Technology and Accessible Museums

This week I have been enviously watching my Twitter feed because the annual American Alliance of Museums conference has begun. I have never attended an AAM conference, but I really enjoy watching the live tweeting of presentations and the active discussions that take place. One tweet by Arryn Davis caught my attention today. Davis addresses how conferences and museums in general are challenging places for people with social anxiety. I can completely relate to this. While I have not been to a conference yet, social anxiety is why I really enjoy well executed digital experiences on museum websites. The San Diego Museum of Art is one recent example I have encountered. While interviewing SDMA’s staff for my research paper, I learned that they redesigned their website to simulate the experience of physically visiting the museum. What a great solution for individuals like myself who sometimes find themselves too anxious to physically visit these places. These types of strides made to make the institution more accessible are commendable. Other museums in the Balboa Park museum complex have also taken steps to be more inclusive by implementing Autism mornings and programming, offering foreign language and American Sign Language tours and telepresence BEAM tours. The BEAM tours allow visitors to experience a guided tour of the museum from the comfort of your own home. These offerings are fantastic, but still limited in a couple ways. These limits include only being available on certain days and times, limited to certain programming, or having to schedule tours weeks in advance.

So how can museums better address visitor mental health? I believe technology has a significant role to play in this. The use of telepresence technology and online exhibitions are excellent examples of incorporating tech to expand accessibility and be more inclusive to all, but what about expanding the telepresence technology and prerecording tours? In doing this visitors can watch the tours when they choose without having to wait. Online exhibitions are beginning to be more common place now, but how do you improve and strive to make the online experience as comprable to the real thing as possible? Some institutions are diving into creating 3-D images of the objects in their collections using tech such as photogrammetry. * A side note, as a budding digital curator, my first thought about these innovative endeavors is what are institutions doing to preserve these digital objects? * What about expanding tours in foreign languages and ASL? While these tours would require periodic updates as exhibitions are changed, it would present additional accessible points for visitors, and making the museum more inclusive. Where can technology improve these needs? Language translating devices for an example are now becoming more mainstream and reliable. Is this something larger institions can incorporate into their programs to make them more accessible and inclusive?

Additionally, museums should consider implementing or expanding their quiet hours, and installing a permanent quiet room.  If accessibility and inclusitivity is a priority, then conducting evaluations and surveying visitors would be the most effective way to learn how the museum can effectively accommodate their audiences.

During my internship with Balboa Park Online Collaborative, one project I really enjoyed working on was developing an accessibility guide for the Park. Locating information on accessibility options for each institution was taxing, and not every institution provided detailed information on their website. Despite this research and aggregating information is something that I am good at and I find enjoyable. Making institutions more accessible to the community is also an interest of mine as well. Broken down by each institution, this guide included maps with markers, information on locations of all handicapped parking, locations of tram stops, handicapped bathrooms, a nursing station, elevators, and ramps. Additionally the guide provided information on all accessible programs offered. Ideally this guide would best serve the public in a digital format made available on the park’s website. In completing this project, it really highlighted the lack of  information and maps museums provide.  This is a key step in making a museum more accessible. Making visitors as informed as possible so that they are readily prepared for their trip to the museum is making museums more accessible.

 

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