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An on­line con­ver­sa­tion be­tween artist Sophie Hoyle and Arjun Harrison-Mann, of Studio Hyte, on ac­ces­si­bil­ity in dig­i­tal pro­jects and de­sign.

Psychic Refuge

The so­cial model of dis­abil­ity is dif­fer­ent from the med­ical model. Broadly speak­ing it looks at po­lit­i­cal struc­tures that are dis­abling as op­posed to in­di­vid­ual de­fi­cien­cies. Wider de­f­i­n­i­tions of ac­cess.

Transcultural men­tal health. A tran­scul­tural ap­proach tries to ac­count for cul­tural norms im­plicit in men­tal health di­ag­no­sis - for in­stance the idea of an in­di­vid­u­alised ap­proach to ill­ness.

Psychic Refuge is about Palestine. The pro­ject had to shift from field work­shops to an on­line form de­spite the aware­ness that not every­one has on­line acess.

Why Palestine?

Palestine has been un­der Israeli oc­cu­pa­tion since the Six-Day War in 1967 (under dif­fer­ent oc­cu­pa­tion be­fore that). In terms of num­bers Palestinians are one of the largest refugee pop­u­la­tions in the world. Follows a his­tor­i­cal pat­tern of set­tler colo­nial­ism.

Why is this rel­e­vant to peo­ple in the UK? It ha a his­tory of colo­nial in­ter­ven­tion in Palestine. The UK is also a strate­gic ally of the US, and thereby Israel. There’s also di­rect also arms ex­ports to Israel.

Contemporary Palestine

Human rights vi­o­la­tions in the West Bank: Segregation, Arbitrary ar­rests, de­tain­ment with­out trial, shoot­ings of un­armed Palestinians. House de­mo­li­tion, land con­fis­ca­tion, il­le­gal set­tle­ments. mil­i­tarised bar­rier be­tween Israel and the West Bank, check­points every­where.

There’s 1.8M Palestinians in Gaza. Widespread poverty due to Isreali block­ade. Economic sanc­tions. 80% of the pop­u­la­tion de­pends on hu­man­i­tar­ian aid.

Palestine Healthcare

The oc­cu­pa­tion frag­ments Palestine, mak­ing it harder to or­gan­ise a cen­tralised health­care sys­tem (like we have in the UK). PTSD is wide­spread - though that term is crit­i­cised be­cause the trauma is on­go­ing in Palestine (there is noth­ing post about it). Humanitarian or­gan­i­sa­tions tend to fo­cus on in­di­vid­ual symp­toms of trauma.

There re­ally is­n’t a lack of in­for­ma­tion about what’s go­ing on in Palestine, the prob­lem is more how that in­for­ma­tion it’s dis­trib­uted and used.

The web­site is an at­tempt to struc­ture and point to­ward ex­ist­ing re­search and writ­ing and or­gan­i­sa­tions by Palestinians, like BDS.

The process of mak­ing the web­site

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Psychic Refuge ac­cess set­tings page

Developed by Studio Hyte (London). Arjun Harrison-Mann is a co-founder of Hyte. Member Disabled People Against Cuts.

The im­me­di­ate work is about web de­vel­op­ment/​de­sign, but it pulls re­search from out­side that spe­cific niche, from a wider con­ver­sa­tion around dis­abil­ity and ac­cess.

A11Y as con­cept and medium - the so­cial model of dis­abil­ity and de­sign prac­tice.

The so­cial model of dis­abil­ity as a de­sign provo­ca­tion.

Design as anti-ableist. Some of this re­search comes from dis­abled peo­ple against cuts. The so­cial model is the idea that peo­ple aren’t dislbled but that their so­ci­ety is dis­abling.

How do we pro­duce de­sign that is anti-ab­list?

Aspects of the brief:

You start by ac­knowl­edg­ing that you don’t know every­thing. Some gen­eral sitemap and wire­fram­ing stuff. The un­der­ly­ing struc­ture of the web­site is ac­ces­si­ble, not just the vi­sual de­sign. Thinking about how to struc­ture con­tent be­fore doign aes­thet­ics. This is how you get to ideas like short/​long read, word counts, read­ing times.

The cal­i­bra­tion page is the first idea. It’s some­thing that we haven’t re­ally seen be­fore. It’s a way of coun­ter­ing an ableist nar­ra­tive of as­sum­ing what peo­ple’s acess needs might be. Options to choose type size, colour op­tions, cur­sor size, dis­play lan­guage (English or Arabic).

To sum­marise: How do you fore­ground the aes­thet­ics of ac­ces­si­bil­ity. There’s some ideas here that are fairly com­mon, and some like the cal­i­bra­tion page are new.

The il­lus­tion of 100% ac­cess: peo­ple’s dif­fer­ent ac­cess needs can clash. So it’s prob­a­bly not pos­si­ble to ac­tu­ally have some­thing be 100% ac­ces­si­ble. Better to be open and lis­ten.


Mann and hoyle both make work about ac­cess from dif­fer­ent an­gles.

How did you pick the colour choices? Are they tar­geted to spe­cific vi­sion de­fi­cien­cies?

Ee made this with the in­ten­tion that there will be more colours added. The one i’ve seen used a lot is the black / yel­low high con­trast op­tion. We used some more based on con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple we know and some re­cources from Unlimited.

What do you think about for­mal A11Y guide­lines like the WCAG? Are they use­ful tools?

We try to work with the WCAG, it’s a good frame­work. I’m from a de­sign and art back­ground so i’m a self taught de­vel­oper. It’s in­ter­est­ing to think about what stan­dards we need to meet to be ac­ces­si­ble, es­pe­cially in re­gards to gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion. But also: What can we do out­side the tech­ni­cal to make some­thing ac­ces­si­ble? Like a cal­i­bra­tion page is­n’t that hard tech­in­cally but it took con­cep­tu­ally dif­fi­cult to come up with. What can we do tech­ni­cally vs what can we do con­cep­tu­ally.

What’s in the way of do­ing ac­ces­si­ble work all the time: The in­sti­tu­tion, the tech­nol­ogy, will­ing­ness of the gen­eral pub­lic?

With this pro­ject the biggest im­paire­ment was time. We had a lot of ideas and awere­ness of what we could do, so it’s not quite fin­ished. Making some­thing ac­ces­si­ble might mean you may have to ex­tend dead­lines, you’re not just mak­ing the web­site ac­ces­si­ble, but also the process of mak­ing it. That means bring­ing dif­fer­ent groups of peo­ple into the process who would­n’t nor­mally take part.

There’s this idea that mak­ing some­thing dig­i­tal will solve ac­cess prob­lems. That seems to be a pop­u­lar idea in the Tory gov­ern­ment: Closing li­braries and mak­ing things like uni­ver­sal credit only ac­ces­si­ble on­line. What do we rely on tech­nol­ogy for vs what do we do on a hu­man so­ci­etal level.