Lack of accessibility is an issue that affects many music producers and DJs. We speak with three members of the disabled community to find out how accessibility impacts their creativity and performance.
We often think of accessibility in terms of access to physical spaces and services. Ramps for wheelchairs, elevators, audio cues for when it’s safe to cross the road. But accessibility applies to more than just buildings and public places. The presence (or lack!) of accessibility can impact music producers and DJs as well.
We spoke with three members of the music-making and performing community to find out how having accessible software and hardware directly affects their ability to do what they want to do. Note that answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Joey Stuckey – Shadow Sound Studio
Joey Stuckey was born sighted but became blind due to a brain tumour. “The doctors were very unsure that I would survive”, he says, “or if I did, they were pretty sure I wouldn’t walk or talk”. They were wrong, thankfully, and now he runs his own studio, Shadow Sound Studio in Macon, Georgia. He’s also active as a producer and session musician, among many other music-related things.
“I use as much analog gear as possible” he explains when asked about his music-making process. “This is for two reasons. First, I like that I can memorize the controls and they stay the same. Whereas with a screen-based, menu-driven system, controls are ‘soft’, meaning their function changes depending upon what screen you are on. This can be a real problem if you are blind and you don’t have access to that screen-driven information”.
Modern music production involves using computers, which necessitates working with screens. How does he navigate this? “I use several programs all with varying degrees of accessibility – Samplitude, Sound Forge, Reaper, and ProTools“, he says. “We have to use screen readers and there are three of note. JAWS and NDVA are both for PC and VoiceOver for Mac”.
His options are limited, though. There’s no one DAW or screen reader that provides full accessibility and third-party plugins can also be hit or miss. “iZotope, Native Instruments and Audified have all done some great work in (accessibility), but there is still much left to do.
I have also heard that Arturia has done some work with accessibility, but I haven’t used that personally. The problem is that it is hard to buy everything to discover how accessible it is or isn’t and even if you could afford it, it is very time-consuming. I dream of a day when the blind user has the same choices as the sighted user”.
When asked how accessibility assists his creativity, Joey answers, “It doesn’t! It is just the basic function I need to get the job done and I don’t have full accessibility. I have to ask for sighted help when I can get it or farm out some things I can’t do to other folks. I want the same freedom and choice as my sighted counterparts and I just don’t have that.”
“The real problem is that our universe has become screen-driven and blind people have a very cumbersome way of trying to understand what is on the screen. We also can’t use a mouse or trackball at all and that is how most manufacturers imagine you using their product, so somehow we have to get around that obstacle”.
“First, we need to worry about accessibility for the future, not trying to retrofit a product already on the market”, he answers. “So, think about accessibility from the ground up as part of the framework from the get-go. Second, we need to have guidelines for best practices when thinking about accessibility in the digital market. Also, we need to adopt a common framework for plugin creation that is universal and that can be used by everyone so that each company doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel when thinking about how to make their product accessible.”
“And perhaps most importantly, we need to educate the greater music/audio community of the need for accessibility. Not only for blind or visually impaired folks, but for hearing impaired, or those with mobility issues. I truly believe that most people would rally to this cause if they thought about the struggle. I think that it just doesn’t cross most folks minds that there are those of us differently-abled that could make more meaningful contributions to the music/audio world but that just don’t have the access we need”.
Pierre Pfister – Arturia
As Joey mentioned, one of the companies involved in accessibility is Arturia. As a result of working with blind producer Jason Dasent, the company has made its synthesizer plugin Analog Lab accessible to blind users when paired with a MIDI controller and a text to speech program. We spoke with Pierre Pfister, a product manager at Arturia, about the company’s commitment to accessibility.