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Vision impairment and the visual arts

Published On: 8 January 2020Categories: NDIS, News

Sandgate local Geoff Munck has both vision impairment and a passion for the visual arts.

“Although I am blind, I am a human being, and I have the same passions as other people. In my case, I am passionate about the visual arts and other cultural assets of our communities like libraries and museums,” said Geoff.

“Not being able to see, I felt alienated from these places and experiences. They might have been physically accessible, but were not comprehensible and thus not inclusive.”

Geoff’s long-term love affair with the arts has led to the development of the VISLAN (Visual Translation Language), a technique making art more accessible and meaningful to all.

“VISLAN empowers me to lead a sighted person to interrogate an artwork and identify the visual cues and characteristics that the artists have used. We translate those into words, enabling me to make up my own mind about those elements and how they come together to create my own concept of each piece,” said Geoff.

VISLAN was born as a result of Geoff’s frustration at the limited nature of his own art gallery experiences.

“If you are blind and want to visit the gallery, currently it is necessary to make an appointment up to three weeks ahead and have a group of five or more people. This is for the convenience of the gallery”, he said.

“You will be led on a tour for about an hour where they will quickly race you through a summary of artworks and very kindly tell you the art history behind each piece, but not what the work is.

That is well-intentioned, I get that, but it feels demeaning and well short of a rich experience.”

Now, with support from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Geoff hires a specialist to visit galleries with him at his convenience.

“With NDIS support I have engaged an art therapist, and between us, we have refined the process for meaningful participation by building the capacity to appreciate the offerings of any art gallery or museum,” he said.

“Working together allows sighted people and blind people to share an experience and have a detailed, informed conversation about the same piece of art. That is a tremendous benefit for me, my sighted and my blind friends.”

For Geoff, being empowered to have a safe and comparable experience to that of the sighted audience is what the NDIS is all about.

“This reinforces how NDIS support facilitates me in the attainment of a normal life.

“I have been very pleased with my NDIS plan over the past 12 months. As a result, I have increased my participation and met my objectives of engaging in visual culture effectively as an audience member and appreciated the wonder of the art in this country.

“What I have come to understand is that my engagement with the NDIS is about liberation. I am now able to choose to undertake experiences that I want to have when I want to have them and to do that safely.

“I feel my experience is now comparable to everyone else. I am not being favoured, and I am not privileged, rather I am just doing what I would be doing if I could see.”

Living at Sandgate on the beautiful banks of Moreton Bay, for Geoff that liberation has also involved a long-awaited return to the water.

“I have always been a water-loving person. I have wanted to kayak as a sport for a very long time. That has always been reliant on having a partner or a friend who was available when I wanted to go.

“I have now been able to take up kayaking with NDIS funding for an appropriate person to be my companion on the water.”

Geoff is supported on his journey by Carers Queensland, NDIS Local Area Coordination Partner in the Community for the Brisbane region.

For more information about the NDIS or how to access it, please contact Carers Queensland on 1300 999 636 or cq.enquiries@ndis.gov.au