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Talking Mimes is a touching, funny, infuriating, harrowing and ultimately hopeful experience. A virtual reality narrative drawn from true stories of people with profound physical disabilities. An emotional education piece with companion workshops developed for everyone - whether you're a caregiver, teacher, support worker, health professional, family member, friend, lover, hater, or total stranger to disability.
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Talking Mimes is NOT a disability simulator in the traditional sense. Even sophisticated VR / XR simulations of disability are often problematic and can be, frankly, insulting. Watch "Why" and read "How" below for detail.

Allies

These fine allies in the fight against talking mimes have featured, participated, and/or partnered with us. They are made from the very best humans available:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Testimonials   previous testimonialpausenext testimonial

"Wow! The Talking Mimes VR experience was a brilliant ‘aha !’ moment for many students. They now ‘get’ many of the realities of being unable to move or speak. Talking Mimes is a powerful learning tool that is a must for any person who supports or works with adults or children with disability.  Textbooks, video clips, or personal narratives can’t provide the same insight as spending time as a person with complex disabilities. The sensitive and insightful support Stefan provided before and after the VR session was invaluable to students’ experience too! Thank you Stefan and Thought-Wired – this is great work!"  

- Dr Dean Sutherland, University of Canterbury






"Talking Mimes was a HUGE SUCCESS during the training for my Service Technicians! They were a tough crowd, too, because they are our companies frontline. They see and work with our end users daily, so they have the empathy and experience. They were skeptical at first when I was describing the VR experience. Then they sat through it and 100% feedback was that every employee needs to sit through this experience! They loved it! They were affected, and it was awesome. We have two new technicians who repeatedly said they wish they had seen this from day one and they suggested that this become protocol for all new employees! Thank you for making this experience!"

- Heather Giordano M.S. CCC-SLP, Florida





"This is a clear critique of the medical model of disability, as the central character’s real problem is the treatment they receive from others, not their disability. From small frustrations of agency, to life threatening gaps in carer education, this experience packs a lot of important information and emotion into the short narrative. After experiencing Talking Mimes my first thoughts were around its usefulness in educating everyone working with disabled people, but it is also a film that should just be experienced by everyone as it does such a good job of raising awareness of a spectrum of human experience that is not often represented. The VR aspect of the work increasing its impact significantly. Long story short this is a powerful piece of art and a powerful tool for creating/enhancing empathy, and consciousness raising."

- Andrew McCully, Special Education Teacher, Aotearoa




"Great workshop!", "Invaluable experience!", "Thank you so much for this!"...

- 4th Year Speech Language Pathology Students, University of Canterbury


"Extremely powerful and should be seen by everyone!"

- Catherine Brill, Assistive Technology Division Manager DTSL






"Thank you [...] Brilliant public service and teaching tool!"

- TestChimp60 (SideQuest user)


"Great experience [...] This indeed needs to b shared around the world!"

- Nataweez (SideQuest user)






"I run a course at the university of Auckland (Waipapa Taumata Rau) called ‘the Design of Assistive Technologies’ in the design school. A key component of that course is to encourage the students to gain empathy into various forms of disability, and to take that empathy into their design work so that they learn to avoid ‘latent bias of design’. Ensuring that the students have genuine experiences of disabilities is critical, but that is complex to achieve in a way that is both realistic, empowering and not just a gimmick. [Talking Mimes] is indeed very moving. The situation is dealt with in an honest and thought-provoking manner, showing the frustrations and difficulties, but also the joys, that can be associated with such an all-encompassing disability. It is clear that much research and understanding has gone into creating this work. In the class assessments later, some of the students mentioned that this experience, and the talks given by people with disabilities, were the highlights of the course, and showed a real passion and understanding that was conveyed to the students."

- Dr Roy C Davies, University of Auckland (Waipapa Taumata Rau)

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video descriptive transcript
Most of us vastly underestimate the number of people living with severe physical disability, as we rarely see them. It's an invisible population, because they're fighting the forest fires of frustration of their life in private. Not because they don't want to be a part of the world but that the world is not built for them. It is in fact built in a way that specifically excludes them.

Almost all of us will have an access need at some point in our lives, and we will be at the mercy of others. Talking Mimes aims to better inform our behaviour towards those of us that have these needs now. To start a practical conversation around safety and respect. To actively reject the soft bigotry of low expectations. To peel back the layers of alienation and teach us how to be less accidentally condescending assholes, and more on purpose good humans.

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How

To experience Talking Mimes yourself, use it in your organisation, family, circle of friends, or at an event - you can now self service for FREE. If you have access to a Meta / Oculus GoQuest, Quest 2, Quest Pro or Quest 3 - instructions to install and deliver are available here.

Close Captions are available on all platforms. Audio Description is available on all platforms except the Oculus Go.

The experience should ideally be coupled with a WORKSHOP. Empathy on its own is a gift, but it's only halfway. We need to avoid pity-traps and empathy-tourism. We need to learn the tools that transform this new understanding into compassionate action - behavioural and social change. Our research psychologist, Dr Sarvnaz Taherian, has developed a comprehensive workshop for Talking Mimes using an empirically validated experiential learning framework (i.e. science says it works good). Talk to us about running a workshop, and/or download the kit of workshop materials to run one yourself - you can use and adapt these materials for free under a creative commons license.

