How Virtual Exhibits Can Be Accessible

February 20, 2020

This past week in the United States, we celebrated Presidents’ Day and in honor of the holiday Bunk designed a virtual exhibit called Presidents Precedents that explores the shifting ways Americans have viewed the U.S. presidency. Bunk, a non-profit and non-partisan launched in September 2017, captures the passion for history and reveals the ways that people of different backgrounds and purposes are connecting with the nation’s history by searching the internet for the most interesting articles, maps, videos, conversations, visualizations, and podcasts about history that they can find. Funded by supporters of the University of Richmond, they hope to create a fuller and more honest portrayal of our shared past, and reveal the extent to which every representation is part of a longer conversation. Presidents Precedents is an exhibit filled with a collection of articles from varying sources divided into three categories: The Mandate, The Pulpit, and The Legacy. After examining this exhibit, I thought about other virtual exhibits and the significance of virtual exhibits, and I decided to explore museum virtual exhibits.

In my previous blog post “Virtual Museum Experiences: Impressions of Museum Education Roundtable’s Journal of Museum Education”, I shared experiences I have had with virtual reality and how museums have taken advantage of virtual experiences. Towards the end of that post, I pointed out that

Museum professionals have always investigated ways we can draw more visitors to our museums and sites, and as technology continues to develop we continue to figure out different ways we can reach out to people to share resources and collections.

This is especially true when museums are making their exhibits available online for individuals interested in visiting them. In the blog post, I pointed out the benefits of providing virtual experiences of museum exhibits online: Individuals can take advantage of virtually visiting museums and participating in museum programs that are far from home, or places that are not entirely handicapped accessible. Not many individuals are able to financially travel to museums in other countries and when museums provide virtual exhibits, they will at least be able to get a closer look at objects, exhibit labels, and additional information they can learn in each space. Also, there are individuals who are not able to physically access spaces in museums and by providing virtual exhibits to them they will be able to have an engaging experience within the space once inaccessible.

These are examples of virtual exhibits and tours I have come across from around the world:

The British Museum has a virtual exhibit called The Museum of the World which is navigated using the arrow keys or scrolling to explore back and forth through time. Also, it is set up as a timeline divided into five color-coded sections: Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. When one clicks on a color circle, an object appears with a short description and the option to learn more about it; for instance, I clicked on Ceramic Bowl from the Path of Roses in Tunisia, Africa, and it includes an audio of a speaker providing more information, a Google map showing the location, a description of the object and its history, and pictures of related objects. Also, there are themes that visitors can explore the exhibit by in addition to the timeline: Art and design, Living and dying, Power and identity, Religion and belief, and Trade and conflict.

The Louvre offers virtual tours that allow individuals to visit the museum’s exhibition rooms and galleries. Inside the virtual space, visitors can tour three different sections of the museum, read an introduction to and descriptions of where they are located within the Louvre: Egyptian Antiquities, Remains of the Louvre’s Moat, and Galerie d’Apollon. The Egyptian Antiquities has collections from the Pharaonic period that are displayed on the east side of the Sully wing, on the ground floor and 1st floor. In the Remains of the Louvre’s Moat tour, it describes that originally the Louvre was a fortress built by the French king, Philippe Auguste; it was intended to reinforce the defenses that the king had ordered to be built in 1190 to protect Paris from attack via the Seine, and today visitors can walk around the original perimeter moat and view the piers that supported the drawbridge. The Galerie d’Apollon, which is a decorative art situated above the Petite Galerie, was destroyed by fire in 1661 and rebuilt. Also, the Louvre’s website includes descriptions of 55 rooms inside the museum and what is located in these rooms.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History offers varying museum virtual tours that allow individuals to take self-guided room-by-room tours of select rooms or areas within the museum on the computer and/or on cellphones. Also, there is an opportunity to access select research and collections areas with satellite support, research stations, and past exhibits that no longer on display. The museum’s website also includes other tours of the Smithsonian including the Smithsonian Castle and the Hirshhorn (a sculpture museum). Their virtual tours provide arrow links on the floor and the ability to use the navigation map to travel through rooms in the tours, and a camera icon give a close-up view of a particular object or exhibit panel.

Each example I explored has a different way of presenting virtual experiences. If museums have the capability, they should take advantage of making their exhibits and tours more accessible for all visitors. To learn more about virtual tours that are available, I included a list of links I found to virtual tours and exhibits that explore museums around the world.

