Welcome to the Aidis Trust blog. Here you’ll find our posts on assistive technology that are meant to inform and encourage discussion. Feel free to join in!

Comics Empower: An Audio Comic Book Store for the Blind

When you think of comics and graphic novels, one of the first assumptions is that they are a visual medium. Therefore, it only follows that they aren’t accessible to the blind, right? Well, Guy Hasson is trying to change that through his comic book company Comics Empower, that make comic books into audio format for blind and visually impaired people to read.

While working for a more mainstream comic book company, Guy Hasson did research into how comics empowered people. He did this by collecting personal stories from readers. What he found was that people were being empowered by comic book heroes who are similar to themselves in some way. For example, black people were being empowered by black heroes and women by female heroes. So, that got him wondering about blind people, who would not normally be able to access the comic book medium.

So, he set up Comics Empower and started making audio comic books for the blind. He does this by producing audio versions of comics by independent comic book publishers, the aim being to potentially produce some more well known comics once his audience is big enough to attract bigger comic book companies to the idea of having their comics made into audio format. The way the audio edition works, is that a narrator describes each panel of the visual comic and reads out the associated speech bubbles. For people unfamiliar with comics, they have a guide to comic books on their website that people can download for free.

Another key issue regarding making comic books accessible for the blind, is giving them the opportunity to have a comic book hero they can relate to. For this purpose, Comics Empower published Aurora, a comic series with a blind hero. Anyone vaguely familiar with mainstream comics may have heard of Daredevil, but he has abilities that negate his disability, as his echo location abilities allow him to see more than most sighted people. On the other hand, the hero in Aurora will never have such abilities nor will he get his sight back.

I think this is a really cool thing to do and I was quite impressed when I found out about it. While comics are not something that interests me personally, I think it’s important that there’s that opportunity out there for people. This is particularly good for people who lose their sight, as they can still enjoy something that as a sighted person they may have loved. This may help them to understand that there are ways of doing things, they are just different. But also, I think it is equally as important for people who have never seen, for them to have the opportunity to understand comics, if they want to. There is so much visual media in our world and yes, as blind people we will never see it, but we can still experience the narratives it has to tell us through alternative mediums. Comics Empower is a good example, of an organisation that has taken the time to create that sort of opportunity.

A Website That’s Inaccessible to Sighted People

Yes, you read correctly. Another thing that Comics Empower have done to promote the need for increased accessibility for blind people, is to create a website that is inaccessible to sighted people. It features black text on a black background, which is unreadable with sight, but works fine with a screen reader. It just has a simple message that explaining that it is a comic book store for the blind that can only be accessed through a non-visual medium, but that is all sighted people can see when they go on the sight.

Again, I think this is a really brave and innovative thing to do. There are so many inaccessible sites on the internet and I think by showing any sighted person who comes across it, how daunting it is to be faced with something you can’t access, it’s raising awareness of the need for accessibility.

If you want to check out Comics Empower, you can find their website at:

www.comicsempower.com

What do you think of the work Comics Empower is doing? Please post your thoughts in the comments below.

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