Following on from last weeks workshop, GK and I listened back to the descriptions of common misconceptions about vision impairment that the participants have experienced in their lives.  We formulated statements and today brought those back to the group for review and further editing.  The final statements can be read by clicking on Common Misconception Statements.

7 members of the group chose a statement as a theme and then came to the Lighthouse recording studio to narrate stories related to misconception they chose to highlight. Listen to one example by James Mackey by clicking Common Misconception 1: Two visually impaired people cannot get married and make a family”.  Listening to these stories revealed a wealth of experience and triumph over the adversity of a disabling society.

It has been a privilege to be work with the participants here in San Francisco and I look forward to editing these stories to share with service users of the NCBI so that they too can add their story to our collection.


At the invitation of GK Callahan, I gave a presentation to the participants of the Wellness and Enrichment Programme at the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired – San Francisco.  The full version of the essay that this presentation was based on can be downloaded by clicking ‘Reflections of an Artist in Residence at NCBI’

After the presentation, we opened up the floor for discussion.  Many participants responded to criticism received on the ‘Guided Soundwalk’ with suggestions and insights regarding the concept.  One participant, Sandra, remarked on the experience in terms of common misconceptions regarding vision impairment.  This was a point that surfaced after the previous weeks workshop, so GK and I invited everyone in turn to record common misconceptions that they have encountered. We collected a staggering amount of descriptions which we will endeavour to summarise into a list.  It was decided unanimously to pursue this topic through a project, a  proposal for which GK and I drafted together with consensus from the participants.  This outline can be downloaded by clicking Project Proposal.

To publicise the proposal and invite further contributions to our list of Common Misconceptions, GK and I set up a temporary ‘work in progress’ display in the main lobby of the Lighthouse.  The display features a traditional US mailbox, complete with red flag, in honour of our ‘Sound Letter’ theme.  Inside the mailbox we placed a dictaphone so that others may record their contributions.  Instructions for use of the dictaphone in large print and braille, tactile diagrams and copies of the proposal were kindly provided by Greeta Ahart, a labourer of love if ever I met one.   Post-its were provided for scribblers passing by.  We hope that this makeshift intervention will serve as a conversation piece for the coming week and encourage other staff and service users to interact with our concept.

A discussion on public transportation in Ireland and the USA instigated by participants at the Lighthouse for Blind and Visually Impaired prompted me to look deeper into this subject during my stay in San Francisco.  People with disabilities in Ireland seem to be at an advantage in that they are entitled to apply for free travel on public transport and indeed many with a valid travel card are entitled to bring up to one mobility assistant for free on a given journey. On talking to participants at the Lighthouse, my understanding is that in San Francisco at least, travel on public transport is merely discounted. however, it could be noted that travel here is a deal cheaper than in Ireland.

During a discussion with Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan on a visit to the Dáil with NCBI this Summer, we discussed progress in making public transportation more accessible to people with vision impairments.  Over the Summer, Dublin Bus installed the Real Time Passenger Information System at a number of stops around the city. This information is imparted on a digital sign, consistently updated.  I suggested to the Deputy that there should be audio information available for people with vision impairment at the same stops.

I have since discovered in San Francisco such an audio system is available. At the end of this blog post is an photograph of a unit installed in one of many bus shelters with instructions in large print and braille and a central button that offers audio updates. It is called an Audible Arrival Time.

Indeed, in my brief wanders around the city over the last few days I have noted how all public transport provides accurate audio announcements for each upcoming stop as well as well signposted directions for line changes, something our DART and luas could certainly learn from.  With an increasingly aging population, a real risk of increased vision impairment through increasing diabetes and little attempts to make cities more pedestrian friendly in Ireland, we will need to take these supports more seriously to protect the welfare of our citizens.

Even some of the pedestrian crossings assist those with vision impairments to orientate themselves as you can hear in the soundbite embedded below, just click play to hear.

Pedestrian Crossing SF (mp3)

Audible Arrival Time

My first meeting with participants of the Wellness and Enrichment Programme at the Lighthouse was very inspiring to the least.  It is always interesting to encounter new cultures and attitudes.  So the directness, curiosity and warmth of this sunny California-living was very refreshing and exciting.  We discovered similarities between the programmes and structure in our experience at NCBI and the Lighthouse.  I was also challenged with questions on our Irish transportation system and support for/accomodation of travel for the vision impaired in Ireland, which I was glad to say of a good standard in theory although, as anywhere, could be improved upon or made more accessible in practice.

We did some introduction activities and talked about sounds unique to San Francisco, many of which I have been recording during my days here.  There was an interesting debate as to the which of the cable cars here were more lyrical: the Powell-Mason, Powell Hyde or the California line. I am making it my mission to record each and try to decide.

We played extracts from the sound letters that we have been emailing back and forth these past weeks. You can listen to an edit of these by clicking play on the audio player embedded beneath this paragraph. Sound Letter Samples (mp3)

We also talked about developing a project together and the activities that GK and I would facilitate during my visit to initiate ideas they would devise.  Following the hour long workshop, one participant suggested that we explore common misconceptions regarding vision impairment. GK and I were both captivated by the significance of this suggestion and hope to pursue with participants next week.

