According to the World Health Organization, 650 million people worldwide or approximately 10% of the world’s population are living with a disability, making them the largest minority in the world. Museums are increasingly employing universal design principles to exhibit development, pushing beyond ADA requirements to introduce design techniques and practices that greatly increase accessibility. The implementation of descriptive narration, keypads, screen readers, haptic sensors, and tactile interfaces are becoming the default design principles and work to maximize the opportunities for shared exhibit experiences.
“From the early phases of a project, we strive to reduce barriers by making our products accessible to as many people as possible. At Cortina Productions, we believe that every visitor deserves equal access to content and the experiences we have crafted. Our teams have added features in our software that allow the visitor to control how the content is presented on-screen. We have also started an internal training initiative so that we have dedicated experts in accessibility,” states John McCarthy, our Director of Interactive Design.
As media producers, it is our responsibility to create experiences that meet the various needs of today’s visitors. We are continually striving to make accessibility an integral part of our design process and not an afterthought. Our efforts in thinking about accessibility are meant to help organizations meet their own goals of increasing engagement and inviting broader audiences to experience their stories.
This blog post is meant to begin the conversation by examining some key questions that are guiding our thought process and hopefully inspire other organizations to think about their own accessibility standards.
How do we ensure that accessibility needs are being met in exhibits?
Whether your organization is in the early stages of thinking about updating exhibitions or if you’re a contractor working with a client in the design stage, the key is to have an accessibility-first approach. This means thinking about exhibits from varied perspectives and designing with accessibility in mind. The goal from the very beginning is to create exhibits that are accessible to as many people as possible.
According to the Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD), there are three categories of disabilities that apply to digital media: physical, sensory, and brain-based. When we consider these three categories from an accessibility perspective, it’s obvious that one tool or strategy does not fit all.
As accessibility needs and strategies continue to evolve, it is important to understand how standards and new benchmarks are impacting the museum industry. Both the Smithsonian Institution and the Institute for Human Centered Design have helpful resources when it comes to thinking about accessibility.
How can the functionality of accessibility align with the increasing demand for immersive and sensory experiences?
Many of today’s museum-goers are looking for immersive and sensory experiences. Experiences that go beyond objects and screens. This means that we are given a unique opportunity to use advancing technologies to develop experiences that appeal to all visitors regardless of accessibility needs. The overarching question can be how to make great experiences for all people, rather than how can these great experiences be adapted for people with disabilities. This is our moment to think outside the box and develop new experiences for the broadest audience.
What’s next in accessibility standards?
There is a shift in the industry towards not just accommodating the basic ADA standards, but creating experiences that exceed the requirements. For example, we have been implementing features, such as an accessibility control panel and keypads, on our interactive media for many years. However, we are currently improving these features and making them easier to use. Cortina Productions is also focused on developing new tools to support accessibility, such as personalized mobile software that responds to our interactive media exhibits to make them more accessible for individual needs. We want to make each of our media experiences feel like they were built for each and every visitor who uses them. With an accessibility-first approach, we are designing and delivering the next generation of accessible exhibits for today’s audiences.
CortinaConnects offers insight into the design and production of location-based media by sharing stories of our experience and how it relates to current and future topics surrounding museums and cultural attractions.