Creating an Accessible Museum:
Universal, or Human-centered, Design
“We have the power through design to minimize
or exaggerate disabling experiences.”
Valerie Fletcher, Institute for Human-Centered
Design at Adaptive Environments, Boston, MA
This section is a brief introduction to the issues and possibilities involved in creating an accessible museum and program. For more detailed information, please visit our Accessibility Tools Training.
What is Accessibility and Universal Design?
- Accessibility: Part of a spectrum of making places, things, programs, policies, and information usable.
- Universal Design: The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. Center for Universal Design, North Carolina State University
Universally Designed Museum Programs
Rebecca McGinnis, Accessibilty Coordinator, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, on Universally Designed Museum Programs.
When planning museum programming that is accessible and inclusive, useful points of reference are the principles created for the Universal Design for Learning Environments, developed by CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology). Components of a universally designed classroom curriculum include:
- Multiple means of representation: learners have a variety of ways to acquire information and knowledge
- Multiple means of expression: learners have alternative means for demonstrating what they know
- Multiple means of engagement: learners' interests are peaked; they are appropriately challenged and motivated to learn
Universal Design in Exhibits: A Brief Overview
Universal Design principles are applied to exhibit design to create an environment or experience that is usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.
Characteristics of accessible design:
- Easy to understand regardless of user experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration levels.
- Clear organization of important information.
- Redundant, multimodal presentations: pictorial, verbal, tactile, audio.
- Inclusive, not segregated experiences.
- Provide choice in how to use and allow user to adapt pace.
- Minimize fatigue: physical and sensory.
- Allow size and space for approach and use: line of sight and reach, whether seated or standing.
- Adequate space for assistive devices or personal assistance.
For those unfamiliar with accessibility issues pertaining to Web page design, consider that many users may operate in contexts very different from your own.
- They may not be able to see, hear, or move; they may not be able to process some types of information easily or at all.
- They may have difficulty reading or comprehending text.
- They may not have or be able to use a keyboard or mouse.
- They may have a text-only screen, a small screen, or a slow Internet connection.
- They may not speak or understand fluently the language in which the document is written.
- They may be in a situation where their eyes, ears, or hands are busy or interfered with (e.g., driving to work, working in a loud environment, etc.).
- They may have an early version of a browser, a different browser entirely, a voice browser, or a different operating system.
Content developers must consider these different situations during page design. While there are several situations to consider, each accessible design choice generally benefits several disability groups at once and the Web community as a whole.
Accessible Web Guidelines and Resources
- Section 508: www.section508.gov;
- World Wide Web Consortium Guidelines: www.w3.org
- Accessibility Forum: http://www.accessibilityforum.org/
One tool that blind people have to use with computers is called a screen reader, software that reads aloud what is on a computer screen and provides navigational cues. There are many different screen readers. A popular one is called JAWS (Job Access With Speech).
Click on the screen at right to hear how JAWS works.
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