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National Innovation Games: Chelle Destefano

Oct 14, 2020

Image credit: Jim Loach

Building a sustainable arts and culture sector during these challenging times requires us to embrace technology. The Australia Council has partnered with Paddl to deliver the inaugural Australia Council National Innovation Games, held online in August 2020.

With necessary restrictions stemming from the pandemic resulting in the closure of venues and the cancellation or postponement of events and programs, the Games came at a critical time for the arts and culture sector.

The Challenge topic that teams explored together was ‘How might you creatively embed technology to deliver more sustainable organisations, practices and communities?’.

Deaf Multidisciplinary Visual artist Chelle Destefano collaborated as part of the winning team, to develop a concept for enhanced closed captions aimed at making the delivery of digital arts and screen more inclusive to the d/Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing community.

She spoke to the Australia Council about her experience with the National Innovation Games.

I learned how valuable the National Innovation Games is to our community and that it paves the way for changes for the better.

What made you register for the National Innovation Games?

I was invited by Frances Robinson in the Capacity Building team at Australia Council to apply and I felt drawn to the idea of critical thinking and making change in the community, especially for the Deaf. I saw it as an opportunity to connect with people from an artistic field and science field to create something collaborative and major – and making impact for the Deaf community. And we did! We won the first place!

Did you feel the event was inclusive?

Yes! Very much so. After the issues with captioning and finding the interpreters among the many people on zoom were ironed out within the first hour of the 2-day event, it worked out really well. I was amazed at how mindful my team and others were of my access needs and being Deaf. My team got used to saying their name before speaking to help the interpreter, and our facilitator Tom Henderson from Polykala, was great at encouraging people to slow down, pause and summarise their thoughts regularly.

Can you briefly describe the concept you worked on with your team?

We developed a proposed captioning package for distributors for digital arts, TV, film and other medias, including online videos. The idea allows the viewing experience to be more accessible for Deaf, Hard of Hearing and even hearing people, where the captions are colour coded (ie. red for anger/shouting, blue for calmness) and increase/decrease in size to express and capture the full range of emotions in the actors speech. We hope that this will propel all distributors, TV and content streaming to take this package and bring about greater accessibility to the viewing experience.

How did your team work collaboratively to develop and pitch the concept?

We worked for many hours, 10 hours each day with interpreters, and they included me in everything. The team made sure my voice was heard, they made sure I spoke from my experiences and had my input in everything. They consulted with me about every detail. I was part of a very good and collaborative team that was respectful of my Deafness and access needs. I enjoyed being able to work with highly intelligent and empathetic people on the team – and all the team members were all of that – with a dash of humour thrown in!

On Day 2, we invited two deaf arts workers, Dr Riona Tindal and Sigrid Macdonald, to come in to give their points of view and to consult on the idea itself. This was a valuable process and helped to round out the proposal with a clearer understanding of access for the Deaf, while also providing additional feedback to the team from other deaf perspectives.

Can you describe the experience of pitching the concept to the judges?

Wow, all I can say is I was so nervous but I felt confident for all of us. We started the pitch with me telling my story in 1 minute in Auslan and the judges loved it! I told my story of an experience of silence one cold day in 1994 expressing how it felt to be isolated and alone. Then the rest of the team pitched the concept and they were brilliant! We got a standing ovation from the judges! Paddl, who hosted the National Innovation Games, said they had never seen such a great lot of positive feedback from the judges before so that was uplifting to know!

What was the most important thing you learned from your experience?

Being able to concisely tell my story in a short time (1 minute), to think critically in a team and to collaborate on ideas and to then bring one great idea to a solid conclusion before pitching to the judges. I learned how valuable the National Innovation Games is to our community and that it paves the way for changes for the better. The other teams had great concepts too that would make a difference in their fields. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with others to bring our idea for inclusive captioning to fruition.

Learn more about the National Innovation Games.