Braille and tactile paintings

Two men are standing next to a painting. One man has his hands on the painting. Braille and tactile paintings.
Tactile painting at Pune Airport

Audio describing a painting to a person who is blind requires a special skill. It takes more than talking about shape, colour and content. It also requires an interpretation of the message the artist wishes to convey. But what if the painting has tactile outlines, borders and Braille scripts? Braille and tactile paintings became the mission of Chintamani Hasabnis. 

Chintamani Hasabnis creates paintings accessible to people who are blind. This was after watching a young woman crossing the street with a white cane. He thought, “I paint so many pictures but I can’t show any of them to her.”

An article on the News Hook website tells how Hasabnis worked towards creating his paintings. He said it took a while before he realised he had to make something people could touch. A visit to a school for blind children gave him the answer – paintings with Braille and tactile elements. Pune International Airport in India was one of the first places to display one of his paintings. 

Hasabnis has completed 30 paintings, mostly portraits, and of course, sighted people can also share the tactile joy of these paintings. 

The video below, with captions, shows some of the paintings and how the Braille is incorporated into the picture. 

This is not the first example of Braille painting. The Guy Cobb painting below is on the Wikimedia site is from 2010.

A man in a dark suit places his hands on a brightly coloured painting representing blue flowers on a yellow and orange background.
Guy Cobb Painting

Audio Describing for TV and Movies

Cinema packs of popcorn. Audio describing is good for everyone.The art of audio describing has improved considerably since it was first trialled some sixteen or so years ago. Australian produced television programs signal when a program is audio described with a distinct sound. And more movies and stage shows are offering this option. Audio describing (AD) is designed for people with vision impairment, but could sighted people benefit too? 

A group of researchers looked at two questions – the quality of the AD, and the additional benefit to people who are sighted. Currently, the AD process sits outside the creative process. It’s added later in a similar way to captions and subtitles. However, lack of integration can cause misunderstandings about the plot and the characters. 

The research group carried out an experiment with people with vision impairment and sighted people. A short film was shown with enhanced sound effects. For example, bed spring sounds for someone sitting on a bed. Their article explains in more detail and applies the seven principles of universal design to their method. 

In conclusion, the study showed that sound design – that is, non-verbal cues – can replace verbal cues in some films. The enhanced audio description was accepted by both vision impaired and sighted audiences. One sighted participant said that because the AD was integrated into the film it didn’t feel like they were listening to AD. 

It’s universal design!

The article shows the potential for everyone to have an enhanced experience at the cinema and in their lounge rooms. It indicates a strong case for considering AD in the creative process and not leaving it as an afterthought. Integration of AD into the design process is another example of universal design. 

The tile of the article is, Enhancing Audio Description: Inclusive Cinematic Experiences Through Sound Design. The introductory page has both and abstract and a lay summary. Be prepared for a long but easy read. 

Lay summary

Audio Description (AD) is a third person commentary added to film and television productions to make them accessible for visually impaired audiences. Traditionally, AD is added to productions after they have been completed, meaning that the creative and accessibility teams do not work together to produce the accessible version of the production.

This paper explores an alternative to traditional AD, called Enhanced Audio Description (EAD), whose methods are integrated to filmmaking workflows. EAD moves away from a focus on verbal descriptions and instead focuses on sound design strategies. In EAD the traditional third person commentary is replaced by the combination of three techniques.

The first is the addition of sound effects to provide information on actions, convey abstract scenes as well as indicate time, place, and the presence of characters. The second is the use of binaural audio (3D audio over headphones) to convey the position of characters and objects portrayed on the screen. Finally, first-person narration is used to portray feelings, gestures, colours as well as certain actions.

The application of EAD methods results in a form of accessibility that can cater for both visually impaired and sighted audiences, championing inclusive cinematic experiences. Focus groups with audiences of visually impaired and sighted people demonstrated the potential of the format to be widely enjoyed, and to be offered alongside traditional Audio Description (AD) in order to provide accessible experiences which cater for different aesthetic preferences.


Museums, exhibitions and universal design

One of the galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Museums and exhibitions.Museums and exhibitions help us understand the world we live in and give context to our lives. Making the content of museums available to everyone is an important part of the work of exhibition designers.

The Helen Hamlyn Centre 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 identified clear guidelines as a necessary factor in a universal approach to exhibition design. The key factor is encouraging designers to be creative and experimental with their designs. Making designers feel like they obliged to follow what they consider stifling requirements is counterproductive. It’s also about co-design and a dialogue between users, the institution and the design team. 

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

Arts Access Australia also commissioned a report in 2011, Access and Audience Development in Australia: Museums and Galleries research project.

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.

Seeking stories of forgotten or overlooked people who occupied the house is one way to address the prevailing white male narrative. Gaston advises:

    • 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. 

Museum has integrated universal design

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 universal design concepts allow people to interact with exhibits rather than just look at them. The touchable exhibits are a great success, and there are other enhancements for people with disability. 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. 


Tactile or 3D?

