Welcome to 2022 and our 2nd article sharing ADCID developments, exploring new ways of working, and discovering how to Imagine Possibilities that go beyond what was though possible. 

This work into new developments made possible through funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Re-imagining in 2022

Re-imagining in 2022

Join the moment to re-imagine what is possible

Recreating Iconic Canadian Landscapes Using Digital Spaces

In our second blog article, we follow Stephen Sillett and the ADCID team as they continue to move the Imagining Possibilities Project to the digital space. In order to adapt to COVID, the production is migrating to the Gather.Town platform—as socio-drama meets digital GUI, new discoveries and unusual transformations emerge.

A trip that Imagining Possibilities undertook to the iconic Music Factory venue. ADCID believes the people without a voice in our society are the very ones that the world needs in order to change how, what and where development happens in the 21st century

OPPORTUNITIES FOR ACTION AND INTERACTION: THE AFFORDANCES OF A PLACE

ADCID co-founder Stephen Sillett often speaks about “finding affordances in the space.” Imagining Possibilities, the 10-year socio-drama program he has facilitated with participants who manage advanced cerebral palsy, relies heavily on spatial practitioner disciplines such as “conceptual action sociometry” and “socio-drama topography.” An important principle in his envisioned scenography technique is that a participant must enter via a familiar context. Within his practitioner work, Stephen would have accomplished this via “clean language” principles—using unbiased phrasings and elicitations to guide willing participants into a state of suggestion.

The problem is one of medium: a disability arts/theatre intervention is experienced verbally and interpersonally. Even among non-verbal participants who manage cerebral palsy, the augmented advanced communication technologies—such as Bliss Boards and vocoders—are fundamentally verbal mediums, often used in conversations with verbal interlocutors. In a digital medium such as Gather.Town, the affordances are different—the experience is more user-centred and user-oriented. Because Gather.Town and other teleconferencing media are fundamentally visual in nature, it makes sense to draw on visual context cues instead of verbal cues to instill a sense of familiarity. Gather.Town in particular is also heavily spatial. Stephen’s great innovation is to anchor newcomers in recreations of easily-recognized regional transit hubs and other iconic public spaces. 

Two map interfaces are currently in heavy development and testing: the Union Station and Gooderham Building regions of Toronto, where ADCID is currently based. More are slated for future development, including areas in the Thorncliffe Park and Regent Park neighbourhoods of Toronto. Long-term plans include creating spaces modeled after St. Catherines and Hamilton, where additional Imagining Possibilities leadership teams are situated.

Iconic sights from Toronto, including (clockwise) a hot dog vendor, a Beck Taxi, and a TTC bus.

DOWN-AND-OUT AT UNION STATION

In addition to working as a content writer for ADCID, I am privileged to have been involved in back-end development and asset design for the Union Station transition map. What follows are some of my intentions in designing the scenario, and also some general observations in using the built-in Gather.Town mapmaking tools:

When designing the Union Station scenario, I put serious thought into what Stephen calls “the affordances of the space.” There were two strategies I used to accomplish this: placing familiar context cues and placing barriers.

The familiar context cues are the most important element of rendering the map recognizable as Union Station. Union Station itself was chosen due to its instant familiarity to Torontonians. There are a number of large details that shape Front Street: the familiar architecture of the Fairmont Royal York, the ostentatious office buildings such as Royal Bank Plaza, the edifice of Union Station itself. But there are also many smaller cues that might be less obvious to those who haven’t spent a lot of time in the space: the distinctive red-and-yellow double decker tour busses, the iconic green-and-orange colouration of the ubiquitous Beck taxis, the aluminum hot dog stands with their brightly-coloured umbrellas.

Barriers were the second major design element. Having worked in the Financial District before, I know that Union Station is a very difficult place to physically move around. There are many barriers to movement, which can be structural, behavioural, or traffic-related. I tried my best to incorporate that feeling of immobility into the map: I designed Front Street to be congested and dotted with impediments, true-to-life.

However, there’s an additional story that’s told by this map: one of the erosion of public space. Throughout the Financial District, and at Union Station in particular, there is an overwhelming sense of needing money to exist. I designed numerous pixel art characters to inhabit the space. Each of them gives back a pre-recorded line: a security guard questions why you’re loitering, a doorman tells you to keep moving, a homeless man asks you for change. A depiction of the Financial District without the presence of the economically displaced would be inauthentic. Nowhere is the difference between haves- and have-nots more apparent than downtown, where many multi-million dollar properties along the PATH contain people begging for the barest necessities of life.

The Front Street entrance of Union Station as viewed through the Gather.Town interface.

GETTING STARTED WITH GATHER.TOWN

Here are some tips for aspiring Gather.Town devs using the mapmaker app for the first time:

  • Paper-dolls (such as user avatars) appear to occupy a single tile, but actually take up 2 spaces. They are 1 tile tall and placed on the middle of the base tile, with the margins for the doll ending at the middle sections of either tile.
  • Crafting assets (such as paper dolls and buildings) is extremely easy using simple programs such as Microsoft Paint. No specialized apps or techniques are required, and it can be done by end-users.
  • The low-resolution retro style pixel art makes storing and sending files easy. Individual assets are extremely small and can be practically stored on free versions of services such as DropBox or Google Drive.
A digital recreation of the Gooderham Building created by Toronto artist Mandy Do.

CALL FOR PARTICIPATION

Are you a member of a disability community, neighbourhood association, community-based research team, or practitioner group? Would you like to participate with us to co-create digital spaces and inspirational experiences in meaningful ways? If you would like to join The Imagining Possibilities Movement as a community member, artist, advisor, or trainee, please reach out to ip@adcid.org. We welcome all feedback and requests!

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The Fuzzy Edges of Possibility - Issue 2

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