Braille Street Art at Philly Tech Week

Since publishing my initial article about braille street art, interest has increased. It has taken us by surprise. A friend who does sticker art inspired me to put one in a braille writer, since blind people don’t usually have access to street art. Something we did just for fun has really taken off. We even had a wonderful radio interview about it.

A few weeks ago, we received an invite to participate at the Philly Tech Week signature event. My friend called me and cautiously explained it, unsure of my reaction. I enthusiastically said we should do it. The whole thing seemed kind of surreal. We didn’t even know what we would do. We decided to make some stickers ahead of time, and I would bring my good old fashioned mechanical braille writer and we would also make some while there. This would bring an element of reality to the event.

Meanwhile, a girl named Taylor Duffy contacted us. She goes to the College of New Jersey in Trenton, just across the river. She asked if we would like to do a radio piece about braille street art. We said absolutely, and met on Skype. We also invited her to the event.

Friday came soon enough. Two of my friends also came along. Liz actually works as a braille proofreader, so I especially wanted her there. Angie loves exploring and technology, so I knew she’d have a ball. She also has a guide dog named Harry, who everyone loves.

The event happened at Urban Outfitters. The space really impressed us. Since we came early, I got a chance to use echolocation to see a huge space with hard walls and a high ceiling with random things all around. This included a car, yes an actual car inside the building. Just too much. Then the crowd came.

We just sat at our table, dealing with a constant stream of interested people. We gave out over thirty stickers. Liz did a great job proofreading. Our idea to bring the braille writer worked out well, because some proved very popular. This included “Love cats. Always adopt.” and “Open source heroes.” We had others as well: “End CISPA!” “It’s technology!” and “e=mc^2”

We also met some weird and wonderful people. One guy asked if Android powered my braille writer. “No,” I responded, “pure mechanical energy!” He works for the company that writes the awesome and accessible game King of Dragon Pass, so we had a great chat. Another guy writes flight simulators for the military. Someone invited me to a barbecue. And Yuri of Open Access Philly invited me there.

It started getting later. They didn’t have much vegetarian food, just small mall snack food, and I felt hungry, and I get cranky when I get hungry, and I also had two friends to suddenly feed. Just then, Taylor showed up. It felt great to see her. She interviewed us and some other people as well. She produced a wonderful radio piece. You can hear it here. Screen reader users might have better luck with this link.

We don’t exactly know what we’ve started here. A guy in the interview described it as “One of the most exciting things in art right now.” We believe this simple low tech street art will form the basis for something even greater. Stay tuned…