Have you experienced virtual exhibits or tours? What are your impressions? Do you feel like you are as just engaged with the virtual experience as you would be in person? Why or why not?

Links:

https://www.bunkhistory.org/exhibits/30

https://www.bunkhistory.org/

https://britishmuseum.withgoogle.com/

https://naturalhistory.si.edu/visit/virtual-tour

https://www.si.edu/exhibitions/online

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/75809/12-world-class-museums-you-can-visit-online

https://www.top10.com/virtual-museum-tours

http://www.virtualfreesites.com/museums.museums.html

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/08/01/virtual-museum-experiences-impressions-of-museum-education-roundtables-journal-of-museum-education/

How to Make Educational Programs Accessible?

Added to Medium, August 31, 2017

Museums prepare school programs for the upcoming year, and we figure out how to make these programs accessible for all students of various capabilities. There are different ways museums have developed programs that are accessible for all learners. For instance, museum programs are developed to be easily adapted to all ages and capabilities. Another way is specific programs can be developed to be geared towards specific capabilities. Many museums have a combination of programs geared to be easily adapted and towards specific capabilities.

 

It is important to be able to have different types of programs that can be adapted to all individuals with various capabilities as well as those geared towards different capabilities because each individual learns in different capacities and there should not be limitations to what they can participate in. Also, not many museums have the resources to create costly programs geared to people who need to learn in different ways including, not limited to, those with visual impairments, hearing impairments, and memory loss.

 

I learned additional information about accessible programming at this past year’s New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) conference. The theme of the conference was “Inclusivity: From Within & Beyond”, and it was located at the School of Visual Arts.
When I was at this past year’s NYCMER meeting, I attended a session that discussed various accessibility programs. This session was called “Resource Workshop: Designing Accessible Materials”, and it was presented by Miranda Appelbaum (from the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts), Lara Schweller (from The Museum of Modern Art), Beth Ann Balalaos (from the Long Island Children’s Museum), Ellysheva Zeira (from the Lower East Side Tenement Museum), Charlotte Martin (from the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum), Emmanuel von Schack (from the National September 11 Memorial & Museum), and Roberto Chavez (from the New York Transit Museum). It was a workshop in which I participated in various micro-workshops where I learned more about designing social narratives and visual schedules, tactile objects, training resources, and digital resources.

 

During the Resource workshop, the presenters handed out various documents to assist participants in learning about how to create our own programs. For instance, one of the handouts we received was called “Creating Resources for People who are Blind or have Low Vision”. On the handout, it gave advice on verbal descriptions including having a plan in which the programs provide a verbal description interwoven with a story; use specific words in the description including composition, color, texture, pattern, and relative size; and be able to choose a few important features and consider the best way to order the information to not overwhelm the audience.
The handout also shared the best practices for objects. According to the handout, the best practices for objects are show and tell, give clear instructions, connect to the object’s physicality by asking the visitors feel an object’s weight and texture for instance, set a time limit with the kids, and be selective. There was also a DIY Object Ideas section in the handout that provides ideas to assist in teaching these programs.

 

These ideas include the use easy to find craft/household supplies including puffy/fabric paint, plastic lace, and restaurant squeeze bottles, jars and mesh (for smells). Another idea on the handout was to check out the Lighthouse Guild Shop where it has items such as bump/locator dots which can be used for all sorts of things and ‘High Mark’ tactile pens. One of the most important advices the presenters and handout provided was to not be afraid to try new things since one can always ask for feedback from participants with new methods and materials.

 

In addition to programming, it is also important to be able to provide resources easily accessible for all visitors. One of the ways to provide resources easily is an accessible website that make accessibility information easy to find on your institution’s homepage; it is also important to include a statement about your institution’s accessibility commitment, highlight the resources your institution provides, and to keep your website up-to-date with accessibility web standards.

 

Also, it is important to have visible signage about accessibility features visible to the public. In addition to visible signage, it is especially important to train staff to share information about accessibility features and to train staff with disability equality awareness in mind.
There should also be universal options provided for visitors when they come to the museums or institutions. In other words, it is important to integrate accessibility into every museum resource, to make accessibility options available to all users when possible, and to create kits and content for exploring exhibitions and object information in different ways. It is also important to opt for a Universal Design for every individual to be able to use to comprehend the material museums offer.

