Dear Audio Engineering Society:
My name is Michelle Guadalupe Felix Garcia, and I am writing to you as a graduate of the Music Recording Technology and Audio Design program at San Diego State University and a proud member of AES’s DEI committee. I would like to address the void in accessible products and software that I, along with hundreds of my visually impaired colleagues, have had to deal with firsthand for years. While many of us have experienced blindness from birth and are accustomed to using tools to adapt, we have found the inaccessibility of equipment and digital resources that would enable us to perform at 100% and beyond is an overwhelmingly widespread problem throughout the Audio industry.
In this time of inclusion, there is a large and diverse community of sound engineers, producers, composers, and musicians with disabilities who are very enthusiastic about the latest developments in Audio technology and are eager to contribute to this ever-growing field. While these individuals are extremely qualified and often have received professional training, there is a very strong risk that without the proper tools being made available to them, they will be left behind.
Blind people use screen readers that verbalize aloud the elements of graphical user interfaces for desktop and mobile platforms. In computers, the keyboard is our only method of navigation since we don’t use a mouse. We have made substantial progress with digital audio workstations and software but there is still room for much improvement. There are excellent companies who make accessibility a priority for their customers through compatibility with text to speech output engines, well-labeled controls, and extensive shortcut availability. However, many big names in the mixing desk, immersive audio and networking protocol domains have yet to make real inclusion an everyday practice.
Convincing manufacturers to modify their hardware has been one of the most difficult struggles I have embarked on in my audio career. Throughout my four-year education, I had to constantly devise alternative ways to use mixing desks; these second-choice methods were often inefficient and unreliable because accessibility isn’t even an afterthought in the current available models. The emergence of digital consoles with touch screens has posed a real threat to the employability of blind audio engineers, the incorporation of screen readers into these designs would enable the visually impaired to operate these systems. When discussing the shortcomings of digital mixing consoles with a sighted person, they constantly see reverting to analogue as the only alternative for operators without eyesight. However, the future is digital, and we want and should be included in it!
I was once told by a representative of a well-known company with amazing mixing desks that: “Blind people could be white-glove engineers, not to be worried about patching inputs and adjusting menus; we could work moving the faders and doing the most fun parts of the job.” However, in the professional world, we all know that should a blind person apply for a FOH position and encounter inaccessible equipment, we will be passed over. We miss work opportunities because it’s easier for employers to hire a person who, while perhaps may not be as skilled as their blind counterpart, can operate the equipment that is at hand. My blind peers have been forced into the freelance market because studios or venues do not consider disabled applicants as assets, and they’ve therefor had to accept the alternative of building a business on their own, outside of mainstream facilities.
In the end, if we take a deep look, the barriers all come from the false misconceptions in the minds of many professionals who stop short by seeing lack of sight as a disability only, and do not take the time to get to know the person, their strengths, and their enhanced skills. I had a live sound professor tell me that this career was not for me because I couldn’t look at meters. This educator was unaware that they could be read out loud in most DAW’s. He then continued to advise that most cables are color-coded, and I wouldn’t know where to plug each. He forgets that these can be successfully labeled in the Braille system to enable us to complete these tasks independently. The next wall he saw was the supposed “dangers” of moving around on a stage or studio control room, when blind people are perfectly capable of navigating safely on our own using white canes or guide dogs.
While the excuses are endless, we the Audio Engineering Society must act now to actively bring disability into our diversity and inclusion initiatives. I trust that if we work together to meet and exceed expectations, we can make accessibility the norm, allowing many more visually impaired individuals to fulfill their goals in the audio industry. Only then, will we witness a fairer, more equal tomorrow.
With respect and hope, Michelle Guadalupe Felix Garcia
Michelle is a passionate audio engineer and composer from Mexico. Her goals include working on sound reinforcement for touring acts, music production in recording studios and mixing for film , theater and television settings. She recently obtained the Pro Tools user certification and strives to be a lifelong learner. She thrives in environments where she is positively challenged and wishes to make the path easier for the future generations of women in audio.