Inclusion as Choice in Museums and Galleries

An display space at QUT Art Museum. People are looking at small pictures hanging on a white wall.Museums and galleries are starting to get the hang of being more inclusive so that more visitors can access their content. Co-designing with visitors rather than for them is an important step forward. Using imagined visitors or personas isn’t the same thing.

The outcome of Janice Rieger’s research on co-designing was that most participants wanted choice on how to engage with the work or exhibitions. She explains the research took a turn from inclusion as universal to inclusion as choice. For example, with audio descriptions, some wanted to sit and put headphones on to listen. Others wanted the audio descriptions to filter into the exhibition spaces. Some wanted to use their own devices.

Rieger’s article outlines her case study of Vis-ability: Artworks from the QUT Art Collection. The 12 co-designed outputs were:

 – 3 Audio Description Pods
 – Augmented Reality Simulation Goggles
 – Simulation video of a museum visitor who is blind
– Tactile Model based upon Catherine Parker’s painting, Present portal, 2017.
– Soundscape based upon Catherine Parker’s painting, Present portal, 2017.
– Touch/Descriptive Tours
– Sensitivity Staff Training
– Co-designed Public Programs
– Curriculum and Workshops for High School Groups
– Inclusive Exhibition Catalogue (with audio links and a plain language summary)

The full title of the article is, Moving Beyond Visitor and Usability Studies: Co-designing Inclusion in Museums and Galleries. It is open access from Queensland University of Technology.

Abstract: Museums and galleries have made efforts to be more inclusive over the last ten years, primarily through the emphasis on visitor studies, however they continue to have issues with making their environments and content accessible. This research addresses these issues and presents an alternative approach to creating inclusion in museum and galleries through co-design. By using co- design methods to actively engage people with differing abilities, this study creates new trajectories for inclusion that address the full spectrum of need and choice, for all users of the museum and gallery. Moving beyond visitor studies, the research presents new methods and strategies for museums and galleries when designing for inclusion. This paper presents key findings from case study research undertaken through the Vis-ability exhibition in Australia, to propose alternative ways of creating inclusion in museums and galleries, and how co- design can deepen our understanding of design for all.

Disability in Museums: Then and now

Front cover of the book.Representing Disability in Museums: Imaginary and Identities is an e-book about how disability has been, and currently is, portrayed in museums. The aim of the publication is to show empathetic and ethical ways of representing difference in museums of all types. Chapters cover the representation of disability in museum collections, the link between museums and disability, and cultural accessibility. The open access e-book comes from Europe where museums have a long history and play a large part in tourism activity. 

From the Introduction:

“Although in recent years the representation of disability in museums has raised much interest among the academic community as a social group, disabled people are still sub-represented in museum narratives and overall this remains a subject touched upon with some caution by the cultural practitioners. The discussion about these issues has been regarded as an important way to better understand disability, showing, in particular, its potential to gradually counteract forms of oppression and exclusion of disabled people in the museum context. Integrating narratives on disability in museums’ discursive practices seems to prompt their audiences to carry out deeper analyses on how through historic-artistic heritage the socio-cultural imaginary has been shaped and has influenced the attitudes and social values towards disabled people. The ways disability is represented in museums show how identities and specif social categories were assigned to this social group, being conducive, over time, to discriminatory and exclusion practices. In this sense, the social function of the museum also refers to ways to deal with these shortcomings and has significant impacts both on the cultural approach to disability and on the construction of more positive identities which aim for the inclusion of disabled people in today’s society.

The title of the book is: Representing Disability in Museums: Imaginary and Identities; it is a 15MB PDF file.

Tourism, temples and digital design

Brightly coloured temple at the end of a long walkway in Taiwan.According to a research paper on designing information kiosks, they should be designed based on the following five principles if people are going to use them:
1. Do not make me think.
2. Do not make me wait.
3. Do not allow me to feel annoyed.
4. Do not take control away from me.
5. Do not take advantage of me (do not be evil).

These principles of human–computer interface design serve as critical concepts in kiosk design. Height setting, tactile feedback, and text colour should also be considered.

In a paper from Taiwan, the authors use the seven principles of universal design for the design of kiosks in the context of tourism and user centred design. The results of the study show different preferences for different aspects of temples. For example, participants preferred interactive representations of gods, but textual and graphic content for temple carvings.

