Are you really aware of the human-centered design process to address accessibility projects in your cultural institution?
This article is the second of a series that will present accessibility and inclusiveness approaches for museums to grow more generous and empathic, while serving their usual missions.
Most museum professionals would agree that addressing accessibility and inclusion is not only a goodwill gesture but part of their mission as non-profit organizations.
Unfortunately, lacking data on communities with impairments (most of the time non-visitors), many museums don’t know how to address those issues in their everyday processes. Some of them still think it’s time-consuming with no return on investment.
In this second article, we’re going to focus on how to get rid of your bias, how to design for people with disabilities and finally explain how it will benefit your organization as a whole.
Raise your awareness
Familiarize yourself with the law
You can easily find some reliable sources on governmental websites by searching for “Equality act” or by looking at legal frameworks such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and IDEA.
Based on those obligatory commitments, you can point out what’s already in place in your museum and what’s missing. Thus, you can create a list of changes to meet compliance standards in line with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for instance.
Look out for biases
We may not realize how many stereotypes we have when addressing accessibility issues.
Here is an example for you to understand how much it’s important to be aware. Here is a Twitter comment of a disabled person, expressing herself on a bench, supposed to be “inclusive” for people with reduced mobility.
The Wellcome Collection (London) discovered the same kind of bias, when conducting a series of evaluations on their old permanent gallery.
“Medicine Now” was described as “cool” or “pretty cool” by “normal” people but in contrast the same gallery, described by disabled people, was “offensive” and “dehumanizing”, “filled with hate”, “the last place on earth they would like to visit with their friends”.
The museum’s team realized that what they thought a “neutral” exhibition was in fact polarized between binary opposites: “normality” and “abnormality”, “illness” and “health”.
“Whatever you do for me but without me, you do against me” — Mahatma Gandhi 1869–1948
Embrace human-centered design thinking process
Considering the above examples that could be supported by many others, our best advice to tackle accessibility issues is to embrace a human-centered, universal and inclusive design process. You may already be acquainted with it as it is becoming a commonplace in museums.
“What it refers to is a methodology that incorporates thinking about all of the possible ways your users might be able or unable to interact with your offering due to the entire vector of human difference.”
Definition by Sina Bahram inclusive design specialist at Prime Access Consulting
It consists of three steps: inspiration, ideation and implementation. A guide on the subject, recommended by Museum Computer Network (MCN) and specially dedicated to social sector practitioners, can be downloaded at ideo.org.
Step 1: inspiration, as the process of investigating the audiences’ needs pain-points or frustrations.
The main goal of this stage is to gain visitors insights by asking questions such as the ones on the empathy map Canvas here below.
For achieving this goal, you will need a real-world experience by “going out of the building” (GOOB technic) as your user-experience can’t be created from the vacuum.
From this material you will draw different personas (more examples on Just Ask blog), fictitious characters who represent prospective user groups throughout the design process. By using your personas, try to make your ‘user” data actionable.
The best way to reach communities with impairment is through local associations. Invite them to the museum, most of the time they grasp the opportunity.
You may even implement steering committee to meet them regularly as for the Quai Branly Museum in Paris.
The Museum of Gateway Arch in Saint Louis managed to conduct evaluations with 20 disability groups during the eight years of the museum’s construction.
You can also respectfully get a glimpse of the user’s perspective by experimenting yourself. This is the best way to understand what Colleen Dilenschneider calls the “negative attitude affinities of unlikely visitors” who feel that an organization “isn’t for people like them”.
For instance, Sina Bahram encourages you to listen to a captcha, instead of reading it. You will realize how inaudible the synthesized voice can be for a person with a visual impairment who has no other way to bypass it. It can help you raise your requirements next time you develop a synthesized voice for multilingual audio content. See now how things can be enhancing for everyone to become inclusive and universal?
When you have a clear idea of your personas, it’s time to build a compelling and memorable narrative through a visitor journey map. This will allow you to identify every touchpoint you have with the communities to build the next step.
Livdeo tips for Step 1 :
Be careful to consider all kind of impairments
Prepare yourself to some adjustments in the design process
Popular icebreakers can exclude participants with sensory or motor function disabilities: provide multimodal presentations post-it doesn’t work for visual impaired: don’t minimize fatigue; be acquainted with social etiquette for interacting with impaired individuals; anticipate adequate space for people with reduced mobility and their personal assistance.