If you have any questions, just want to be kept in the loop, or you'd like to tell us your own story, please feel free to do that too !  We have open minds and full hearts (except for mimes that talk - if you are a talking mime, please stop what you're doing and seek professional help).









help link Talking Mimes VR Setup & Troubleshooting
Setup and troubleshooting document for the Talking Mimes VR app.
pdf link Talking Mimes VR Delivery
Instructions for delivering the Talking Mimes VR experience.
pdf link Talking Mimes Practical Tips for an Inclusive World
A handout from the Talking Mimes Workshop including practical tips and information for behavioural and social change towards people with disabilities.
zip link Talking Mimes Workshop Kit
Full suite of materials for delivering a comprehensive workshop to pair with the Talking Mimes VR experience.
web link The Science and Necessity of Talking Mimes
An excerpt from the Talking Mimes Talks to Idealog blog post which talks to some of the important research behind Talking Mimes and what makes it such an effective and authentic tool. See also Disability Rights and Talking Mimes and Perceived Weakness is Actual Strength.
web link How to Help People with Disabilities Feel Welcome
A succinct article outlining four simple behaviours to reduce awkwardness and intimidation.
web link Accessibility Insights
Free resources/tools for accessible web and desktop application design.
web link The Disability Visibility Project
An online community dedicated to creating, sharing, and amplifying disability media and culture.
web link Attitude Live
The world’s largest collection of videos about chronic health and disability.
web link
web link Be.Accessible
A movement to change disability into possibility.
web link Accessibility Tick Programme
A programme run by Access Advisors that helps organisations become more accessible and inclusive of people with disabilities.
web link Workbridge
An organisation that helps thousands of people with disabilities or health conditions connect with employers.
web link Cerebral Palsy Foundation
A large CP focused NGO, responsible for highly visible awareness campaigns such as Just Say Hi and Awkward Moments.
web link Embodied Labs
VR-enabled immersive learning system for family caregivers and professionals working in aged care.


News

2023
Oxford University, Rhodes Leadership and XR Teams
Generously taking time away from sculpting future secret elite rulers of the world ( JK, everyone knows the global shadow government is a myth concocted by lizard people who couldn’t get into Oxford ), some members of the surprisingly lovely and unsurprisingly clever leadership and XR teams at Rhodes House underwent Talking Mimes. On the back of a welcome mix of positive and constructive feedback, we’re excited for future engagement with them.

Photo of outside of Rhodes House at Oxford University, sandstone walls, lush lawn, grand pillared entrance
Oxford University logo

2022
More university course integration
The University of Auckland joined University of Canterbury in integrating the Talking Mimes experience and workshops into their syllabus. A full 3 hour session was run as part of the excellent Assistive Technology design course at UoA. The workshop was co-facilitated by Amy Hogan - lived-experience expert / researcher / academic / advocate / consultant / guest lecturer / keynote speaker / [ you would think that's enough roles, but no, so here are some elipses to represent Amy's quite frankly excessive experience: ... ]. Despite the late afternoon on a rainy Friday, student engagement was high and warmly enthusiastic, with fresh compassionate insights bubbling out of their brains in exactly the way Friday-afternoon-brains usually don't.

Auckland University logo

2020-2021
So Many Things
Where do we start? COVID? Feel like maybe you've heard something about the coronapocalypse. You probably have an inkling that it's cleaved the world even wider between the haves and the have nots. Decimating vulnerable communities. The immune compromised population that Talking Mimes serves is one of the heartbreakingly hardest hit. The VR app and workshop materials were already free to people with disabilities and their families, we’ve now extended this to any business or individual. Easing access for organisations hammered and distracted by the pandemic, who need empathy and compassion tools now more than ever.

We could also talk about the fact we’ve ported the Talking Mimes VR app to other platforms, or how we've updated our workshop materials to be better in ways that matter. We could go on to brag about the good work Talking Mimes is continuing to do, training helping-professionals in a deeper way than ever before possible. But honestly, it all feels like making small talk on the beach in the middle of a tsunami.

January 2020
Feature article in IDEALOG
IDEALOG (New Zealand’s “voice of technology, innovation and design”), published a feature article about Talking Mimes and its creator, Stefan Rochfort. While the idea of being interviewed for a proper publication made Stefan throw up in his mouth, the fear of attention gave way to the importance of taking any offered opportunity to amplify the message. The tyranny of word count meant there was disability rights detail that didn’t make it in, so you can read the raw source interview here. Overall, the damn lovely team behind the article were pretty damn lovely, and we’re super grateful for the coverage.

