CICE Team Podcast
I am a product of accessibility. I was exposed to the idea and the concept of making accessible media and it really changed my world. I never considered creating a description for a photo so that even if you couldn’t see you could experience it. Anne Zbitnew, one of the creators of the project is the reason that I am aware of accessible media. Of course, I likely wouldn’t have taken to it if it were not for my background. I’ve grown up around people with disabilities my whole life and because of that I want to dedicate this piece to them:
Terry, Kerry, Liz and Shandi thank you for teaching me to think openly.
The year after I met Anne, the Making Accessible Media course was released. It was one of the coolest courses I’ve ever taken. It taught you enough information as well as provided you with enough resources about the how and why of accessible media that it made you realize how possible it was to do it yourself. In my case I started to believe that aesthetic accessible media could be the next evolution of film similar to the jump from silent picture to sound. The thing is we need more people experimenting and taking this emerging form more seriously.
I know that Making Accessible Media can help achieve that because after taking it, my creative partner in crime Vanessa Tang and I pitched an open access documentary in our program. It was selected and we ended up making Love Beyond Accessibility which you can enjoy below.
Love Beyond Accessibility was an official selection for the 2020 Reel Abilities open new window Film Festival and none of this would have happened without Making Accessible Media.
For this project, I attempted to be as much of an observer as possible. This was made pretty easy when I became the camera guy for the podcast. I arrived to get a better understanding of the project and meet the students for the first time. I thought I was completely prepared to be a part of the project, but I wasn’t.
One of the most important things to do when creating accessible art or art in general with anyone is to check your biases at the door. I entered that classroom unaware that I didn’t check my bias, and this is what happened:
I was not expecting to get triggered by being with the students, but I could feel my eyes were getting watery and my comfort going down. I was getting upset that these students live with disabilities. I am aware that this feeling is one that is unproductive, and rude in nature. To feel this is to look down on and essentially feel their lives are lesser, but they are not. They are different and it was not a feeling that I was expecting to be challenged with.
Above is an excerpt from the journal I kept while working on the project. I’m including this to help open your mind to this experience and let you know it’s okay to be overwhelmed. It happens, but you must be introspective and look at the how and why you were behaving the way you were. Our current society and systems have allowed for the creation and perpetuation of attitudinal barriers in all people. I grew up an ally to people with disabilities as I mentioned, but as I grew older and learned more, I think I became more disconnected. I learned to focus on people’s differences and overthink how I should interact with them.
I noticed that the instructors and I all tended to repeat or verbally agree with what the CICE students said. When I noticed this, I questioned why it was happening. I thought perhaps it was a coping mechanism to allow me to gain my comfort level as I had been overwhelmed in the situation, but the instructors were also speaking in a similar manner. It seemed as if it was one of the rare times, we as people were performing attentive listening. The pessimist inside me wondered though, “was the intent pure?”
As we left, I talked with the project’s Broadcast Television and Videography (BRTV) student lead a bit and the way they spoke about the project seemed that they were dealing with their own barriers. They didn’t choose to sign up to this project. They had to because it was the only one left. It felt like they weren’t intrinsically motivated to be here, but as the project went on, it seemed I was wrong. They were supportive of the project and seemed excited when they talked about their ideas and hopes for it. Having heard the final podcasts as well it shows they put in the time and dedication to make it the best they could. Yet again reminding us to check our biases.
It Begins with Silence
The first day of meeting to work on the podcast I was very much a fly on the wall operating the camera. I could see in the beginning that while the students weren’t made uncomfortable by the gear, they did take time getting used to it as many of them spiked the lens (which is looking into the camera) while we started the beginning of filming.
If you stood outside the room, you’d think it was empty. During this time, two students worked together to create a self-portrait. The one student would usually have their instructor help them by guiding their hand but neither felt that was the best way to go about it. Instead, one of their fellow students stepped up to help. It was quite something to experience and you can as well as below.
The artist never once offered his opinion and asked for every single detail from if he was smiling, to the size of head, the inclusion of the mobility chair, how many wheels were one; if he was muscley, if he was standing or sitting and all of this is a great example of do not create without those you are creating for.
When I listened back to this day through the podcast it was really interesting. The day was so quiet and talk of that level of quiet popped up quite a bit throughout the project, but that day it set the tone. It clearly made an impact on the head researchers as they looked further into it and had subtle worries about what it would mean for the podcast's final product. Having listened to it I think it means it’s interesting and engaging. While I was listening, I hit that pocket of silence and actually had to look at the media player because I wasn’t sure if it was an error. It wasn’t because just as I looked, they started speaking again. It was as if that silence reached out and tapped me on the shoulder to get me to pay attention.
The CICE Team Podcast
I’m waiting in our new classroom for the students to arrive. It’s a quiet morning and the room is silent. Then from the other side of the door a wave of sound can be heard closing in. The energy is permeating and bouncing off the walls building outside until finally it bursts through the door. Their energy spills across the room as they take their seats. This week, we have the equipment again in a room set up for teaching sound mixing and design. Everyone is excited.
In our last session, we decided to settle the discussion about what the podcast should be called. Two students claim they already came up with it, but one of them is too nervous to mention it again. Instead, the name “Al the Alligator” is suggested. Then, not to be outshone or out done, the first two speak up and nominate “The CICE Team”.
A final name is suggested from our Shawn Mendes fan.
It is decided that they will hold a vote. Each name is put forth and the votes are tallied. In a landslide victory the winner emerges.
The Birth of the Fuzzy Mouse
The students ask about the equipment and our podcast lead explains to them what each piece does and what they are called. Of all the equipment the one that makes them most excited and engaged is the “dead cat” (an industry name for the boom microphone). The students are in an uproar and begin to question why. They decide this needs a new name. They put forth ‘dead rat’, ‘fuzzy rat’, and ‘fuzzy mouse’. Fuzzy mouse becomes our winner. I just hope it trends in the film industry.
Describing Each Other
From here we moved into interviews for the podcast. We started with accessibility, so each student described themselves and their interests. With each passing student, it became less of an individual activity and became more of a collaborative approach as students helped each other describe themselves. Each person would remind the other to mention what they were wearing and helped to provide new details to the students.
However, one soared above the rest. Watch the clip below.
In the end, we achieved what we’d been aiming for this whole time: a podcast by the students about the students. Our lead showed the students how to hold the boom pole explaining how not to get tired and the students took charge. Each would swap out and take turns being the interviewer and interviewee and here there was no silence. They naturally went into conversations about their lives and interests. Our resident mountain focused on the minute details you experience while walking.
Unfortunately, this was our only true chance to have the students to be fully in charge of their stories. It was a great first step and showed a lot of promise but with COVID-19 everything went into lockdown, and they weren’t able to run the podcast again as intended.
I want to say thank you for all the time that you've taken to read this, experience it, watch the videos, go through it and learn. It's really important that we create these connections even if it's virtual. That's what matters. That's what allows you to go from just making it to get eyes on the screen. It allows you to understand that we're doing this to create equal and equitable access so that everybody who has a right to experience this can. Even if you're only affecting one person that's one more person who's now able to experience the world. And it's really unfortunate and it frustrates me a lot that the complete scope of this project wasn't accomplished. We didn't get to hit the exact place we wanted to go because COVID-19 caused us to go into lockdown. We weren't able to do another podcast. While that's unfortunate, we made a great first step and I hope that this inspires you to create more accessible content. To understand that any one of us can create access. We can make things equal, but we don't have to just make things equal. We have to make them beautiful too.