Should Electronic Music Gear Manufacturers Give More Attention To Accessibility?

This official Arturia video features London-based producer Jason Dasent talking about how he worked with the company to improve the accessibility of KeyLab and Analog Lab V.

Dasent is a producer, engineer and keyboardist from Trinidad. As a visually-impaired person, he’s committed to breaking down barriers to accessibility and creativity.

While this is a promo video for Arturia – it’s great to see a synth company taking accessibility seriously, and involving a visually-impaired person in both the development and promotion of their accessibility features.

Arturia worked with Dasent to implement text-to-speech feedback for Keylab and Analog Lab V, converting anything that you would see or read into audible speech, to allow visually-impaired users to navigate. As a result, gear that would otherwise be an impenetrable mess of buttons and knobs can be a powerful tool for someone with limited or no eyesight.

Thinking about accessibility often results in usability improvements for all users.

Should electronic music gear manufacturers give more attention to accessibility? Check out the video and share your thoughts in the comments!

And, if you know of other companies that are working to make their gear accessible, leave a comment and let us know what they’re doing!

24 thoughts on “Should Electronic Music Gear Manufacturers Give More Attention To Accessibility?

    1. Ray Kurzweil created the original Kurzweil K250 after working with Stevie Wonder.

      I really don’t know how well it worked for Wonder, but the K2x00 synths are the most powerful synths I’ve ever used, even 20 years later.

      Not sure what the cause and effect is there, but ny guess is that when a synth maker pays attention to accessibility, it’s probably a sign that they’ve paid attention to a lot of other things.

      Kudos to Arturia for putting in the effort. More companies should do this.

      1. Fairlight CMI had a sampler in Stevies hands before the kurzweil…. Stevie couldnt be bothered to go into his piano instrument room everytime he wanted a new sound… so he had them sampled instead

    2. Seriously, Brandon? Not all blind musicians can partner directly with someone like Ray Kurzweil to get something made (along with personal studio visits with training). Nor do they have infinite studio assistants around all the time to work through all of the completely inaccessible crap.

      1. The accommodations that manufacturers make for someone like Stevie Wonder – or Jason Dasent – are going to help out everybody that is visually impaired.

        It’s not a matter of all blind musicians getting the same level of attention as Stevie Wonder, it’s a matter of more companies paying attention to accessibility, like Kurzweil or Arturia.

        1. Unless you’re visually impaired, don’t make assumptions about what is, and what’s not acceptable to to folks that are visually impaired. Because your first statement is wrong. I don’t want a blind interface, I want one that doesn’t use color as information whatsoever. Completely different.

          The second statement is correct. All kinds of disability accessibility need standards, not just the worst ones.

    3. Dear Jason that was thoughtful.
      Also Darkisde for your thoughtful comments.

      I think it is easy to take for granted things when we can see them.
      I imagine 1974 Roland SH-1000 with its paddles like an organ to select sounds
      then dials all on the left is a rather handy design for visually imapaired.
      Recently the Therevox ET-4 inspired by Ondes Martenot.

      I think todays synthmakers on the whole could return to simpler designs.
      A synth doesnt need to include kitchen sink.

      John’s suggestion of LEDs for the colour blind is so simple way enough to implement.

      Previously I had only considered synths for Dyslexic.
      Some studies say the colour Blue helps those with Dyslexia
      Blue synths as PPG, Moog Source, Yamaha AN1X.

      1. Sadly, most engineering organizations never consider product limitations that don’t have corresponding standards to implement to. It’s additional cost and schedule that will get cut every time. I tried to teach my engineering organization, it took the department VP to tell everyone to “just do it” to get anything done. It was all forgotten by the next machine schedule.

        Most people are just lazy and uncaring about it no matter what you do.

  1. > Thinking about accessibility often results in usability improvements for all users.

    ++++ yes! ++++

    Software is one thing because all modern OSes have accessibility tools built in. Hardware though… oofta. Can’t imagine using some of the more menu-divey pieces of hardware out there as a blind user. I’m already starting to have trouble with some gear if I’m not wearing reading glasses!

  2. Speaking from my own experience: modular is good for the blind if avoiding modules with displays and thus heavy menu systems obviously.
    Having as many knobs and buttons is not a mess or an obstacle, but the complete opposit – you can simply memorize them, also all the jacks on the modular.

    Simpler digital synths, like the Microkorg have so logical menu systems, that it’s not a problem at all.
    Where things tend to get messy, are these modern hard/soft hybrid approaches, like Arturia and Behringer are doing, where quite a few important settings are not accessible on the hardware, but why oh why are the software tools made for that so inaccessible for us screen reader users.

