Dr. Juliette Fritsch
May 25, 2017
ADA compliance; inclusive interpretation
What is this study about?
Consultation with cultural sector professionals has revealed that while there is a desire to engage with accessible interpretation, there is also a need for guidance on how to secure senior-level support for such projects. This case study outlines a variety of persuasive points that you might draw on when developing a proposal.
Top line summary
This case study outlines the following points about accessible interpretation, to make when gathering support:
- More than basic compliance with the ADA
- Participatory and contributory museum experiences
- Widen the variety of voices and lenses through which objects and other cultural contexts can be experienced
Focus on strategic goals related to broad audience engagement and participation.
About the author
Dr. Juliette Fritsch was the Principle Investigator for the Access App project and Chief of Interpretive Experiences and Creative Partnerships at the Peabody Essex Museum.
There is a legal requirement for accessibility, as laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). People who are blind or have low vision want to come to museums. Two research projects conducted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011 make clear that the museum environment, not just the nature of the collections displayed within it, is a significant factor in the success of museum visits, and fuels the desire to return. These visually impaired visitors reported that the sensory, social, intellectual, and aesthetic benefits derived from a museum visit outweighed the substantial difficulties encountered in reaching the museum. When visitors with disabilities come to museums, they often feel marginalized because they are unable to fully immerse themselves in exhibitions and are prevented from participating equally with their visiting companions due to design limitations and other oversights on the part of the museum.
Our project consultation revealed that while most people are familiar with ADA requirements, they are unsure of what they actually mean for their working practice. In addition to the legal requirement, increasing awareness of social justice issues argues for cultural institutions to be more inclusive and welcoming for all audiences, which means being proactive in making their experiences accessible.
Creating an accessible interpretive tool, an Access App, can help your organization in several ways beyond the basic requirement of compliance with the ADA:
The invitation to contribute verbal descriptions and other content to the Access App engages visitors as stakeholders and collaborators in achieving truly
- participatory and contributory museum experiences.
- Partnership with the public transforms the nature and structure of learning experiences in museums from unidirectional broadcasts of knowledge from museum expert to visitor, to a rich peer-to-peer or social media network that is more sustainable and enriched by the increased number and diversity of voices and perspectives audiences can encounter in relation to the objects.
- Many smartphones and other digital kit have built-in accessibility features such as screen readers. The Access App code works with the iOS platform, which our research with blind and low-vision users indicated is the most popular platform due to built in features, such as the screen reader and toggles for font size.
The Access App platform takes into account the desired shared experience of social groups as a whole as they engage with cultural experiences – it’s more than for just one focused audience group (blind and low vision).
Improving the museum experience for one group often improves it for many others. It is important to note that blind and low-vision audiences do not visit in a vacuum. Just like many other visitors, they come with friends and family (who are not necessarily themselves blind or low vision).
When proposing to create an Access App or any other specific accessible interpretation tool, it is useful to argue from a meta-strategic perspective rather than a basic-compliance-with-the-ADA perspective. If your institution’s strategic priorities include broad, inclusive audience engagement and an interest in social justice outcomes, then an Access App is for you.
What I/we would do differently
From the outset, think about strategic goals beyond ADA compliance and build these into your goals. You are far more likely to gain support and resources.
What I/we would not change
The goal to broaden inclusion and build an app that appeals to users beyond the blind and low-vision communities.
Accessibility and inclusive design are about more than engaging specific (sometimes perceived as small and therefore lower priority) groups of visitors.