Visual Facilitation will be required by law.

I have had this idea for two years now. It came about through the work I currently do as a Visual Facilitator and as a result of the work I have done as an Audio Describer.

First, let’s define Visual Facilitation. My description is that is the process of capturing in real-time, a conversation or dialogue with a group or individual, using images, words and symbols to create a mural sized map. These maps are used to facilitate whatever process of engagement that these people are in, by literally reflecting back to the group or individual what has been said, in a visual way.

This field has been developed into a profession for the last thirty years. It still remains a novelty for many people, though it is used extensively and internationally in business and education contexts. It is but one of many ways in which we humans can be intentional about how we gather and commune. My friend Ken refers to a wonderful description of the roots of the word conversation: Turning together. Visual Facilitation would be a picture of what that dance looks like.

Often Visual Facilitation is perceived as ‘eye candy’ and can be relegated to meeting that have the budget for ‘art.’ Sadly it’s full potential is often not utilized, even when a Visual Facilitator has been hired. So how is it that this practice may in the near future, be required by law?

Let me first go back to my work as an Audio Describer. This is the process of providing audio descriptions of what is happening visually, so that the visually impaired may enjoy the same experiences as the sighted in media, theater and art. An Audio Describer will view a performance for example, multiple times, creating a descriptive script that will give a visually impaired person more information from which to experience the presentation. During the live performance, the describer broadcasts in real time, their descriptions, so as not to step on lines etc. to members of the audience who have one earphone tuned into their broadcast. Many times, in theater for example, there is much information that is conveyed visually that moves the plot line forward. Someone enters a scene, in a certain way, postures, gags, surprises etc. often involve many visual cues that non-sighted members of the audience would not have the opportunity to ‘see.’

Did you even know this was a service? It is, and most of the work I did in San Francisco was for the major theater houses that showed the ‘Best of Broadway’ productions. These big houses were required to offer one performance per run that had audio description for the visually impaired. The reason was not out of goodwill, but rather compliance. The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that this service be offered, much like an interpreter for the deaf. The reason you don’t see this offered in EVERY theater in town is basically that someone needs to ask for it. Just like the wheelchair ramps, that took a huge movement to get compliance from public meeting places to offer accessible ramps.

So how does Visual Facilitation come to be required by law? The ADA in January of this year, 2009, expanded their definition of diabled to include challlenges with thinking and concentrating. There is already included in the definition, certain learning disabilities. What this says to me is that there is an expanding awareness for different ways of knowing, different ways of learning. Visual Facilitation is an interpretive service on multiple levels, but certainly for those people in the room who are inclined to be more visual and kinesthetic learners. The presence of Visual Facilitation can be incredibly helpful to an individual’s ability to track the conversation, focus on the content, and understand what is being said. In other words, Visual Facilitation increases accessibility, just like a ramp in a doorway increases the accessibility for individuals to enter that space.

When people’s accessibility needs are taken into consideration, accomodations are made, usually via compliance to some larger system. This is why it seems that in the not too distant future, Visual Facilitation will be required by law, in schools and business meetings, to serve the needs of those people who benefit or even need this process as a way to access information that many people take for granted.