Using Audio: Delivering Arts Award for a young person who identifies as Blind

Using Audio: Delivering Arts Award for a young person who identifies as Blind

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BY: Guest Writer
17 Apr 2023

Beth Sedgwick, Community Programme Manager and Arts Award adviser at Oxford Playhouse shares with us her delivery of Bronze Arts Award with Rona Smith, who is a young person who identifies as Blind. She describes how her approach is not about disability, but about facilitating ability.


Just before the start of the pandemic, I became more conscious of the additional challenges for arts participation faced by blind young people. I had previously visited the charity MyVision Oxfordshire to better understand how we could work together creatively. And then the world shut down.

When I trained as an Arts Award Bronze and Silver adviser in February 2021, I noticed that the delivery framework could be adapted. All of the evidence for Rona’s portfolio was transcribed from conversations with me as an adviser over Zoom and over the phone, or recorded remotely.

Starting point

In partnership with MyVision Oxfordshire I created ‘Sound Story’ workshops throughout 2020, to reach blind and visually impaired young people. The project encouraged participants to record short audio pieces using their voices and household objects. I decided to offer Bronze Arts Award to Rona after hearing her brilliant story, The Tale of Two Dogs. This became Part A of her Bronze.

Rona reflected that she ‘wanted to do something fun to break up the days and the amount of time I was isolating at home…I clicked on the link and listened to the workshop…it really inspired me to create my own story.’

The Playhouse was also able to provide further engagement through our wider community programme. Our radio play, From Oxford Around the World and Back Again, (which was created remotely with Age UK in 2021 to connect with isolated older people) was reviewed by Rona for her Bronze Part B. It was lovely to hear her analytical skills develop, when reflecting on our use of different sound effects. She also usefully noted that SoundCloud, the online platform Oxford Playhouse use for audio content, created an ‘accessible link’ for her reading software.

Personal development

The project also opened meaningful avenues for career development. Rona took the lead in interviewing Oxford Playhouse’s Learning Officer, Alice Jessop. To prepare we discussed five key questions before she recorded and brailled them. As Rona recollected, ‘I was able to ask for career advice for young people who wish to pursue the leading of creative workshops in schools’ as well as asking about accessibility.

For myself, the most powerful part of the award was found in the Part D Arts Skills Share. Rona and I planned & co-led a workshop for another young person who identifies as Blind at MyVision Oxfordshire. The workshop was a live ‘sound story’ workshop where Rona and I shared how the participant could use instruments and their voice to construct a narrative and record a short story by playing with pitch, tone and dialogue. It was important to us that we offer a chance to pass the creative baton on. Whilst Rona describes the workshop as ‘very fun’ she acknowledged that we faced a challenge - the participant wanted to explore a different theme.

As Rona highlights, despite struggling with this change, the new direction was embraced as ‘sometimes spontaneous ideas produce the best results, particularly in theatre.’ This example of personal resilience is something I am glad Rona experienced.

rona pic 1Final thoughts

This Arts Award journey demonstrated the predominant aim of Oxford Playhouse: to be a theatre for everyone. As an adviser, providing a flexible approach and pressing the record button were key.

The relationship Rona and I built as adviser and participant helped me develop my own practice by providing me the chance to verbally ask open questions that encouraged Rona to reflect on her experiences with more depth and impact, than if had just been a written response. This is an approach I would like to carry forward where possible. Rona explained that the feeling was mutual, noting that ‘throughout the whole process of doing the Arts Award, Beth helped me by explaining what I had to do clearly… and organising the workshop and interview.’ It is not about disability, but about facilitating ability.

Rona, now aged 21 is currently studying at The Royal National College for the Blind, Hereford. We hope to provide her with the opportunity to achieve her Silver Arts Award in 2023.

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