Welcome to our Latest Issue: Disability Justice, Technology & Access! – immerse.news

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Jan 23
This winter issue centers disability innovation in documentary and emerging tech — presenting perspectives from artists, activists, scholars and technologists at the vanguard of storytelling and disability justice. It’s inspired by existing efforts from our collaborators at the Access and Disability Innovation Working Group at MIT Open Doc Lab and Co-Creation Studio.
Lightning talks from artists, technologists, curators and scholars hosted by the working group provided a jumping off point for reflection for the Immerse editorial collective. The publication typically engages emergent technology forms that historically have not accommodated disabled artists and audiences. One of our issue pieces in particular, an interview with Sacha Wares, the director of the IDFA award-winning Museum of Austerity (2021), is directly inspired by one of the talks in the working group’s symposium.
With this issue, we aim to share learnings that inspired us, lessons learned in the creation and exhibition of art that centers access, that recognizes disabled people in the wholeness of their experiences, across the many spectrums and intersections of identity. We also wish to share the harsh realities, the impacts of access initiatives that fall short, enacting change that is unsustainable and harmful.
I ask our readers, creatives across the spectrum of engaging with (or perhaps persisting through) conversations around disability and access in their day to day, to consider these pieces with an open mind. Allow yourself forgiveness, time to “be.” In keeping with the spirit of many of these pieces, sit with the feelings of resonance, acknowledgement and discomfort, and commit yourself to learning and unlearning in the ways you can.
Some of these are stories of creative workarounds and “finessing,” of breaking apart and manipulating systems in place to imagine new realities. These stories speak of frustration, of triumph and of not only wishing for a new status quo, but detailing the steps needed to get there. Others call out ableist bullsh*t like they see it, like Leora Fridman’s critique of Apple’s The Greatest (2022) the newest disability ad that she argues falls short in nuance and representation. And don’t miss Aubrie Lee’s gripping essay explaining how technology that could be enabling her as a wheelchair user and self-proclaimed “cyborg” instead sets her back.
Our writers introduce us to a range of cutting-edge accessible tech — some of which, like Dylan Fox’s speculative fiction piece on being blind in 2040, hasn’t yet been invented. From Laurel Lawson, dancer, choreographer and engineer, we get an introduction to Protactile and the potential of haptic tech to revolutionize disabled dance and performing arts spaces. In their Zoom campfire chat, Chris Hainsworth and Harshadha Balasumbrian of Blind Burners reflect on their collective’s challenges in making a virtual reality (VR) experience accessible for blind and visually impaired creators and audiences — under the time crunch of Burning Man 2021.
Beyond the baseline of access (which we continue to emphasize as a necessary precondition of showcasing work), this issue also features ways of exhibiting and cultivating creative experiences that are intimate, intentional and trauma-informed. In her interview with seeley quest, multisensory artist Salima Punjani presents a plethora of ways of structuring care into art practice, spanning everything from heartbeat biodata to bubble baths. Artist-scholar Dr. Frank Mondelli grapples with questions about what it means to center Deaf, hard of hearing and disabled perspectives in their subversive re-imagining of the hearing exam — surfacing questions about how to design not only for a Deaf and/or disabled audience, but for a hearing, able-bodied one as well.
Now, I am proud to present perspectives from folks who do the day-to-day work of capacity building, existing both in solidarity and in allyship in order to create a more just, accessible world. As a first-time editor (from start to finish), I feel grateful for many things: the organizing efforts, triumphs and trials of activists such as Stacey Park Milbern, Alice Wong, Mia Mingus and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha that have uplifted disability justice to the visibility we see today. The grace, sheer talent and patience of all the contributors. The fact that we are able to put this issue into the world. The labor of love that Immerse is for our editorial collective — many claps to associate editor Omar El-Sabrout, joining for this issue.
For our stories in simple text, please refer to our linked Archives page.
For more news, discourse, and resources on immersive and emerging forms of nonfiction media, sign up for our monthly newsletter.
Immerse is an initiative of the MIT Open DocLab and Dot Connector Studio, and receives funding from Just Films | Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Gotham Film & Media Institute is our fiscal sponsor. Learn more here. We are committed to exploring and showcasing emerging nonfiction projects that push the boundaries of media and tackle issues of social justice — and rely on friends like you to sustain ourselves and grow. Join us by making a gift today.

Creative discussion of emerging nonfiction storytelling
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