Farsighted? Creating Comic Books For The Blind
Visually impaired people can do just about anything sighted people can do these days. One of the things that has remained out of bounds for them has been the joy many of us find in reading comic books. Designer Phillipp Meyer took on the challenge to find a way to bring comics to blind. The first thing he discovered was that the whole idea of what a comic is needed to be rethought.
Meyer, who currently lives in Berlin, came by his idea while he was involved with his Interactive Design studies. His idea is still in the experimental stage as he works with blind people to discover how tactile storytelling can work and what kind of potential it has.
In his initial attempts at the concept he found that he needed to boil the story down to simple shapes and forms. He wanted to get the story as graphically simple as possible without losing meaning and at the same time making it accessible to people both with and without sight. He wanted to combined comic techniques and the reader's imagination, then let the medium itself do the heavy lifting. It was a tall order.
Meyer created a very simple, basic story entitled "Life." He made a digital version and sent it out to friends. They immediately understood the story without translation or words. So he moved on to create the tactile version.
The book for the blind is printed with an embossing printer to create the raised dots, and printed on special paper that is used in the printing of Braille books. The paper is design to make sure that the raised dots will remain raised for a long time and through multiple readings.
With the help of a Braille editor named Michael at the Danish organization Nota, Meyer was able to have help with the experience of the visually impaired every step of the way. Michael was also the first to get to read the final version of "Life."
Meyer also had help from readers he found through the Instituttet for Blinde og Svagsynede (IBOS), another Danish organization. The feedback from these readers helped him fine tune the final prototype.
The book has an introductory page printed in both Braille and English. The comic is printed in four panels to a page and the panels on the first page are numbered to indicate the order in which the panels are to be read. "Life" is a boy-meets-girl tale of two circles. They meet, conjoin, and have a bouncing baby circle. The baby circle grows and leaves the family group. The parents are left on their own and draw closer together. Then one of the circles fades away, leaving the other circle all alone. Eventually the remaining circle fades away.
The fade is created by using shallower and shallower dots so that the circle does seem to the sightless reader to actually fade and disappear.
While the story is hardly earth-shaking, it is important to remember that this prototype is a baby step into an entirely new field of possibility. Meyer is in the process of making a limited number of copies of the book for distribution to libraries and schools for the blind. A few additional copies are being put up for sale. If you are interested in obtaining a copy you can contact Meyer directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Laurie Kay Olson
Clever Problem Solvers