A metal model showing a town layout in relief with Braille on buildings and streets. There is a church and lots of houses and a town square represented.Which type of map is best – tactile or 3D? Three researchers from Monash University carried out a study to see if 3D printed models offered more information than tactile graphics such as maps. There were some interesting findings that were presented in a conference paper. The abstract gives a good overview:

From the abstract

Tactile maps are widely used in Orientation and Mobility (O&M) training for people are blind or have low vision. Commodity 3D printers now offer an alternative way to present accessible graphics. However it is unclear if 3D models offer advantages over tactile equivalents for 2D graphics such as maps.

In a controlled study with 16 touch readers, we found that 3D models were preferred, enabled the use of more easily understood icons, facilitated better short term recall and allowed relative height of map elements to be more easily understood.

Analysis of hand movements revealed the use of novel strategies for systematic scanning of the 3D model and gaining an overview of the map. Finally, we explored how 3D printed maps can be augmented with interactive audio labels, replacing less practical braille labels. Our findings suggest that 3D printed maps do indeed offer advantages for O&M training. 

The full title of the paper is, “Accessible Maps for the Blind: Comparing 3D Printed Models with Tactile Graphics“.  The article is also available on ResearchGate. 

Libraries need accessibility and universal design

A silhouette of a person between two rows of books on library shelves.While non-disabled designers and librarians do their best to make library experiences accessible, students with disability hold the key to success. The idea of co-design is not new in building design. However, libraries are both a building and a service. This is the issue tackled in a research study where students showed how to implement accessibility and universal design.

The level of accessibility for students with disability has improved, but it is still not enough. Restrictive rules, lack of adapted communications systems and unsuitable signage are part of the problem. Students with disability should be involved from the outset when a new product or system is introduced – it’s a universal design approach.

The article on the research study found three main ideas: communication, service and usage. The researchers said that if they learned one thing, it was the importance of giving a voice to students with disability. Also, mutual learning and knowledge sharing was found to build good relationships between staff and students.

The title of the article is, “Giving a Voice to Students with Disabilities to Design Library Experiences: An Ethnographic Study”, and is available in PDF or in text/html format


Although librarians generally display an inclusive management style, barriers to students with disabilities remain widespread. Against this backdrop, a collaborative research project called Inclusive Library was launched in 2019 in Catalonia, Spain. This study empirically tests how involving students with disabilities in the experience design process can lead to new improvements in users’ library experience. A mix of qualitative techniques, namely focus groups, ethnographic techniques and post-experience surveys, were used to gain insights from the 20 libraries and 20 students with disabilities collaborating in the project. Based on the participants’ voices and follow-up experiences, the study makes several suggestions on how libraries can improve their accessibility. Results indicate that ensuring proper resource allocation for accessibility improves students with disabilities’ library experience. Recommendations for library managers are also provided.


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. Volunteers run many small museums which rely on  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.
    • Identify barriers to access for people with disability and remove them
    • Universal design principles should be the basis for inclusive practice in museums and galleries.
    • Adopt inclusive  practice to ensure disability issues are included in all areas of a museum or gallery’s activities.
    • This process must be ongoing, long-term, achievable and sustainable. The museum’s policies and strategic planning should reflect inclusive practice.

The European Union acknowledges its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 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. Inclusive art, sport and recreation.
Assistance animals are a strategy for inclusion.

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, this model can be an agent of social change. 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 bottomSo 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.

Autism and Building Design

A young girl is wide-eyed with a drooping mouth as is she is about to be unhappy. Autism and building design.If designers are not already thinking about autism, they soon will be, or should be. People with autism have the same rights to functional and accessible spaces as everyone else. In his article Stuart Shell gives an overview of ASD (autism spectrum disorder). He explains why building owners and designers need to include this group, and how it will create great architecture at the same time. 

One in one hundred and fifty children were diagnosed with ASD in 2000. ASD can take the form of extra sensory awareness, and higher levels of anxiety or involuntary responses. However, most autistic people say they have their own way of experiencing the world – it’s not a “disorder”. Shell concludes with a list of design options and different guidelines.

A lengthy but very useful article that includes acoustics, lighting, thermal comfort and material finishes and furniture. There is a list of references at the end for further reading. What Autism Teaches Us About Design is an easy and comprehensive read on an important topic. 

There’s also the easy to read article, How to Design for Autism. Thoughtful design aims to be inclusive, convenient and welcoming. Designing interiors for children with autism makes for good interiors for children generally. Texture, acoustics and lighting features are applicable to the rest of the world when it comes to designing autism-friendly spaces. The architect behind the design of the Center of Autism and the Developing Brain says the key is to be sensitive to light, sight, textures, and sounds. The article can be downloaded from the website.

A Literature Review

Interest in autism and building design is a growing field, but who is doing the research? A comprehensive literature review looked at research from 1992-2021. This is one for academics and researchers.  The findings can be used to build techniques specific to the themes. Researchers can also discover the most influential publications, authors, and journals in this field to uncover research gaps and fresh discoveries.

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.

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