Disability in Museums: Then and now

Front cover of the book Representing Disability in Museums.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 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:

In recent years the representation of disability in museums has raised much interest among the academic community as a social group. However, disabled people remain sub-represented in museum narratives.

The discussion about the issues is regarded as an important way to better understand disability. 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’ shows how imagery has influenced the attitudes and social values towards disabled people. The ways disability is represented show how identities were subjected to discriminatory and exclusion practices.

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 information kiosks

Brightly coloured temple at the end of a long walkway in Taiwan. What do people want from information kiosks?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


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. This research has implications the revitalisation of historic sites to create new value.

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. But just what is a hearing loop?

Hearing augmentation is not old technology. Technology has improved but the systems remain the same. Andrew Stewart explains the myths in a factsheet, Is Hearing Augmentation Old Technology? The factsheet also includes information about what consumers think about loop systems. The loop system is much preferred as it is discrete. Other systems require patrons to request a device to be worn around the neck, which is stigmatising. 

There are more fact sheets on the Hearing Connections website on the three types of hearing augmentation systems:

      1. Hearing Loop System
      2. FM System
      3. Infrared System

The fact sheets also cover schools and universities, live performance spaces, aged care facilities, installation and signage guides.

Hearing loops are not just about compliance and human rights – they are good customer service. 

Hearing loops are good customer service

Two women are on stage. One is lying down and looks dead. The other leans over her with grief.When theatre patrons can’t make out the dialogue they stop going. There’s no point. But a hearing loop can bring them back. A hearing loop works with a special switch on a hearing aid. It sends the sound from the speaker directly to the aid. Yes, there are other types of hearing augmentation. But who wants to go to ask for a special device to hang round your neck? Older people generally shun assistive technology because of the perceived stigma. Hearing loops are far more discrete. See this video of a case study that surprised a theatre manager. 


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. Music universal design and the Deaf community do go together.

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 practitioners 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.


How many steps at the Sydney Opera House?

A page from the Sydney Opera House theatre access guide showing the steps to and from the Joan Sutherland Theatre. How many steps.From the Editor: The Sydney Opera House has removed this guide from it’s website. I am waiting for the Opera House to let me know if they have an update. Meanwhile, the picture gives the basic information on steps at the Sydney Opera House. 


The guide to the number of steps in various paths of travel throughout the venue is to be updated now that the renovations are complete. The aim 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. 

Accessibility information about performances and getting there is on their website. There are lots of good photos to show what the different areas of the House look like. There are four videos of journeys or pathways to different locations within the Opera House. 

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 and how many steps is important for non wheelchair users and people accompanying wheelchair users.

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