Making visual art for people who are blind

Visual art was Taylor Katzel’s passion and he wanted to teach art for a career. But just before he started teacher’s college, he was struck by an unexpected condition that left him blind. In Luke Williams' doc Art-cessbility, Katzel tells his story and makes a trip to the AGO to discover how inclusive design — a paradigm which focuses on making art and design accessible to people with disabilities — could allow him to continue to explore and experience visual art.

OCAD students and the AGO collaborate on inclusive design art pieces

This story was originally published on September 27, 2019.

Taylor Katzel stands in front of a portrait at the Art Gallery of Ontario, in downtown Toronto.

He reaches out and begins exploring with his hands. 

"He's got quite the chin happening here … major cleft …  and some nice lips ... big nose ..."

The piece is a 3D recreation of the Portrait of Dr. Heinrich Stadelmann, a grotesque caricature by German painter Otto Dix. The recreation is a work of inclusive design, a design paradigm that aims to make objects and spaces accessible to people of diverse levels of ability.

Katzel is legally blind, with partial vision, and this 3D interpretation gives him access to a piece he would otherwise have difficulty appreciating. 

His hands reach the portrait's ears. 

"It's cool how there [are] moments of comedy in this. Like I can feel his ear hair, right now,  which brought a smile to my face."

Artwork for the blind

4 years ago
Duration 3:29
Taylor Katzel, a high-partial legally blind individual, experiences a multi-sensory tour for the first time at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Katzel has long been interested in the arts, but he wasn't always vision impaired. 

"Growing up, I had full vision. And I was a really artsy kid."

After high school he went to the Ontario College of Art and Design University. While there, he decided on his path forward: he wanted to be a visual arts teacher. 

But the summer before teacher's college — while also employed as a graphic designer — he started having trouble with his vision. 

The physical challenge brought with it an identity crisis. 

"It was particularly hard because I had built this identity as a visual artist. And my way of thinking led me to believe that having vision was a prerequisite to that."


But ultimately, he found that wasn't the case at all. His degrading vision forced him to adapt and find new means of artistic expression. His approach and style began to evolve. 

When he couldn't see the lines for his drawing assignments, he shifted to thick markers. 

When he was no longer able to use one medium, he'd find another. 

"So maybe I would use something tactile, instead of paints, maybe I would use clay."

Vision loss gave Katzel new a new perspective on visual art. 

Standing in front of the three-dimensional Portrait of Dr. Heinrich Stadelmann, Katzel explained that inclusive design could bring new perspectives to everyone who enjoys art, not just those with disabilities. 

Translating a painting into a sculpture brings a new dimension to the artwork that everyone can explore. 

"By using different mediums and taking the same idea and representing it different ways, it unlocks meaning and it creates a more complete puzzle."

That's why Katzel wants to see more inclusive design brought to the art world: to give access to people with disabilities and to deepen the artistic experience for everyone.