The value of accessibility in the cultural and creative industries: Translation-driven settings


  • Alessandra Rizzo University of Palermo


“Translation, in its various forms, is all about accessibility” (Neves 2018, 420) and “universal cultural accessibility translators” (ibidem) or “universal access” (ibidem) translators provide access to a homogeneous variety of public recipients across a variety of textual forms, all of which can involve verbal and nonverbal elements in multiple contexts. The aforementioned keywords, namely, “accessibility”, “accessibility translators”, and “universal access”, describe the inextricable relationship between translation and accessibility, where one is complementary to the other, meaning that translation makes the media and the arts accessible to people of varying abilities. In overcoming the idea of accessibility as primarily referring to making physical access available through the removal of architectural obstacles from inception, the accessibility that is explored in this special issue refers to forms of access provided within and beyond the sphere of “physical, sensory and intellectual ‘lack’ to focus on the elimination of the environmental barriers that make it difficult for people, with or without disabilities, to lead a full life on a par with fellow citizens” (ibid., 416).

The scope of this special issue is to investigate the latest increasing interest in the accessibility of the cultural and creative industries (henceforth CCI) in contemporary societies by means of translation and interpreting activities. In the last decades, such attention has proven to be pivotal to the functioning and survival of the arts and cultures among larger societies and/or smaller ethnic communities, especially in the recent period of the Covid-19 pandemic. A vast promotion of physical and virtual cultural events, e.g., festivals, film screenings, online and face-to-face artistic tours, etc., is revealing how such enthusiasm is crucial to the growth and development of the accessibility of (audio)visual and artistic forms across the boundaries of national and international projects and associations (e.g., Sole Luna Doc Festival, MeMAD in this issue) within political frameworks that support cultural mushrooming. Against this backdrop, the role of translation in a wide-ranging perspective has become significantly revolutionary and collaborative, and also socially constructed, thus encouraging the activation of intercultural and interlingual, as well as transnational and transcultural networks that govern the CCI. These networks include the spheres of the visual and performing arts (i.e., theatre, opera, dance, museums, galleries, and installations, drawing, sculpture, etc.) and of audiovisual products (i.e., TV, cinema, documentary film festivals, etc.). Translation is perceived as a creative force that nourishes accessibility-oriented institutions and become the driver of the spread of accessibility practices applied to the fostering and reassessment of cultural heritage, filmmaking, TV programmes, museum exhibitions, theatre and the stage, web videos and performances, and all the multifaceted forms and types of aesthetic discourse.

The accessibility of CCI has grown exponentially in different parts of the globe and has increasingly become part of projects of significant importance in contemporary societies that rely on informational, global, and networked systems of communication, i.e., developed countries. CCI exist within public-domain areas and are stimulated by the critical rethinking of the means which can be used to support cultural development. CCI are in fact driven by structures of the knowledge-based economy, where information, originality, and creativity contribute to providing stimuli to their rise.  Their emergence is the result of advances in cultural spheres and movements, as well as of the growing importance of cultures that permeate every level of social life, thus, also involving a wider range of domains, such as urban spaces, clothing, design, and not simply the arts or the media industries.

In setting the twenty-first century scenario of what has been described as “cultures of accessibility” (Neves 2018, 415), we are witnessing the climb of “a collective awareness towards inclusion and the provision of equal access to all people in a vast array of contexts, from health to education; from work to entertainment; and from travel to the media, among others” (ibidem). As testified in the literature (Romero Fresco 2013, 2019; Jankowska and Szarkowska 2015; Jankowska 2019; Greco 2016b), “the ubiquitous effects of accessibility have […] led some scholars to argue for the emergence of a new research field, namely accessibility studies (AS)” (italics in the original, Greco 2018, 206) with the purpose of including the theoretical, socio-cultural, and political revolutions pertaining to accessibility – a wide ambit that embraces human rights principles, information and communication technologies, and political and economic decisions.