11 September 2015

Capstone Project Check-In: 9/11/15

As promised, I'm beginning a new series detailing my thoughts and updates for my MUSE Capstone project progress. But first, a little bit of background. A requirement of the MUSE Program at UIC is to either conduct thesis research or project-based research, culminating in a large paper or a well-thought-out project plan. I decided last spring that I would embark upon the project of researching, writing, and potentially recording a full-length audio descriptive guide for visitors with low vision, vision impairment, and blindness as my project. I spent the summer letting the idea ferment (so much fermentation), and put together a preliminary project plan, which I am going to be revising and refining as I learn more about this area of accessible programming. But one incredible thing that was so unbelievably encouraging happened last night, which I thought I'd share here.

First of all, everything has the potential for meaning to me. Everything can be a sign, if read that way. And last night I was given the mother of all signs! I volunteered to work the ReelAbilities Film Festival - a five-day event screening feature length and short films around the topic of disability. It's a mix of documentary and drama, depicting a wide range of disability including but not limited to: facial irregularities, non-verbal autism, wheelchair users and mobility impairment, blindness, and body enhancement through prosthesis. It's completely free, and in line with the my Disability in Film class, so how could I miss it? I showed up for my volunteer shift at Wretchers and Jabbers, and the first person I was introduced to was Victor. I was told by my project advisor (back in May), that I needed to track down Victor. That Victor is "the audio description guy" in Chicago. That he would be the person to talk to about my ideas, about implementing one level of access in cultural space. To walk in and meet Victor was a sign. We chatted for 20 minutes about his work, doing audio description for blind film and theatre patrons, joking about the barriers that institutions put up, and about how simple it is to just offer the service. It's not that expensive he says, but makes a world of difference to someone who's unable to see. I told him I'd like to interview him for my project, and he seemed completely open to it! This is completely fantastic news for me!

In other news I'm more than halfway done with my IRB certification. In short, before I can truly delve into my research, I need to become IRB certified, which means that I understand the meaning of research, that I understand what defines research with humans, and that I comprehend the balance of risk to benefits. It's a process that was put in place in the 1970s in response to errors in judgment on the part of several (too many to name) research projects that put human populations at risk. My place in all of this, you might be wondering, is that it's a requirement of the university regardless of my research content. I need to read all of the material provided on research, human subjects, consent, beneficence, risk/benefit ratios, and take quizzes on everything I read to prove my understanding.  It's a time-consuming process, as there are 17 modules to read and quiz through, each taking anywhere from 20-45 minutes to read. Once I finish, I can fill of my application for approval by the board, and really delve into my work. More on that soon.

Next steps:
  • Arrange another meeting with my advisor
  • Reach out to Liz, the other student on campus interested in audio description
  • 8 more IRB modules/quizzes
  • Apply for IRB exemption
  • Build bibliography related to museum access for visitors with vision impairment and blindness
  • Attain Victor's contact information
  • Go on some audio tours around the city!

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