 

There are ways to have cost effective programs for accessible programming.

 

At the Long Island Museum, for instance, there is an In the Moment program that uses limited resources to educate individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and memory loss on the museum’s collections as well as help them with their memories. Each booked program is changed depending on which exhibit a group is interested in seeing. For instance one program would be interested in viewing an exhibit in the Carriage Museum building while another group would be interested in seeing the latest exhibit in the Art Museum building.

 

When the program is booked for inside the Carriage museum, various props representing the parts of a carriage from the collections are shared with participants. By allowing the participants to feel the props they will be able to begin to understand the significance of these items. For instance, they understand how heavy the materials made for the carriage and why these materials have to be the best quality.
In the Art Museum, some participants viewed the Long Island in the Sixties exhibit. Songs from the 1960s were selected and downloaded based on the different parts of the exhibit. They were also able to sit and look at pre-selected displays to view and discuss about. During both experiences, participants were able to bring pictures home of what they saw at the museum to share with loved ones and inspire continued discussion about what they saw during their visits.

 

Both types of In the Moment programs encourage participants to discuss what they see and remember from the past. When asked questions, participants share sometimes personal memories and observations. The purpose of these activities is to inspire them to talk and interact with their surroundings.
As we continue to keep up to date on accessibility standards, we should also be able to appeal to a wider audience through programming accessible for all types of learners.

 

What kinds of accessible programs have you learned about? Are there any methods that your institutions have practiced? What worked and/or what were the lessons learned from those experiences?
Announcement: On my website, I have included more resources especially about how to prepare for natural disasters and museums reactions to Hurricane Harvey. Take a look at https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.wordpress.com/resources/articles-I-am-reading/

The Future of Museum Education

Originally posted on Medium. January 5, 2017.

2017! It has been a few days since it has officially become the new year, and it has been so far so good. Everyone around this time of year hopes to start accomplishing their new year’s resolutions and I am no exception. To start the new year, I am going to be fulfilling my resolutions to be a better person and a better professional. I always strive to be a better person but it is important to remind myself about the important things in life, and if we all strive to be better people I believe we can make the world a better place for the individuals we treat well. In addition to fulfilling personal resolutions for the new year, I have also been researching about the future of museum education and the trends of museums.

I read Trendswatch 2016 published by American Alliance of Museums Center for the Future of Museums. For each year, the American Alliance of Museums has written a guide for museums to help shape their futures based on cultural, political, and economic challenges by doing the following: monitoring cultural, technological, political, and economic trends that are significant for museums; assist with museums to share with their communities challenges that will be faced for decades to come; and builds connections between museums and other sectors in the country. Trendswatch 2016 is written about trends that occurred in 2015 to predict what may occur for 2016, and it discusses the future of jobs as well as the use of technology especially digital technology used in museums and the relationship between museums and identity. This report discusses the 2015 trends in five articles after introducing the guide as well as providing examples of how organizations could use the report.

The first article was written about labor continuing to be reshaped by technological, cultural, and economical changes in the United States; technological advances will continue to reshape the nature of work, culture, and our economy. The second article discusses the 25th anniversary of the American Disabilities Act being passed and hypothesizes what the next 25 years will be like for creating equity for all people in diverse states; advances in technology has allowed museums to expand the spectrum of human physical, sensory, and cognitive abilities. In the third article, it shares information about augmented reality and virtual reality technologies that hold promise and peril for museums and argues that if AR and VR experiences become widely accessible and affordable museums will need to sharpen their positions and value the proposition within their communities. The fourth article pointed out that museums have found themselves entangled in the struggle over representation, identity and material culture. The fifth article argues that it is important to remind ourselves to make us happy we need to measure how we feel rather than money by revealing that people as well as organizations are rebelling against the focus on finance to point out the government has fostered accumulation of wealth at the expense of health, sustainability, and wellbeing. If we redefine success to include not just cash, museums will have the capability to make sizable contributions to our communities.

While I read these articles, one question came to mind: What will Trendswatch 2017 look like when it is published? If I was writing about trends in Trendswatch 2017, I believe a lot of the trends introduced in the most current report would reveal they continue to develop in 2016 and then start discussing how museums would be effected by introducing the new presidential administration. Then I read about trends for museum education to help me foster and improve my knowledge of the field.

