Leadership / 01.11.23
Bringing Technology, Accessibility and Inclusion Together at INTIX 2023
Accessibility touches all aspects of live entertainment, from ticketing and marketing to how people access a venue and enjoy a show. Yet as we have demonstrated in our ongoing editorial coverage, it goes well beyond venue access ramps and accessible seats. INTIX is fortunate to have a community of access champions and experts to lead the way. Several are joining us in Seattle to share important learnings from all stages of the customer journey at our 44th Annual Conference and Exhibition. They will also discuss and demonstrate innovative wearable technology that is paving the way for remarkable future experiences in live entertainment. Here is a sneak peek of what attendees will learn and see in Seattle:
TWERK: Training With Empathy, Respect and Knowledge
This session applies to people with disabilities and has even broader learnings and principles to help create fully inclusive work environments. Going beyond an organization’s diversity, equity, inclusion and access initiatives, it will delve into the phases of employment that are not typically covered by human resources (HR). This will help leaders and managers become more inclusive of the varied staff on their teams, including public-facing workers who often have to think on their feet in the face of a co-worker or customer.
“[We] have to consider the variety of ways in which people learn,” Dani Rose, Managing Director at Art-Reach and speaker at INTIX 2023, says. “You might have a visual learner, you might have an auditory learner, you might encounter all different varieties [of learners when you are training staff]. We might not think about that under a disability lens, but we do want to think about that under an inclusive lens. How do we train everyone together?”
According to Rose, organizations can create fully inclusive environments and practices by applying principles from Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Doing so helps ensure that organizations are being systematic in their inclusion of everyone. “That includes not only our youngest generation entering the workforce but also aging, older adults,” Rose says.
With that said, this is not an ADA session, and it applies to ticketing and entertainment professionals beyond the United States, emphasizes Rose.
“Our international friends are really active with INTIX, and it means a lot to me to be able to speak to those universal design ideas in employment that are going to apply to everyone regardless of whether you are beholden to the ADA,” she says. “I love to teach ADA because, in the U.S., that is our most comprehensive policy statement and law for non-discrimination. We learn from non-discrimination how to address everyone, but I always think that the ADA is the floor. It is not the ceiling. It's not a metric of compliance, but rather a way to approach non-discrimination, so everyone can learn from that.”
Rose continues, “Even if you are in the U.S., your city or your state is going to have regulations that are outside of the ADA, and they have to be considered as well. So, in some ways, my session is going to be irrelevant to everyone because your local area, wherever you are, is going to have a different set of regulations than the ADA. But in the same way, it will be relevant to everyone because we are going to focus on the principles of non-discrimination in employment. They might be tied to what we learn from the ADA, but they're going to apply to everyone.”
Attendees at Rose’s workshop will learn methods and resources for inclusive customer service practices. Rose will also share the importance of creating a humanity-first culture that puts the “human” in "human relations."
“When I approach managing a team, if I have someone who is a really hard worker, I want to reward their hard work not with more work, but rather with rest so that they are ready to take on the work when I need them to,” Rose says. “If I have someone who performs a little bit slower and takes their time with their project, I want to make sure that the project timeline accommodates how they approach that project rather than getting the worker to conform to some policy or some other timeline. It is centering the human in the work rather than the bottom line, the productivity metrics or the KPIs.”
Rose continues, “All those things are important, but those things are important to the managers and directors. What is important to your workforce is that they got up today, arrived at work through some means of transport, got their cup of coffee, turned on their computer and lived a whole life before they had to be productive. Are we in our daily practice and policies making space for that human experience? There are keys in the ADA on how to do that, so I am going to explain systematic ways that we can center the human in our workforce.”
Just the Ticket! Accessible Ticketing and Customer Service
Rose is back with a second session, this time one that is more ADA focused. It will share how becoming an access champion ensures that people with disabilities feel welcome to our venues and events. Rose will cover an organization’s obligations under the ADA and best practices for delivering outrageous customer service and intentional inclusion.
