Accessible Options for Art, Music, and Other Creative Activities

Creativity software can help users bypass the most difficult physical, sensory, and cognitive aspects of making art, while enabling expression and exploration. While there is not much high-tech hardware or software for making art specifically made for people with disabilities, there are a variety of mainstream options that can be put to this purpose. Many of these are particularly relevant to people with dexterity disabilities that prevent them from holding a paintbrush or strumming a guitar.

This article covers some of those options in:

  • Painting/Drawing
  • Making Music
  • Photography
  • Video and Animation

If you already have a creativity application, examine the interface, documentation, and online resources; you will usually find at least some of these usability and accessibility features:

  • Keyboard commands and shortcuts.  These give the user an alternative to the mouse. For example, Apple's popular music program Garageband has a list of its keyboard commands.
  • Importing and using pre-existing content. Audio loops and simple image components can be pasted in, modified, and added together in these programs to create complex, interesting results, without requiring initial composition.
  • Filters and modifiers. These tools transform the entire project by altering colors, sharpening edges, changing musical tempos, etc. while requiring minimal physical or cognitive effort.
  • Compatibility with alternative input devices and assistive technology. For example, can you connect a large drawing pad instead of using mouse input?

If you are in the market for software, find out in advance about these features and make them part of your comparison.

Painting/Drawing

  • V-Draw is a free website that lets anyone draw using their voice or another sound. Medium volume creates a straight line; low or high volume creates a curved line.
  • The National Gallery of Art has a free website, The Art Zone, for creating multiple types of art effects using only a mouse.
  • In some cases, assistive technologies can be used to control standard art programs; options may include mouthsticks, joysticks, or voice recognition.

Music

Music and audio production has always been popular in the blind community, and most of the major software packages such as Cakewalk, Garageband, and Finale have fair to good accessibility, with active blind user groups and individuals developing add-ons like JAWS scripts for better screen reader compatibility and productivity.  Bryan Smart maintains an interesting and useful blog on accessible music software for this community.

  • The Electric Rock Guitar Shirt is battery-operated and can be used to play guitar music without requiring large arm movements. A drum version is also available.
  • Visual Acoustics is a free website that lets you choose up to eight instruments and adjust the delay and volume for each one. Then as you move the mouse, each chosen instrument plays, along with a corresponding visual element.
  • DancingDots has a variety of products for making music scores accessible to blind and low-vision people.

Photography

Some webcams are able to pan, tilt, and zoom (PTZ), meaning the computer user can aim the camera, compose an image, and capture either a still image or video via the computer's controls.

  • Automatic cameras such as the "Pet's Eye View" can be adjusted to take pictures at various intervals, eliminating the need to press buttons.
  • An article in WIRED discusses technology used by blind and low-vision photographers.

Video and Animation

Most free or basic video tools have many keyboard controls for productivity. Cutting and pasting on the timeline is usually not possible without a mouse or equivalent, however.

Animation tools are built into many video games, allowing users to record the parts of the action they want to save and share.

Xtranormal describes itself as "text to movie"; it allows users to create simple animations using pre-fab characters and sets, just by adding dialogue typed into the interface.  Neither the online site nor State, its downloadable animation editor, is fully accessible; both require mouse input or equivalent for key functions.

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