I read Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem, also published by the Center for the Future of Museums and published in September 2013, is a bunch of essays by educators, students, researchers, and reformers that explore how leaders from the worlds of education and museums to combine its assets to create ways to make education better for the future. Each essay reinforces the idea that it is important to help schools and education organizations see museums can tailor their educational programs to the needs of state and local curriculum standards. Also, the essays discuss possible futures for education including vibrant learning grid (all who care about learning create a personalized learning ecosystem to meet the needs of all learners) and a fractured landscape (families who have the time, money, and resources to customize or supplement their learning experience have access to learning that adapts to their needs). They also emphasize the need to allow students to work on projects that are related and adapted to the real world of museums, businesses, organizations and communities.

It is important to figure out the future of museums and museum education all staff members need to emphasize the significance museums have in our communities now. What do you think about where education is going in our country?

Book Review: Programming for People with Special Needs

Originally posted on Medium. November 23, 2016.

This week I am wrote a book review on Katie Stringer’s Programming for People with Special Needs: A Guide for Museums and Historic Sites which is about creating programs and exhibits that are accessible for all visitors especially visitors with special needs. I personally enjoyed reading this book because it gave me more insight on programming I am familiar with to an extent, and it made me reflect on my own experiences as a museum goer and professional. In my first blog post, I stated that as a kid museums have helped supplement my education whether I went during field trips or during family visits to various museums including Plimoth Plantation.

Each school year growing up, my educational plan would be adjusted since my summer experiences would give me various experiences that would change the way I learned from the previous year. My teachers understood that my mind was always changing so the lessons are planned accordingly and my Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P) was adjusted after each review. A part of my altering learning experiences I have always owed to my visits to museums. When I read the book, I saw the content from the perspective as a museum professional and as a former child with learning differences; I liked how Stringer handled the material and that she understood that programs would need to be adjusted to make sure all visitors get the full experience of what museums can offer. I recommend reading this book to at least get started on planning for your museums and/or at least to get to know how to address all audiences from all backgrounds including those with special needs.

Stringer’s book had six chapters dedicated to creating programs for every visitor especially for visitors with special needs. The first chapter introduces the book explaining museums as educational centers and brief history of disability in the United States. The second chapter shares details on etiquette on how to interact with visitors who have disabilities. The third chapter is dedicated to defining universal design and how museums and historic sites can benefit from implementing programs, exhibits, and spaces adhering to universal design standards. The fourth chapter reviews programs at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the New York Transit Museum, and explain what the programs are as well as the ways to adapt those programs for various audiences are explored. The fifth chapter is a case study from Tennessee of best practices for creating museum programs for all visitors especially those with special needs. The sixth chapter is the concluding chapter which ends with suggestions for museum professionals to make their own museums universally designed and accessible for audiences with special needs. Each of the chapters are divided into sections to explain certain aspects of creating programs for all audiences.

Chapter one discusses the museums’ roles as centers for education, disability rights and awareness, early exhibitions of people with disabilities. The chapter is divided into a couple of sections on museums’ roles in education and history of disabilities in the United States. The first section is called The Role of Museums as Centers for Educations which explained the history of museums and how they became to be centers for education as well as understanding museums’ roles in education. The second section is called Disability Rights and Awareness. Stringer explained the history of disability rights which began during John F. Kennedy’s presidency in the 1960s and led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The third section was called Early Exhibitions of People with Disabilities in which she talked about when individuals with disabilities were part of traveling circuses, sideshows, and dime museums; she iterated in the section that museums today want to appeal to as broad of an audience as possible, and explained the historical legacy of discrimination with focus on people with intellectual disabilities and other related cognitive and developmental disabilities. The last section was called Accessibility at Museums and Historic Sites and she discussed the ways historic sites and museums must do to adjust to make them more accessible.