“There are regulations we must follow in ticketing,” Rose says. “When we follow those regulations, we build a trust relationship with the community, with people with disabilities in our local area. When we build that trust relationship, folks know that when they come to our venue, they are going to have the accommodations that they need. They are going to be able to get tickets the way that they need [to get tickets]. They will be able to come and enjoy the experience and leave. That simple act shows that we are welcoming that particular community in our venue.”
Outrageous customer service is a phrase Rose uses to describe deeply invested, effusive, generous customer service practices that benefit the customer experience above all else. It is going above and beyond the above and beyond, she says.
Rose says, “This session is going to teach us how to create outrageous customer service practices and policies that become a standard, effortless, daily practice.”
When it comes to intentional inclusion, Rose is referring to the more common practice of passive exclusion.
“Rather than calling out ableism, I am more calling out obliviousness,” Rose says. “Folks don't know what they don't know, and so often they are not aware of the unintended consequences that lead to ableism … I come in with barrels of knowledge so that everyone can become aware of moments where they have been passively exclusive or unintentionally discriminatory. [I help people] learn how to shift that thinking toward being intentional about how we are welcoming folks with disabilities and, therefore, everyone into our spaces and events.”
Accessible Ticketing: Beyond Compliance, Meeting People's Needs
Caspian Turner, Director of the digital accessibility consultancy Accessible by Design is coming to INTIX from the U.K. His group helps organizations create accessible digital experiences, which is accomplished through auditing, inclusive usability studies and consultancy services.
Attendees to Turner’s session will learn about digital accessibility, how to improve accessibility in ticketing and the impact of inaccessible ticketing experiences. For without accessibility in ticketing, audiences are excluded. This impacts a significant segment of the population. According to Turner, one in five people in the U.K. has a disability. It is closer to one in four people in Canada at more than 22% of the population. Numbers are also similar in the United States, where at least one in four people lives with a disability.
“Beyond the bare minimum of making sure that everyone is welcome, accessibility is actually good for business,” Turner says. “There is a spending power of disabled people which is neglected through inaccessible websites and inaccessible ticketing experiences,” he says, adding that the Click-Away Pound Survey in the U.K. reported that 71% of disabled audiences click away from inaccessible websites to accessible ones. “So, you are essentially turning away 71% of potential buyers [in the disability community] by having an inaccessible experience,” Turner says.
People with disabilities may need to book their tickets differently online. For example, people who are blind may use a screen reader. People with other disabilities may use only a keyboard.
“A screen reader provides an audio representation of what is displayed on the screen for sighted users. Essentially, it will read out everything on the screen assuming that the website has been coded in an accessible manner. Unfortunately, only around 2% of the web is accessible, so many websites have jarring experiences for screen reader users,” Turner says.
Keyboard-only users will typically include people who are blind or living with vision loss. This group may also include people with motor impairments and physical disabilities or tremors. “It is essentially anyone who would not be able to use a mouse due to not being able to see the cursor on the screen or due to a physical impairment that means they can't use a mouse with their hands,” Turner says. “The keyboard-only users may navigate a website entirely through the use of keyboard commands, and that might be tabbing through every element of the page. It might be using arrow keys or shortcuts in combination with a screen reader.”
Turner will also give examples in his workshop and hopes to include a short recording within his session.
Among the top things that Turner thinks ticketing professionals and conference attendees should know about accessible ticketing is that eventgoers want to know what to expect when they arrive at your venue. They also want to be able to get in touch if they have questions or need information.
“Make it as easy as possible for people to get in touch if their questions are not answered online. Be very clear about who to contact and how. Also, provide multiple options for people to get in touch because a deaf person can’t phone up, they would have to ask someone else to do that on their behalf. So, if it is possible to offer live chat as an alternative, that is another way that people could immediately get a response rather than having to rely on email. If there are text options, that's great too. Ideally, you would have options where people can get in touch in writing, by phone or in person,” Turner says, adding that the information needs to be available in formats that are accessible to everyone.
