Oct 2021

Discovering a Locked World

Words by Jack Murray-Brown

Illustration of Key-whole getting smaller with lines in white on black background

“How do we make digital art which has accessibility creatively embedded?”

Over the last few months we have been working with Birds of Paradise Theatre Company (BOP) on a really exciting new project, entitled ‘Locked World’. The aim of this project is to explore and answer that question of creative accessibility in digital art. For each stage of the project we’ll be reflecting on what has happened, what we have learnt and what we are up to next. We hope these posts will help us reflect better on the project and our learning, whilst also helping those who are exploring the same space as us, be that now or sometime in the future.

Birds of Paradise Theatre Company is based in Glasgow and works towards a vision of a culture where disabled artists are recognised for the excellence of their work, celebrated for the stories that they bring to the stage and are a vital part of 
the artistic landscape of Scotland. Being the only professional, disability-led theatre company in Scotland, they have been paving the way for disabled artists in theatre since their creation in 1993.  The company works locally and internationally putting the stories of disabled people on stage and improving disability equality in the arts practically and strategically.

Project outline and aims

BOP approached us with the aim of creating a highly accessible digital arts platform, featuring new work by emerging disabled artists in Scotland. This project aims to create an immersive online experience that can be accessible to anyone – with or without access requirements. Locked World also aims to find new and exciting ways to work with accessibility: seeing it being more about people and less about checklists.


“there is power in recognising your world is locked
and though this project might build empathy or understanding it is not first and foremost an attempt to forge a key
to unlock this world
to unlock this world would mean unlearning me
unlocking this world would not mean becoming free
I am free when the world stops attempting to teach me a new body
I am not aiming to assimilate
my aim, just now is to be
be here
share space
with you”

Ink, BOP Young Artists

Illustration of key in white on a black background with lines radiating from end

Conceived by BOP Young Artists, Locked World hosts and holds a collection of disabled-centred digital art.

It holds creative manifestations of individual neural / medical / physical / sensorial / societal experience which challenge perceptions of disability and neurodiversity.

Internal thoughts, perceptions and sensations are externalised: interpreted, mimicked, echoed, denied, stretched, masked and digitised.

It is:

  • A space where accessibility is central – not an afterthought.
  • A space where disabled people are the ‘norm’.
  • A space where we can go at our own pace.
  • A safe space which challenges ableist racist heteronormative trans-exclusionary patriarchal and capitalist discourse.
  • A space where we can share experiences with other disabled people (and non-disabled people, and people for whom those labels do not fit).
  • A space where we can honour and amplify the voices of other disabled artists.

The collection will begin with the work of BOP Young Artists, and will expand throughout the 9 month cycle, including 3 newly commissioned artworks, as well as audience artworks which will grow with each month.

Locked World team on a conference call smiling

What we’ve been up to so far in the project

It’s been lovely to meet and get to know the team that work at BOP and to start work on the project together. We all feel like ‘Locked World’ is really important and is addressing some key issues so there is a lot of drive to make it as good as possible. There is a real team feeling, we are not working for but with the client.

Early on the team at BOP held a Disability Equality Training session. Consisting of a really insightful morning learning about the history of disability politics and rights, the language used around disability, how this has changed over time, the models of disability and how often people are disabled by society. It was a really useful and engaging session and we definitely took a lot away from it. Feeling more confident in our knowledge of disability, how to talk about it, always in the knowledge that we’ve got more to learn.

We’ve been trying out some new collaborative work tools, FigJam being the latest in these ones, and it has been working to great success. Allowing us to work together on understanding the project in a really fun manner, and slightly messy at times. Out to Figma for all the lovely touches they have added to make this experience that little bit special. Cursor chat is a dream!

We also had the chance to meet some of the artists who conceptualised and are making work for ‘Locked World’. This was really important as this platform is being made to showcase their work. It was great to discuss with them the work they are making and how it fits with the overall concept of the project. We’re excited to see their work advance in the coming months!

In the project we also have a Web Access Consultant in the form of Dalton Weir. He’s been a great sounding board so far in terms of accessibility requirements and helped take us through the WCAG guidelines to ensure we stay on the right track and meet the legal requirements. While we are trying to think about accessibility as people in this project rather than a set of guidelines, it’s also important not to lose sight of those guidelines as a way to check things are all in order. Having his knowledge and experiences on this project will really help make it as accessible as possible.

High fives next to the whale in FigJam

High fives next to the whale in FigJam


It’s quite normal on any given project to do some research and discovery in the early stages of a project and come back with quite a few projects that inspire you and influence the project. Work that you get excited about, that surprises you and teaches you things. However the discovery stage of this project was a little different as in the current climate of the web, accessibility is not at the forefront. In fact it’s often forgotten about completely, in far too many cases. This leads to a large number of immersive experiences not taking into account the access requirements of disabled people. Even more prevalent since COVID-19, as digital experiences have become more commonplace and the only place for some to access art.

The sites we often go to for inspiration such as awwwards are littered with some great examples if you are a non-disabled user. But as soon as you dig deeper into many of the projects showcased there, it becomes quite clear that you can’t use these sites without a keyboard and mouse. One increasing trend is the use of javascript libraries that make use of the HTML canvas element. Essentially it’s a building block of the web that you can show anything visual inside, a blank canvas as such. These could be immersive 3D libraries of interactive 2D worlds, but often the case is you are left with a canvas element that shows the content of the site in only a visible form. Whilst this creates an immersive experience for those who visually navigate the web, it renders the site completely unusable to those for example who use a screen reader to navigate the web.

One of the most exciting and interesting projects we did come across was Built in Amsterdam’s work for Moooi. In particular their ‘a life extraordinary‘ in which they create an immersive and accessible space to explore Mooi’s latest pieces. Margo Gabel, Designer at Built in Amsterdam, talks about this project and how accessibility can be beneficial in this great webinar.

Another increasing trend in the past few years has been the use of accessibility panels or widgets. While these can be great to help fix simple issues and make a website more accessible or provide tools such as a larger cursor or changing the contrast, they shift the focus of accessibility to an afterthought. Furthermore, in most cases making a website accessible is more complex than adding one line of javascript. They adhere to the narrative that you can fix a website’s accessibility issues with ‘one line of javascript’ which in most cases will never be the case. Accessibility should be part of the whole journey of creating a website and in this way the experience for disabled users will be far better. In this project the aim is to create an immersive experience for everyone with a focus on disabled users and how it can be made immersive for peoples various access requirements.

“…Suggesting one line of code is cheap so you should do it by inference suggests disabled lives aren’t worth investing in either. #a11y”


Illustration of selection of keys in white arranged on black background

Next Steps

Our next steps are moving onto the conceive stage and exploring ways in which we can make this project immersive and accessible in new and exciting ways. We will be writing an article at every stage to discuss our learning so make sure to keep an eye out for updates over the coming weeks.

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