There is lots of statistical analysis to back up their claims. This study has much to offer those who design museum-type interactive kiosks for visitors. The main aim of the study was to maintain commercial development of tourism in general and visitation of temples. The title of the paper is, Cultural tourism and temples: Content construction and interactivity design

Abstract: Cultural and creative industries have a crucial role in the post-industrial knowledge economy. However, our understanding of the importance of temples in connecting people with society is limited. To fill this gap, this study explores points of interest for tourists in Taiwan to analyse the design of cultural interest operation modes in temples’ interactive kiosk interfaces. We also examine three cultural levels related to the design of interactive kiosks in temples. Results reveal that participants’ levels of interest vary depending on temple complexity. Most participants prefer animated presentations of content related to two- and three-dimensional murals and the history and origins of temples. We illustrate how to develop a process for designing cultural and creative digital products. We construct a flowchart for guided temple tours and present an effective and suitable design method and its prototype product. Implications for the revitalisation of historic sites to create new value are discussed. 

Inclusive Historic Houses

A white painted two storey home with white pillars all round supporting the verandah.Some good advice from a Masters dissertation on how to create inclusive Historic House stories and exhibits. The emphasis is on overcoming the practice of relating the dominant white male narrative. The dissertation discusses issues of diversity of ethnicity, socio-economic status and belief systems. “One way historic house museums might address this issue of exclusive narratives is to purposely seek out and recognize stories of the forgotten or overlooked people who occupied the house. These stories often involve people of color, women, servants, the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, and to some extent, children.” Case studies highlight the value of recommendations: 

  • Include diverse perspectives and narratives
  • Connect the past to the present
  • Build with shared authority
  • Make the human connection 

The title of the dissertation is, If These Walls Could Talk: Best Practices for Storytelling in Historic House Museums, by Hannah M Gaston. 

Abstract: Historic house museums are one of the most common types of museums in the United States. These museums vary from large institutions with budgets of several million dollars to entirely volunteer-run organizations, but all these museums tell stories about their former inhabitants, their buildings, and their objects. While some of these museums excel at storytelling through programming and interpretation, many historic house museums still struggle to discover and implement recognized best practices. With limited resources, decreased visitation, and questions of sustainability, historic house museums have to learn to tell relevant and compelling stories to stay viable. Literature from the field suggests four best practices for relevant storytelling: 1) include diverse stories and narratives; 2) connect the past to the present; 3) build shared authority; and 4) make the human connection. This study surveys historic house museums across the United States to identify the institutional leaders of the field that are successfully utilizing storytelling best practices. Case studies of eight historic house museums led to a set of five recommendations for each best practice. These recommendations serve as a tool for practical implementation of best practices for telling relevant and compelling stories at all historic house museums.

 

Clever thinking: museums and autism

Hands of two children are over a large bowl with lots of little button magnets. They are experimenting through play.Early Bird quiet sessions are just one of the strategies museums can use to cater for children with autism. Many autistic children have learning difficulties. So thinking about displays and interpretation is their equivalent of accessibility. Autistic visitors can be loyal due to liking routine visits and having an intense interest in a particular subject. When they get older they can become a great asset as volunteers and staff members. You can read more about this topic and successful case studies on the Future of Museums blog, “As we work to increase diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility among museum audiences and in the workplace, we need to attend to the needs of neurodiverse visitors and employees”. 

Claire Madge wrote the article. She founded Autism in Museums in UK to further understanding. Once again we are reminded that the noise of electric hand driers in the bathrooms can be scary. Answer – turn them off during Early Bird hours.

Getting subtitling right

A brightly coloured film strip with the word Video on it.The European Union funded a project to find out more about subtitling and how best to do it for immersive media. Media accessibility usually focuses on users with disability, but this group chose not to go that route. Instead they took a broader section of participants. One of their conclusions fits with other findings on universal design – make it part of the design from the beginning. The findings from this research have recommendations that are good for everyone. One key point is that creation and production processes should have testing that includes users with diverse capabilities. The title of the article is From disabilities to capabilities: testing subtitles in immersive environments with end users“.  With more content being delivered online and the rise of virtual reality and other types of media, this is an important contribution to understanding how best to present current media, as well as media that will be developed in the future. 

From the Abstract:  To illustrate this point and propose a new approach to user testing in Media Accessibility in which we would move from a disability to a capability model. Testing only with people with disability brings poorer results than testing with a broader range of people. This is because subtitles (closed captions) are not just for people are deaf or hard of hearing, but for everyone. This means they should be considered a mainstream feature of video and film production, not an add on feature. The study addresses issues with vision, colour, and being able to navigate digital services to find and use the subtitles. 

