My T-560 friends may recall the challenge of a describing a scene for a blind audience, and marvelling at how different each of our translations were. Some embodied poetic affect, others attempted to describe specific shapes and features, while a few attempted to pinpoint exact locations in hopes of allowing ecology to dictate description.
Imagine having a language impairment, and being asked to do this very task. ‘Daunting’ becomes the understatement of the century as you struggle to organize your understanding of the task, figure out where you begin, and determine your affective approach.
Determining the goal is tricky, as it may be completely subjective. What information is vital to communicate the intention of a photograph? Who’s to say one person’s intention follows another’s? While many of my classmates felt a peaceful serenity looking at our descriptive target photograph, I felt a yearning for adventure and escape.
In fact, my interpretation went a little something like this:
Rather than try to overanalyze what approaches my students may or may not be taking, I decided to let them tell me through our own exercises in descriptive drawing. I had my students draw pictures that I was not allowed to see, and then tell me how to recreate the drawings using only verbal language. This exercise was tough at first, as I had to really pry for information regarding location and size. However, with practice through multiple pictures, they caught on rather quickly.
Interestingly, yet not surprisingly, my students were able to find their greatest security by tapping into their affective systems to power their descriptions. Rather than describe facial expressions and postures using specific features and placement, students told me their characters’ affective states – and the purpose behind those states (e.g., “this dog is SO happy because it’s spring and flowers are wet”). I found these affective descriptions to be crucial toward my students’ communicative purpose and goals. After all, a picture tells a story.
As a follow up to this exercise, I would love to organize a photo safari with students with impairments in vision, and have a small gallery showing with sighted peers. Peers could describe what they feel is the mood of the picture, and the photographers could then describe their intent. I think it would be wonderful and interesting to see if sight interferes or compliments the photographer’s initial communicative goal.