I found a warm welcome at the Lighthouse on Van Ness St this morning.  GK gave me a tour of the building which is a fantastic facility complete with shop, canteen, workshop rooms, computer lab, computer hot desk and recording studio.  I was introduced to many people and it was nice to put faces to the names I have been in touch with finally.

I met Tony Fletcher, long time staff member and former director who presently coordinates the Enchanted Hills Camp programme in beautiful Napa Valley.

I visited Greeta Ahart, Information Services Coordinator, surrounded by piles of pristine white braille copies at the braille and large print production unit.  Greeta has a graphic design background and just about fizzes with energy and ideas, a great combination in an area such as braille I think.  She has been experimenting with multiple levels of texture in 2-D representation such as map making and liaising with an expert in this field to expand on the services the Lighthouse can provide.  Having enlisted the help of Arbour Hill Braille Services in 2010 to create a braille diagram of an ear for our invitation to  ‘Escape into Sound’ Exhibition, I can definitely appreciate the level of willing and creative initiative this kind of work demands and how time consuming yet how rewarding it can be.

From Greeta’s window we had a birds eye view of the Please Touch Community Garden, a large empty lot in the alley behind the centre, which GK and volunteers at the Lighthouse have steadily been turning into a thriving garden and urban oasis.  While we were looking, we witnessed someone throwing his few possessions of clothes, sleeping bag, toileteries and needles over the barbed wire fencing into the garden.  He soon gathered them back when Greeta asked him from the window why he was damaging the plants.  This is an example of some of the challenges in transforming this former dumping ground into a place that can be shared in a positive way by all who encounter it.

GK’s attitude is that the garden is not there to deprive anyone of access to space in their city but to diversify the traffic through this patch and facilitate more positive ways to interact with this space and the people connected to it.  There have been many visitors to the garden from other artists and gardeners, to school children, a youth group for  young people experiencing homelessness and staff and clients of the Lighthouse.  Van Ness is a hub of significant civic and cultural amenities including a symphony hall, opera house with ballet, SF Art Commission HQ & Gallery and City Hall to name but a few.  The hope is that audiences and professionals who work in and visit these spaces will gradually be enticed to engage in the garden also and become more active in lobbying for the general upkeep of the neighbourhood and the services that support those who interact with it.

…it poured! I met GK Callahan for the first time in person on Fisherman’s Wharf between some real downpours, must of which seemed to have been soaked up by his beautiful but soggy shoes. After weeks of skyping and exchanging ideas, it was great to meet in the flesh.  GK was accompanied by Pedro, a participant of the Lighthouse Blind Leaders programme and assistant to GK in the Research and Development of this project, the working title of which is ‘Sound Letters from an Francisco’.

Before we got down to planning the coming weeks, we visited Musee Mechanique on the suggestion of James Mackey, a participant of the Wellness and Enrichment Programme at the Lighthouse.  For a history of this museum click 25 cents of Heaven

To access some soundbites from the fabulous musical machines we found at Musee Mechanique click on Audio Bank for Sound Letters to San Francisco and play each audio file in our account.

Press Release for Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired eNews;

‘Sound Letters to San Francisco’
This is the working title of an online collaboration between GK Callahan (USA) and Siobhán Clancy (IRELAND), two artists currently working with people with vision impairments.

Siobhán Clancy has been working as artist in residence with NCBI (National Council for the Blind of Ireland) since 2008.  Siobhán will be visiting California for the month of October 2011 and has been invited by GK, artist in residence at San Francisco Lighthouse Centre for Blind and Visually Impaired, to collaborate on a series of activities with the Wellness and Enrichment Programme.

These activities will take place on Mondays 10th, 17th and 24th of October from 1-3pm. They will include an introduction to sound art and creative recording methods, an interactive presentation of previous projects in Ireland, a discussion on work in progress with the Lighthouse Centre and the development of a proposal for future collaboration on an art piece for ‘Please Touch Community Garden’.

For more information about Siobhán Clancy and to read blog entries on this project, go to  This site is screen reader friendly.  To find out about Please Touch Community Garden, go to

For the moment, funding to support the artist in residence programme at NCBI has come to an end.

I am now taking time to consider how my practice has been influenced from the experience to date and what impact these collaborative works may have made on other service users, communities, artists, policymakers, sponsors and funders involved.  I find myself at a crossroads, wondering if there are benefits in my continuing to work in this context in the same or a different form and what that might be.   I have a lot of questions regarding the motivations and policies, mine and those of the various bodies previously mentioned, that inform and influence this field of work and most importantly, impact on the experience of the vision impaired individuals that choose to participate.

In order to find answers to these questions, I decided to look outside of Ireland to gain a fresh perspective and some objectivity through an exercise of comparison.  I got in touch with San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired who introduced me to artist in residence there, GK Callahan who, amongst many other things, initiated the Beaded Quilt Mural and set up Please Touch Community Garden.  Though conversations on Skype, and in recorded messages we call ‘Sound Letters’, GK and I found a lot of similarities in our experience and some interesting contrasts in our processes.  Together, we have arranged a short exchange that we hope will bring us deeper insights into arts practice within this very particular context and and explore the potential for creative development.  This blog will attempt to trace these new directions in the Art of Listening.  I will update the entries as this dialogue progresses.