Never Seen: Introducing the Project to Athlone School for the Blind

the image shows a group of people posing for the photograph,, holding their hands up to their face making a square through which they are looking. In the front row a laptop rests on the lap of one woman, showing another woman’s face on the screen.

The opportunity to host two events to showcase the work done on the Never Seen project was an exciting postscript to the initial project. We were delighted to receive additional funding from British Council Sub-Saharan Africa Arts for the events, a hybrid event at the Athlone School for the Blind, and an online public event in partnership with the South African Blind Youth Organisation (SABYO) and the South African National Council for the Blind (SANCB).

Our aim in hosting the events was to give broader exposure to the reality that blind and partially blind people need not be excluded from visual arts. A second aim was to demonstrate how a digital story can be made totally accessible to a blind and hearing impaired audience while remaining compelling to a sighted audience, through the inclusion of verbal description and closed captioning.

Our plan for the hybrid event at Athlone School was for Charlie, Grant, Nurjawaan and Elizabeth, I to visit the school and share our experiences of Never Seen. We were excited that the school was able to accommodate the hybrid aspect of the showcase, which would allow Karren to be present and to share the origin story and process we followed. It also meant we would be able to share the digital stories which were the starting point around which we built the rest of the event.

During the planning phase Karren and I gave a lot of thought to the potential risks that might impact the events. We were obviously concerned as South Africa was experiencing significant rolling blackouts that might derail either event. To mitigate that risk we decided to pre-record each person’s presentation to use in case we were unable to connect. Of course, this was meant to be a back-up plan for the online event, since only Karren and Wojciech would be joining us online at the school. But, as things turned out, the online event and videos were a life saver on the day.

What is it that is said about the best laid plans of mice and men often going awry. In our case, what this meant was that, though we were meant to have all three participants with us in person, Nurjawaan was in hospital, and Charlie was stuck somewhere between Johannesburg and Cape Town on a bus, following an audition with SABC. Luckily, Nurjawaan was able to join us on the Zoom call so she was able to share her experiences with the audience, and we had Charlie’s video so his perspective was also included.

One of my favourite moments from the event was when Karren was explaining how she taught the participants to frame their photographs using their hands to form a square that would help them to visualise what would be in the image they planned to capture. And, almost as if it had been synchronized, almost everyone in the audience lifted their hands and gave it a try. It was such a powerful moment that the event photographer, Tania Robbertze, had us repeat the movement for a group shot, which is the image in this post. With one exception – I was sitting in the front row with the laptop on my lap so Karren could also be part of the photography, and I was too scared to remove my hands from the computer in case it fell off!

Overall it was a fantastic event that was well received by learners and educators alike. And it left the project team upbeat and eager to showcase Never Seen at the public online SABYO event that would take place the following week.

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