Come-In! Guidelines for Museums

The graphic depicts the service chain that begins at arrival, all the elements and amenities at the museum to the shop and the exit.Not all museums are grand institutions such as the British Museum. Many small museums are run on the efforts of volunteers, donations and entry fees. So, upgrading premises, exhibits and interpretive signage to be accessible to all poses challenges. But legal obligations require adjustments to provide accessibility. It also means that people with disability can join as volunteers more easily. The Come-In! Guidelines from Europe tackles some of the issues for small and medium-sized museums. 

Come-in! Guidelines provide a practical way forward for small and medium-sized museums. It lays down some principles to guide processes and to meet legal obligations. Language, the “service chain” and staff training are the key aspects of the guidance. The principles include:

    • Disabled people have a right to be included in all the activities of museums and galleries.
    • Museums and galleries should engage in a dialogue with people with disabilities to find out what they need and wish, and how to deliver it.
    • Barriers to access for people with disabilities should be identified and dismantled to enable and empower them to participate. 
    • Universal design principles should be the basis for inclusive practice in museums and galleries.
    • The implementation of best, inclusive, practice should be adopted to ensure that disability issues are included in all areas of a museum or gallery’s activities.
    • This process must be ongoing, long-term, achievable and sustainable. It should be reflected in the museum’s policies and strategic planning, and implementation should be led by senior management.

The European Union acknowledges its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Consequently, the document is framed with this in mind. The information in this guideline is good for any attraction or tourist destination. The Come-In! Guidelines are detailed and practical, and not just policy words. 

If you have difficulty downloading the document from Academia, you can download the PDF directly

The graphic is from the Guidelines. 

Inclusive art, tourism, sport and recreation report

An assistance dog leans down towards a swimmer in the water at the side of the pool.What’s involved in making arts, tourism, sport and recreation more inclusive? It’s more than just creating accessible venues and destinations. It requires a broad view of the issues and ways to implement inclusive practice. Policies with action plans to overcome attitudinal and systemic barriers are a start.

A report for the Victorian Government identifies the issues and provides recommendations in relation to these areas of activity. The report was underpinned by three principles. Inclusive policy:

      1. occurs within an inclusive model framework
      2. works best if implemented as a whole-of-government initiative
      3. seeks to build healthy communities by providing opportunities for arts, tourism, sport and recreation being provided for all people. 

Among the conclusions are these four areas can be agents of social change themselves. That is, they can show the way for other sectors to be inclusive. Barriers to inclusion were identified as institutional, physical, economic and attitudinal. Being inclusive at the planning stage of any project, activity or service is also a way forward.

Recommendations include the need for institutional policies on inclusion, accurate information for people with disability, and targeted intervention strategies to address barriers to inclusion. There’s more in the report.

A comprehensive report with key recommendations linked to conclusions. Although published in 2012, many recommendations are still pending across Australia. The title of the report is, Inclusive Arts, Tourism, Sport and Recreation for People with a Disability: Ways Forward Report. Deakin University carried out the research.  

A related publication by Simon Darcy looks at barriers to participation in sport. It can be downloaded from ResearchGate.

Captioning and Subtitles

Front page of the video - deep yellow background with white text and an Auslan interpreter is standing readyWhat is the difference between captions and subtitles? This is a common question. Captioning can be done live as people speak, or it can be added to recorded video. Subtitles are translations from another language. What’s interesting is that most people can read captions and subtitles quite quickly. 

The Australian Government has produced an interesting video showing how captioning is done. It is a behind the scenes look and captioners tell how they do it. You can see them at their desks in action. One point of interest is that programs made overseas often have captions, but they don’t always come with the program when a network buys it.

Intellectual property rights become problematic and in the end it is often quicker and cheaper to re-do the captions here in Australia. So that might account for why SBS is more likely to have uncaptioned programs than some other networks – unless they are subtitled of course. There is a second video showing how to turn captions on

a desk with two computer screens and subtitles at the bottomSubtitles

So how fast should subtitles be shown? It seems most of us can read subtitles more quickly than first thought. Recent research revealed that the golden standard of the six second rule doesn’t have any (traceable) evidence to back it up. Now that we know people watch audio-visual materials more frequently with subtitles and captions, this is an important topic – what is the optimum speed? A study from Europe found it isn’t one-size-fits all. They found that viewers can keep up with fast subtitles and that slow speeds can actually be annoying. However, future research needs to include a wider range of people with different levels of reading skill. The title of the paper is, Viewers can keep up with fast subtitles: Evidence from eye movements. 

Editor’s Note: Some set-ups allow you to increase the speed of the video and still read the captions. I can get all the content of a ten minute video in five to seven minutes this way. 

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.