October 2018, November 2019
Featured at TEDx Auckland
When arguably the smartest media brand in the world invites you to setup your experience at one of their conferences, you try not to wet your pants in front of them as you vigorously accept the invitation. 2018: Between the exposed concrete floors in the warehouse backroom, the arm restraints on the chair, and plunging people into darkness at the beginning of each run, the setup had a delightful kidnap vibe. Maybe it was the Stockholm Syndrome, but we were again encouraged and grateful for the emotional and positively charged responses from our participants at TEDx. 2019: Nobody called the police, so they invited us back!

The atmospheric TEDx stage with large block freestanding letters spelling out 'TEDx Auckland'
Our first TEDx participant strapped to a chair in a somewhat dodgy looking back room
Talking Mimes creator Stefan wearing the Oculus Go sitting on the TEDx stage

August 2019
Workshops and course integration with University of Canterbury and TalkLink Trust
Faith in humanity restored: Christchurch based Speech Language Pathology (SLP) students and practicing professionals, so clearly in it for the love, participated in the Talking Mimes experience and workshops with deep warmth and decency. A glowing contrast to the city’s compounding distresses of its recent history. The 4th year SLP students at UoC should have been hopelessly distracted by the stress of final exams and assignments in the last weeks of the last year of their degree. Instead they were present, engaged and insightful – a credit to their university, and their noble chosen profession.

University of Canterbury logo

January 2019
Exhibited at ATiA assistive technology conference
ATiA’s massive assistive technology conference was such a big deal, even the CIA had a booth (you’ll see from the photos they employed some kind of top secret invisibility tech - we never physically observed an agent – so sneaky). Among the many beautiful engagements with the 3,500+ attendees, was a follow up after the conference from a woman who told us Talking Mimes helped her make a difficult decision in advocating for her daughter who has locked-in syndrome ♥ !

Unmanned CIA booth at ATiA, agents so covert they're invisible
ATiA attendee strapped to their chair for the Talking Mimes VR experience

November 2018, January 2019
Demos and workshop pilots at Kiwi Foo and SparkONE unconferences
It was a proper honour to be invited to Kiwi Foo (New Zealand’s spin-off from the world-famous Foo Camp unconferences) and SparkONE (The telecommunication giant’s own invite-only unconference) and run our first workshop sessions there. We were thrilled by the collective buzz of all the smart, driven people engaging with the experience, and providing such thoughtful feedback for us to work with.

July 2018
Sneak preview at ISAAC 2018 augmentative and alternative communication conference
After accidentally setting up next to the service entrance, smack up the far end of the conference, it looked grim for our exposure. To our surprise and delight, though, by day 2 we were overwhelmed by crowds of people making such encouraging statements as "I got told by my colleague to skip the seminar I was going to, ignore all the other booths, if you do nothing else - do this VR thing!" You can see a few of their beautiful and insightful reactions in the trailer above.


Credits

Writer/Director   Stefan Rochfort
Producers   Stefan Rochfort
Angela Hovey
Aliesha Staples
 
CAST
You   Blaze Bailey
Joy   Rachel Nash
Mystery Dick   David Van Horn
Mystery Lady   Leisha Ward-Knox
Doctor Brown   David Van Horn
Older Sister   Aeonie Ostik-Smith
Younger Brother   Samuel Ostik-Smith
Jack   Max Apse
Mandy Slade   Herself
Talking Mime   Milo Cawthorne
Phlegm Artist   Angela Hovey
Dr Sarvnaz Taherian   Herself
nousTM VO   Stefan Rochfort
 
CREW
Directors of Photography   Blaze Bailey
Aliesha Staples
Jason Delaveau
Art Directors   Royce Dawson
Angela Hovey
Wardrobe   Tracey Sharman
Janis Macewan
Sound Recordist   Andrew J Farrant
Editor   Stefan Rochfort
VFX   Stefan Rochfort
Animation   Masaya Todoroki
Graphic Design   Krissy Le Geyt
Stefan Rochfort
Sound Mix   Callum Lees
Stefan Rochfort
Oscar Burt
Spatial Sound Mix   Stefan Rochfort
Stitching/Compositing   Ryan Pow
Jason Delaveau
Disability Consultants   Mandy Slade
Amy Hogan
Quinn Ashton
Selena Ashton
Susan Gauci
Andrew Shea
Research Team   Stefan Rochfort
Dr Sarvnaz Taherian
Simon Raby
Acting Coach   Jeff Szusterman
Casting   Jeff Szusterman
David Van Horn
Workshop Collaborators   David Van Horn
Renee Lyons
Wesley Dowdell
Workshop Facilitator   Jeff Szusterman
Props   Propellor
Artwork   Art Bureau
Catering   Catroux
Location   Laura Fergusson Rehab
The Skin Institute
Audio Describer   Nicola Owen
Software Developer   Stefan Rochfort
 
SPECIAL THANKS
Amy Hogan
Andrew Shea
Simon Raby
Faye Philp
Stephen Doel
Carlson School for Cerebral Palsy
The Skin Institute
Michell Denize
Ryan Lebar
Carrie Shaw
Krystal Thompson
Dmitry Selitskiy
Dr James Pau
Huigenia Ostik
Amy Louise Nightingale
Steve Burgess
Sam Sneddon


Thought-Wired TLA Technologies