He continues, “In the U.K., British Sign Language (BSL) was legislated as an official language last year. For many people, BSL is their first language, so if it is possible to include interpretations, that is ideal.”
Content in general is a huge part of accessibility. As an example, you can watch the BSL flyer for Ramps on the Moon at the Birmingham Rep Theatre.
There is also a particularly good example of content accessibility from the Wellcome Collection, a free museum and library that aims to challenge how people think and feel about health. This organization incorporates an audio file, captioned BSL interpretation video and full written transcript into its web content presentation.
Understanding how the ticket booking experience has been for your audiences and event experience is also paramount. The best way to do that, says Turner, is to ask. “Audiences can tell you best where your accessibility issues exist, but if you are asking people for feedback, make sure that they are compensated for their time.”
Turner says, “At present, there are approximately 57 accessibility issues on arts and entertainment website home pages alone. So that's 57 issues that could prevent audiences from being able to progress through to find out what is on or to book a ticket. And [only] around 2% of the web is accessible, so nearly 98% of the web is inaccessible to some audiences, so everyone has work to do. It is not as much work or as daunting as some people may expect.”
What If We Were to Reimagine the Way People Experienced Music? Wearable Technology Increases Accessibility
From digital experiences to wearable experiences, the closing general session at INTIX 2023 promises to be nothing short of spectacular.
Under the skillful moderation of Betty Siegel, Director, Office of Access and VSA at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a team of panelists will take attendees on a tactile journey, revealing innovative wearable event-going technology. The Vibrotextile™ vest by Music: Not Impossible has wrist and ankle bands that pulse in sync with live performances. Those wearing it can literally feel music and live events through their skin.
The technology overwhelmed Rose with joy when she experienced it at Resonant Philly. This is an all-inclusive performance, so in addition to the Music: Not Impossible technology, there were American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters; it was audio described; and it was a relaxed performance. But the vest, says Rose, has the power to change the world.
“It’s a bonkers experience. For me, the immediate response that I had was this wow moment,” she says. “First of all, when you are wearing the suit, you feel like a superhero. As it is buzzing around on you, you're having a physical connection. I am a hearing individual, so [I was] hearing the music and having this physical experience. It was connecting something to me in a sensory way that I know I feel in my heart about music, but I have never actually felt in a tactile way.”
Rose adds, “I have been working in this field for so long trying to get accommodated experiences for folks with disabilities, and whenever we do that … whatever accommodation we are providing is always on some sort of a delay. The captioner can only type so fast. So, if it's a stand-up comedy performance, for example, the joke happens, the laugh happens, but the captions are a little bit delayed, so the people using the captions to hear the joke are laughing afterwards. With these suits, we are all experiencing exactly the same thing at exactly the same time … and there is no real difference in the emotional moment or the experiential moment that is happening between audience members. I cannot think of another accessible accommodation out there that provides this simultaneous experience.”
When Rose joined the Resonant Philly project in partnership with Opera Philadelphia and Art-Reach, the most significant focus was the customer service experience. What would it be like, for example, for someone to show up, get dressed in the vest and experience the show?
“We were very meticulous and detailed about what that process should be like,” Rose says, adding that it works quite easily because details are ironed out in the beginning so that the event experience can be seamless. “I think our INTIX community needs to know that this type of technology is out there.”
While he is not the only person behind the incredible innovation, Daniel Belquer played a crucial role in its development and in making this wearable technology what it is today. Belquer is Chief Vibrational Officer and Co-Founder of Music: Not Impossible. He has been obsessed with sounds, science and technology for as long as he can remember. His master’s degree in theatre was about listening. He taught actors for many years around the issue of listening. And he made his living for many years as a composer. Today, Belquer and his collaborators are on the verge of changing the way people listen to music. The technology works in real-time to provide the excitement of a live performance. It can also incorporate pre-designed vibrations that go along with video and music.
