'Can I Hear That In Colour?'


The following represents the summary version of the full project report, which is also available as a downloadable file (37 pages) from this web site. See also further action research "Let's Get the Bigger Picture".

Background to the Research Project

The collection of the North West Film Archive (NWFA) is a public resource representing - and supported by - the people of the North West of England. The NWFA regards accessibility to this region's filmed heritage as a fundamental guiding principle alongside its commitment to custodial responsibilities.

Having been closely involved in the planning of its new purpose-designed accommodation in 1996, the NWFA had ensured that disability issues were incorporated into the building. The NWFA consulted with a range of organisations to compile a list of specialist audio-visual and computer equipment which would further improve the experience of disabled visitors, particularly those with visual and/or hearing impairments. These requirements were included within the Archive's successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (£260,821 awarded).

The NWFA recognised that in order to carry out the next step - user-led research - it did not possess the relevant in-house expertise and a practitioner partner would need to be brought on board. With a grant from North West Arts Board, the NWFA engaged Full Circle Arts, a disabled people's regional resource which provides consultancy services to organisations working on disability arts projects, to work on a unique joint research project to identify the criteria which people with sensory requirements regard as important when accessing moving images. This research project was devised by the NWFA to develop inclusive in-house and outreach access opportunities and to provide service choice for the region's people - a real world-first.



A pilot group of twelve people from around the North West of England was assembled so that the project would be user-led and would gain first hand knowledge about their actual requirements. The pilot group met monthly over six months to participate in trial and refinement sessions where their responses to technical experimentation and specialist intervention would be measured and evaluated, both qualitatively and quantitatively. As a truly user-led project, real evidence was gathered from the outset about audience needs and preferences. A range of options for accessibility was established which was then refined, modified and augmented through secondary testing with new audiences with similar needs. Issues resulting from this fresh perspective were fed back to the pilot group so that they could see where their original views were shared, where there were differences in opinion and where new ideas had been added.



The findings range from attitudinal considerations and simple, practical steps which improve accessibility to moving images, working up to the introduction of specialist professionals and technical interventions which require more planning and resources. The following options for accessibility are based on disabled people's own views and should hold true for many screening scenarios.


Custodians of moving image collections may give attention to :

Attitudinal considerations


Practical steps


Audience recommendations

User preferences from visually impaired audience members:


For hearing impaired audiences a range of approaches can be adopted to meet particular communication needs.

User preferences from hearing-aid users:


User preferences from sign language users:


In all cases:


Next steps

While some questions were answered by this research, many more were raised, and the NWFA has a responsibility and commitment to building on the success of this ground-breaking project. Future priorities will focus on resourcing and initiating action research to find and work with new audiences, and widen out applications for enjoying the collection. Disabled people will continue to be actively involved as part of the NWFA's public access development.

Can I Hear That In Colour? is just one example of a public film archive's experience working with disabled people to achieve greater accessibility to moving images. The NWFA looks forward to hearing about other projects which can broaden our understanding of disabled people's needs and influence the development of public access programmes.


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