Leave time for evaluation, this is the most important step!
Step 2: ideation as the process of generating, prototyping and testing ideas
During this process, it is important to gather new resources alongside the museum team and become barrier-free through workshops’ participation.
Try to involve multidisciplinary expertise: disability advocates, researchers, ergonomists, marketing, engineering without forgetting your financial support as they could be interested by a social responsibility project.
You may discover new paths that you never imagined.
By working with activists, the Wellcome Collection completely reframed not only the space but also the content of its old gallery. By showing work of arts from disabled artists, they offer a broader view that help visitors to reflect on disability in our society.
Once the best idea is selected, MVP/S Minimal Viable Product/Solution (MVP/S) is developed and tested in an iterative (LEAN) process.
The Ideation process allows to experiment with ideas, get immediate feedback to make changes until the final product or service is improved before any money is spent on full-blown development.
Usually, this step lasts from one day, during hackathon sessions, to no more than three months.
Livdeo tips for Step 2:
Be vigilant to engage disabled people the further you can in the process.
Never forget, the problem is always the disabling world, not the people.
Better ask for help by hiring an accessibility UX specialist, such Sina Bahram as mentioned before, to oversee testing and head up the team.
Don’t be afraid to fail when experimenting. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t try to solve everything at once.
Step 3: implementation as the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives.
Once the MVP is sufficiently refined on paper or mock-up, it’s time to proceed to real life by building the final service or product. Based on your analysis, testing and frames, you can implement your service, app or gallery being sure that you address all your visitors’ needs. And don’t forget to implement some KPI to measure your results !
“When we talk about institutions like museums, we don’t talk about ROI in terms of return on investment, we talk about ROI in terms of return on institutional objectives. So by making your stuff more inclusive, you are increasing your visitorship, you are increasing your engagement time, you are increasing your ability to contribute positively to the community. Whatever their institutional objectives are, these practices, they assist that as well.”
Transcript of Sina Bahram interview by Chris Hofstader, activist in the disability rights space.
Livdeo tips Step 3
Create a communication strategy. Storytelling helps communicate the solution to a diverse set of stakeholders inside and outside of the organization.
Measure your success through KPI (visitors’ attendance, satisfaction, net promoter score, system usability scale, user error rate…). It helps you communicate UX issues to the relevant decision-makers.
Design for disabled people as everyone will benefit!
Disability is the world’s largest community group!
According to the Global Economics of Disability Annual report 2016, people with disabilities represent 17% of the world’s population (estimation around 1.3 billion) with an annual disposable income of more than $8 trillion (family and friends included). Besides, friends and families can be very strong advocators of a museum that commits to accessibility.
“Disability is the only minority that intersects with every other minority, and it’s the only minority that you will ultimately join if you live long enough.”
Chris Hofstader, activist in the disability rights space.
It may help you find new financial support
More and more companies no longer want to pay just for their names on a wall. they favor institutions with a real social engagement but want their employees to get involved in meaningful activities within the museum.
Besides, the Millennials will soon be the next generation of donors. They are more concerned with inclusion and sustainability in our society than their elders. They tend to favor social causes over traditional cultural institutions, as pointed out by Sharna Goldseker in her book “Generation Impact: How Next Gen Donors Are Revolutionizing Giving”.
Everyone worth it!
We should not forget that anyone can join disabled people at any time.
Designing for people with impairment often creates a more robust product or service that can be used by an entirely new audience.
The 3D models developed for visually impaired people are now regularly part of school visits as seen in our previous article.
Translation in any language, including sign language, can be implemented within the same web-app as we will see in our next article.
It’s a question of creating an “equitable experience” for everyone. Museums are responsible to actively lend support of progressive values so they must contribute to bringing about a change in people’s lives.
“We know from numerous studies that museums inform the way people see and think and therefore […] we can use our resources and our unique position to draw attention to inequalities and strongly act upon them to offer ways to foster sympathy, understanding and connection. And this is not only the work of a human rights museum, it should be a defining feature of all museums.”
Keynote at #museums2019 Brighton- Richard Sandell, Professor of Museum Studies at Leicester University on the renovation of the Wellcome Collection.