. 

This portrait is hanging on the wall of Monica's studio at the Watts Gallery. Monica invited us to touch the Perspex cover and explore the holes pierced in it. The holes spell out words in braille but these words are too difficult for a braille reader to understand: like David Johnson's art installation they are 'Too Big to Feel'; they are also absences rather than raised dots. Sighted viewers are just as frustrated in their quest for information. Through these holes we are given tantalising glimpses of the photograph beneath. but it is not possible to build up a complete picture of the man's face. This piece challenges both blind and non-blind ways of seeing. It remains impervious to the sighted gaze whilst also denying blind readers easy access to it. It raises questions about how we see and how we look at other people. It also creates an association between blindness and sightedness which emphasises their shared lack of perception.

This photograph is a close-up of the Perspex cover with the braille holes in focus. Details from the photograph are visible through the holes whilst the portrait itself remains blurred.

Like her art, Monica's tour brought blindness and sightedness into dialogue. As well as myself, our group included one completely blind adult, two non-blind adults and two non-blind children. Rather than focusing on the blind members of the group, Monica included everyone: by privileging all our senses, and by thus introducing new ways of experiencing art, she encouraged everyone to rethink their relationship with visual dependency and to explore their neglected senses.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Braille Legacy: the irony of (lack of) access

When I heard that a French musical about the life of Louis Braille was opening in London my heart sank. How, I wondered, could the production possibly avoid the stereotypes of blindness in a genre which thrives on cliche-ridden songs of sentimental pity or triumphant overcoming? Luke-warm reviews of the show confirmed my fears, as did the director's controversial decision not to cast a single blind or partially-blind actor. Disability activist MIchele Taylor criticised the show for its 'spectacular cripping-up' of blindness as well as for its failure to employ any blind cast or crew: she boycotted the show for these reasons. Despite not being able to attend an AD performance - out of 90 performances, only 2 were audio described and they were both on the same bank holiday weekend when I was out of town - my curiosity got the better of me...

...and on one level it was rather better than I was expecting. An outstanding performance by Jack Wolfe as turbulent, intelligent (and actually quite sexy) bad-boy Braille and some pretty good tunes led to an enthralling and moving evening: on the whole the play did a very good job of telling an important and little-known story. But there were also some serious problems....

From Vocaleye's helpful introduction to the play I learnt about the over-complicated glass and wood two-storey set, the unnecessarily detailed period costumes and the fact that all the blind characters in the play wear blindfolds to symbolize their blindness. 

Wait. Blindfolds? Really? 
Yep. Blindfolds. 

In their introduction, the describers explain that 'All the actors in the production are sighted.  Blindness is indicated by gauzy black cloths worn as blindfolds.'

This use of blindfolds to represent physical blindness is problematic for many reasons. Firstly, it suggests that blindness is these children's only defining characteristic; their blindfolds stigmatize them, positing them as a homogeneous and marginal group who are diametrically opposed to their sighted teachers and carers. Secondly, it suggests - wrongly - that blindness is always total and always in both eyes. This use of blindfolds reminds me of the controversial use of blindness simulations to allegedly teach sighted people about blindness. Researchers have recently found that simulating blindness can in fact do more harm than good, and I fear that the show's use of blindfolds may have a similar effect. 

But as the play progresses, the blind children sometimes remove their blindfolds, particularly when they are celebrating the invention of the braille alphabet or protesting against the Institute's refusal to let them use braille to read. This removal suggests that the blindfolds do not in fact signify physical blindness at all. Instead they stand for the metaphorical blindness which comes from being denied access to literature and knowledge. This association between blindness and lack of knowledge is of course equally problematic. As David Bolt explains in The Metanarrative of Blindness, the ‘seeing-knowing metaphor’ (p. 18), like the ‘blindness-darkness synonymy’ (p. 21) and the odd idea that people are either fully blind or fully sighted (pp. 69-70) all contribute to sighted society's view that blindness is an affliction in need of a cure or a tragedy in need of a happy-ending. But at least this metaphorical dimension allows the director to make the point that the children are 'blinded' less by their physical lack of sight than by society's insistence on using sighted means to communicate information. 

Importantly, as well as telling the story of the invention of braille, the plot of The Braille Legacy includes a sinister suggestion that an over-zealous ophthalmologist at the Institute was secretly conducting dangerous, even fatal, experiments on the children's eyes in a bid to find a 'cure' for blindness. Happily, this medicalization of blindness is countered by the play's more sympathetic characters who argue that blind children do not want or need a cure: instead all they need is a simple and universal way of accessing information. This tension between cure and societal change echoes the tension between the 'medical' and 'social' models of disability which still exists today. By associating the cure with the death of innocent children, the play controversially argues against medical intervention and in favour of improved access to literature, culture and the arts. 

Given this insistence that the blind children deserve access to knowledge, it is unspeakably ironic that the play itself was not made accessible to blind audience members. If audio-described performances are too expensive then why not include AD in the show itself? Surely this production would have been ideally suited to the kinds of integrated audio description deployed so effectively by theatre company ExtantWhy not use a simple set rather than a confusing structure with reflective surfaces and glaring spot lights? Things off-stage were no better. Despite the fact that the production was supported by the RNIB, I saw no evidence of braille or large-print programmes. This is a shocking omission as is the fact that the video about the play on the RNIB website is captioned but not audio described. If the RNIB can't lead by example then how can other organisations hope to improve access? To be fair, the front-of-house staff had clearly had some training in how to act as sighted guides, but their techniques, whilst enthusiastic, were clumsy and patronizing in places. Perhaps the play's overall lack of accessibility meant that they did not have many blind audience members to practice on...

Overall, this production represents a massive missed opportunity: whilst the play's script convincingly calls for the emancipation of blind people, this optimistic message is completely undermined by the failure to make the production accessible. Like the embossed books which frustrate Louis in the opening scene, the play was designed by sighted people who have put no thought into the best way for blind people to access its content.