“On that approach, we can do very complex and sophisticated vibrations. That was the case for Opera Philadelphia [at Resonant Philly]. The pieces we presented there were done in advance and the audience was feeling that creation, but we can also have a combination of those techniques,” Belquer says. “We can have live instruments being streamed in real-time, and we can add customized effects and pre-designed vibrations in sync with the live content as well. This was something we did both for Toyota [in Japan], for the race cars, because we were mixing the live sound of the cars with pre-designed content. Also, at Mighty Hoopla in London, a massive festival for 25,000 people, they wanted special effects for the crowd's reactions, so when they were cheering or clapping, we would have pre-designed effects being triggered going along with the [live] music.”
While we look ahead to mass production and anticipated general availability in 2024, some 80 highly advanced prototypes are being used on a smaller scale. They have long ago proven that the concept and technology does exactly what it set out to do — take something that seemed impossible and make it possible.
Singer-songwriter Mandy Harvey is an excellent example. She began losing her hearing a month into her college studies majoring in music and was deaf within nine months. Today, with the Vibrotextile™ technology that she helped to test during its development, Harvey can once again record vocals over a music track and perform with a full orchestra.
“It was beautiful, a beautiful moment,” Belquer recalls. “We did a concert with her, with a full orchestra, and our technology allowed her to feel the nuances and sing on time and follow the orchestra. She did a ukulele and voice concert at Not Impossible [Labs] for guests. At a certain point, we had a gig with her at Park City. We had many events that she participated in. She's a friend and a collaborator and her feedback was always very helpful for us to keep improving the technology.”
Today, that technology is ready to go mainstream. It has been rolled out gradually over the years as it was tweaked and proven. Early on, it was used at SXSW during a Pharell concert, after which he said, “I felt the future.”
In Las Vegas, the technology was later used at the show where Greta Van Fleet launched its premiere album, which went on to win best rock album at the Grammys that year. At that show, half the audience was deaf and the other half was hearing.
Music: Not Impossible has also played an important role at Resonant Philly and it will do so again in 2023.
“The last Resonant Philly … was all film-based performances with an emcee and a historian weaving text between the films that were being shown. This year we will be using live performers with a band and a cabaret artist,” Veronica Chapman-Smith, Vice President of Community Initiatives, Opera Philadelphia, says. “Instead of Daniel only using the vest in a way where he's programming a very intricate experience for people, he will be doing some programming but also creating a space where the vest is reacting in real-time to what is happening in the space because cabaret is very much an improvisatory art form. We wanted to make sure that we had both of those things at play for the people experiencing the event through the vest.”
Chapman-Smith says, “Before doing Resonant Philly, I don't think I knew that it was possible to create an event where accessibility and inclusion were at the forefront … [It] is possible for organizations and performance venues to think about accessibility, inclusion and community-building, because really that's what this is, at the beginning of a process of planning an event. The end result is this beautiful event where people are invested in your space or organization.”
She continues, “No one else we can find is doing this. We have done some digging, but we can't find anyone doing this kind of work where it is not just about the amazing technology that Daniel has created, but it is also talking about an event that really held people's humanity and the idea of them being able to bring their fullest self into an art space.”
“It’s one of those things that you won’t understand until you experience it,” Pharell says. “Other people will not understand what you are talking about until they experience it, too.”
“Some of the things that I will talk about in my INTIX sessions are the very, very beginning [of inclusion and accessibility],” Rose says. “What Daniel is going to show everyone is where we are going, what is innovative in accessibility, and why that can really impact the future of our audiences.”
During the closing general session at INTIX 2023, select audience members will be chosen to experience the Music: Not Impossible technology. Be among the first to see and potentially feel it in action in Seattle.
If you still need to register, what are you waiting for? Register today!
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Tags: Accessibility , INTIX 2023