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.

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

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. There is a video 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.

 

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.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:

Abstract: Tactile maps are widely used in Orientation and Mobility (O&M) training for people with blindness and severe vision impairment. 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. 

Paradoxically, the freely available PDF version is in two columns and in Times New Roman font – both aspects that are not recommended for people with low vision or for screen readers. The full title of the paper is, “Accessible Maps for the Blind: Comparing 3D Printed Models with Tactile Graphics“.  

How many steps at the Sydney Opera House?

A page from the theatre access guide showing the steps to and from the Joan Sutherland TheatreThe Sydney Opera House has produced a guide to the number of steps in various paths of travel throughout the venue. This is to help patrons decide which seats are best to book for the greatest convenience. It also helps with traversing such a large building, especially if you are not familiar with it. There are lifts and escalators in most places, and more are being added. The Theatre Access Guide can be downloaded from the Sydney Opera House website. The picture shows one page from the Guide.

Editor’s note: It would be interesting to know how many other venues in Australia have this type of guide – not just a standard access guide, which is usually for wheelchair users, people who are blind or have low vision, or are deaf or hard of hearing. Knowing how far you have to walk is important for non wheelchair users and people accompanying wheelchair users.

What is audio description?

logo for Audio Descriptions. Black backround with white upper case letters AD and three curved lines indicating soundABC television now has Audio Describing for people who are vision impaired. If you’ve ever wondered what audio description is then the Microsoft video below is a good example. Audio descriptions tell people who are blind the visual information on the screen during natural breaks in dialogue. In the Microsoft example, the speech of the audio describer is a bit fast in places. That’s similar to the speed for screen readers so people who are vision impaired are used to it. The Microsoft example shows the type of describing they do.

The video was developed as a staff training video on disability awareness and the first three and a half minutes are dedicated to basic information. The video descriptions start at 3 mins 27 seconds into the video. They use different case studies to show where audio descriptions work well in enabling people to be productive in the workplace.

You can find out more about audio describing on ABC TV webpage.

Inclusive Meetings and Events

front cover of Accessible Events guide. purple with white writingMany event managers and venues have yet to get their head around their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act. While many public buildings may have access through the front door and accessible toilet, this does not make for an inclusive event. Did anyone think about a handrail on the steps to the podium, a lower lectern for a seated speaker, or what to do with the guide dog?

Venue owners and managers, caterers and equipment suppliers are yet to get up to speed with what is required. Meetings and Events Australia have a comprehensive handbook on accessible events which was written in consultation with the Human Rights Commission in 2012. However, it appears only to be available to members of the Association and is not visible on their web home page. Nevertheless, a Google search will also find the Accessible Events Guide.  The Guide also has a checklist at the end. 

front cover access events vic gov.Free to access guides include the Victorian Government guide and checklistThis one uses easy access English as well, so the guide itself is accessible, and covers the role of MC and speakers. The Event Accessibility Checklist from Australian Network on Disability and the West Australian Government checklist are also good guides.

Factors that many organisers might not think about are, a drinking bowl for an assistance dog, the way the event or meeting is promoted, and ensuring there is lighting on the face of speakers for lip readers.

Editor’s Note: While trying to think of everything to make the 2014 Universal Design Conference inclusive, we found the suppliers of the staging equipment did not have a handrail for the steps and the wheelchair ramp was too steep to climb without help. The one-size fits all lectern is also a problem. Rarely is there a lectern that a seated person or person of short stature can use.