Just what is a hearing loop?

International symbol for a hearing loopThere is a lot of confusion about hearing loops and assistive listening devices. Although public venues should have the loop switched on at the same time as the microphone (because that’s how it works), there are some places that think it should only be switched on if someone asks for it. And then, sadly, all too often, that’s when they find it doesn’t work. The Listen Technologies blog post provides a comparison between three technologies used for assistive listening. It refers to a recent New York Times article A Hearing Aid That Cuts Out All The Clatter which points to the many benefits of using induction loops in theatres, places of worship and other venues. As the article points out, this is not about rights, it’s about good customer service. A useful read for anyone who wants to know more about this technology.  The Clearasound website has excellent Australian resources written by someone who really understands the technology from both a user and installer’s standpoint.

Museum has UD integrated throughout

A distant aerial view of the huge arch and the park and landscapingIntegrating universal design was a priority in the redesigning of the Gateway Arch Museum in St Louis. A gently sloping plaza, architecturally integrated ramps, and engaging exhibitions. An article in the St Louis online news gives a good run-down of the features. The touchable exhibits have been a great success with everyone. The universal design concepts allow people to interact with exhibits rather than just look at them. There are other enhancements for people with disability too. The arch and the park are now easier to access by foot or bike as well. The Archinet website features a brief overview by the architects, and pictures of the museum. The timelapse video of the construction is interesting because of the landscaping of the parkland around it. 

Applying UD principles in museums

One of the galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.Museums play an important role in understanding the world we live in and giving context to our lives. Making the content of museums available to everyone in the community is now an important part of the work of exhibition designers. The Helen Hamlyn Centre in UK conducted research to assist with this. Their findings and conclusions are reported in their articleUsing Design Thinking to Develop New Methods of Inclusive Exhibition Making. The project has, “identified the creation of clear, concise, and – most importantly – incentivising guidelines as a crucial, necessary factor in a universal approach to exhibition design. Making sure that designers feel like they are not obliged, or demanded to follow overly pedantic and stifling requirements, but rather encouraged and inspired by a reconsideration of access design as a space for innovation and experimentation, is a necessary in fostering and maintaining the principles of co-design, and a dialogue between user, institution and design team.”

Abstract : Museums and galleries are now making significant developments in the area of inclusion and awareness of disability rights. There have been noticeable advances in the design of cultural, physical and digital spaces, which provide wider access to a museum’s physical and intellectual resources, for individuals of diverse ages and abilities. However, responses have varied in consistency, efficacy, and legacy. This year-long design research project, in partnership with the Wellcome Collection and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Royal College of Art, develops a working set of tools that can be used by museums to improve accessibility in a more permanent and reiterative manner, with a view towards gathering and sharing relevant data, and design responses, within a broad network of museums and cultural institutions. This paper outlines recent approaches by relevant experts in the field and outlines a new approach to incorporating inclusive design within the process of exhibition creation. It uses co-design methods to provide a set of principled guidelines that respond to all relevant stakeholders. These guidelines are predicated on the understanding that establishing empathetic links between exhibition-makers and exhibition audience members is essential, resulting in a positive collaboration, combining the skills of museum professionals with the lived experience of people with disabilities. A central goal of the research is to explore how design issues surrounding access can be framed as an essential and positive component of the design process, and, more importantly, an opportunity for innovation, not simply an obligatory requirement. This paper comprises the observations of a current research project of a 12 month project, commencing in September 2017 and concluding in September 2018.

The article is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication.

Music and Universal Design

men and women in dark blue shirts are signing. The bow of a violin is also visible with the orchestra in the background.It’s often assumed that music education programs are not something for people who a deaf. An article in the Journal of American Sign Languages & Literatures says this is not so. Using a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach, the authors challenge these preconceptions. The article begins, ” Music is not bound to a single modality, language, or culture, but few music education programs represent a multimodal spectrum of music…” and overlook the contribution of Deaf culture. There is no one way of engaging with music, so different ways of experiencing the sensory, linguistic and cultural diversity of music is something music education practitioner might like to look at. The title of the article is Universal Design for Music: Exploring the Intersection of Deaf Education and Music Education

An Auslan interpretation of Handel’s Messiah was performed by a Deaf choir in 2015 at the Sydney Opera House. The video below is of the complete two hour concert where there is interpreting throughout by individuals and groups. If you just want the Hallelujah Chorus where all interpreters get involved, go to 1hour 38 minutes into the video.