    So, to end this rant, I seriously and deeply hope, that both the Arturia’s MCC and Behringer’s Synthtribe will be better some day.

    To bring out somebody already doing something actively on the topic, we have Native instruments with their controllers, but as I don’t work with those, I have no exact comments.

    But another nice player is Erica synths, who even launched the side project called Fenestra, whose goal is exactly boosting the awareness of blind musician’s needs and spreading the word about the importance of accessibility.

    So yeah, this awareness is slowly growing and it’s always nice to see topics like this on larger platforms like Synthtopia or Sonicstate.

  3. Greater accessibility is something all users eventually benefit from, see curb cut effect. Design that doesn’t include everyone really is just bad design.

  4. I actually did some survey work and presented on this at CSUN (THE accessibility technology conference) a couple of years ago and … well the landscape is horrendous. Most people end up spending weeks or months trying to memorize the interface.

    As an accessibility consultant and a musician, seeing companies do this is really meaningful, but we need to do better than one product and one software package. Devices like Launchpads or other pad/grid based layouts are near impossible at this point.

  5. It isn’t impossible to memorize layouts, even those with pad grid. I think the problem is in integration with screenreaders and software more than in the device itself. Even ableton push layout is memorable if you learn for certain amount of time. The more important thing is for us to have screenreader feedback before and after doing something, so we know we don’t mess something up. For example touch sensors on knobs are great because some data can go from our device to our DAW and computer in general, screenreader hopefully included.

  6. Actually this concept is directly borrowed from Native Instrument Komplete Kontorl.

    On a related note, other major music apps such as Logic, Pro Tools, Reaper, and Sibelius are also accessible with screen readers.

    Good to see big players such as Native Instruments, Apple, Avid to improve accessibility for their blind users.

  7. If I understand correctly, the K2x00 series had this undocumented function to send display info via MIDI. A developer of a third party editor was able to use this function to provide useful feedback while interacting with the synth. It was a pretty nice example of some accessibility feature that was also useful to sighted users. That’s a 30 year old synth.

    If hardware manufacturers take extra care in their control layouts, UI’s, and MIDI/sysex implementation, it will make it easier for everyone. Text-to-speech makes great sense, but I could also imagine other forms of feedback like non-verbal sounds, or haptic feedback, etc.

  8. No. They should decide for themselves what should be areas of development. If they decide to help the blind, awesome. If they decide to help the hearing impaired, great. If they decide to use all their efforts to create better equipment using less expensive components and pass the savings to the consumer, then the consumer has extra money to donate to issues they feel are important. But they themselves should decide what is “should” and define what is “more attention”. What shouldn’t be done is people believing they are altruistic by being generous with other people’s money/labor.

    1. This is a bad take. You’re proposing they should focus on features for non-disabled people, when making things accessible is 1) the right thing to do 2) opens up their market as 1 in 5 people have a permanent disability, and at some point everyone is disabled at least temporarily. There is also a higher prevalence of musicians among the blind than the general population, so making things more accessible is good ROI for the company. Sometimes the best thing for the market is to include as many people as possible and make things better for the extremes of the bell curve.

      1. No. I did not. I never said they should focus on features for anyone or anything. I said they should decide for themselves. They should also have the freedom to decide for themselves how to define “the right thing to do”. Not you or anyone else. If you want to focus on features that would support those with disabilities, then you should do that. I would support you.

  9. well, manufactures could start not using the colors red and green on the same interface.
    this needs zero development time and costs nothing …

  10. The recent 7.4 release of the Pianoteq soft piano exposes pretty much all of its configuration parameters to the native Windows and Mac screen readers. This builds on the addition of an accessibility api into the JUCE framework on which the app is built. I’m really grateful to modartt for doing this work and I hope other vendors who use JUCE for music apps will follow suit.

    Yes, it’s possible to make beautiful music as a blind musician with the NI platform but it is not yet robust in my view. There is no guarantee that parameters exposed through the GUI are made available through speech. The apps platforms eg Komplete KOntrol or Kontact are completely inaccessible. I hope the story is better on the Arturia side. There is also some consumer ‘lock in’ with this approach but I can understand why this seems like a benefit from the vendor’s perspective.

    The designers I have met have been generally thoughtful and well intentioned, but with limited exposure to the lived experience of those with accessibility needs. The implications of design decisions that rule me out as a user just don’t show up as a consideration. Inclusive design is under represented in the tradition so making something that is usable by everyone just feels like a harder problem. There is an ethical, legal and political question here: is it OK to ship a product that bars some group of users?

    I lost my sight in my fourties, and took up music after that. There is a shocking contrast between how much hardware and software I could have used before and how much I can use now. It’s sad-making. More inclusive design would benefit me directly, and, yes, result in more usable products overall.

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