Chapter two is dedicated to sensitivity and awareness of visitors with special needs and disabilities. The sections in this chapter include strategies and techniques for welcoming all visitors, workshops and training opportunities, and museums leading by example. Stringer explained in detail strategies and techniques to welcome all visitors, and emphasized that all museums should form partnerships and consultation groups that include community members who have disabilities. The workshops and training opportunities section reveals various examples for professional development for museum professionals such as information for staff training at the British Museum called “Disability Awareness Scheme”; it offers training for museum employees and volunteers through the SHAPE program, training for all visitor service and security staff by the access manager employed by the museum, and visual awareness training for visitor service staff. She also provided details about a few museums that are leading by example of innovative programs and opportunities for both staff and the public to learn more about disabilities and sensitivity including the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia which hosted an Autism Awareness Night in 2009. The Autism Awareness Night is a program for one evening the museum was open to families and children with autism, and the program was so successful that in 2010 the Please Touch Museum opened for a Disability Awareness Night for all children and families with disabilities.

Chapter three has examples of museums utilizing universal design successfully including the Boston Museum of Science, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Royal Ontario Museum. The Boston Museum of Science created accessible exhibits that every visitor can easily use. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a program referred to as “seeing through drawing” which is an activity for individuals with sight impairment. The Royal Ontario Museum offers Braille and large print booklets for visitors with sight impairments. There is a section about universal design in learning which focuses on the four essentials of universal design. The four essentials of universal design are to ensure that the lesson represents information in multiple formats and media, provides multiple pathways for students’ actions and expressions, provides multiple ways to engage students’ interests and motivation, and occurs in a safe environment. Stringer stated in the book that museum educators should remember these aspects creating lesson plans and programs for any groups. Chapter four has examples that are selected from museums that represent art museums, science and technology museums, and historic sites and history museums. The museums included in the book’s examples are MOMA, Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, Florida, New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum, Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution Museums in Washington, D.C. The programs from these museums highlighted in the book vary from those offered to senior adults, to children with disabilities, and to families that have a member with a disability.
In the Museum of Contemporary Art’s program, Stringer stated the museum staff stress that their program is not a field trip experience but rather community based instruction. A field trip is a visit or an isolated experience that supplements the curriculum; meanwhile community-based instruction relates to goals in the school, ongoing instruction, and continuing reinforcement and can translate to the real world instead of only the classroom. When I was a kid attending museums with my school, I assumed that museums are all about sharing its space for school field trips and for families visiting the museum. With experience in the museum field as a museum educator, I saw that museums are more than field trips and family trips; museums have and explore many ways to reach out to the community to use resources that explain the shared relationship museums and communities have in our society. Stringer explained there are opportunities for adaptation and integration at small museums and historic sites.

Chapter five explores the process of creating educational programming for children with special needs and the elements that create successful programs. There are seven key elements for effective programs that were explained and visually displayed in a table with details about each key concept and their purpose. The seven key concepts are sensitivity and awareness training, planning and communication, timing, engagement, object centered and inquiry-based, structure, and flexibility. I agree with Stringer when she reiterates that flexibility is essential for any museum work because we can plan for any possible outcome in each of our lessons but something unexpected will always happen no matter which group we work with; we come up with as many backup scenarios as we can to make sure we can still have successful programs for visiting individuals especially visitors with special needs or disabilities. The chapter also discusses a survey that were given to educators working with individuals with special needs; this survey asked questions including do they take them on field trips, kinds of disabilities they work with, desired learning experience from trip, and educator references for programs. The results of this survey were displayed in pie charts giving museum educators an idea of what other educators’ expectations were from the museums. Stringer stated that the takeaway from the survey was some people still believe that museums are not places where all students are welcome because of noise or behavioral problems that students may cause. Our museums have a long way to go to create programs and exhibits that can reach to all our audiences but the result will be worth it.

In the last chapter, it discusses the future of adapting programs for each visitor especially individuals with special needs. I am personally glad that the book is honest by not saying museums have completely figured out programming for all visitors of various backgrounds. Stringer revealed that the book does not explore all the options in the relatively new field of programs for people with special needs, and the field continues to grow as the population becomes more aware of the growing population of individuals with disabilities. I believe this book is a good starting point for museums to adapt their programs for all visitors of various abilities, and we need to use the experiences the museums in this book had as references for our own museums to follow suit. If we do not continue to adapt our lessons for our surrounding communities, we risk alienating people who could enjoy the experiences as well as learn from them.

Stringer’s book opened my eyes to ideas and concepts that I’m already aware of as a museum educator and things I was not aware of at the same time. For instance, I did not know about the Museum Access Consortium (MAC) of New York City which allows museum staff, volunteers, community members, and educators opportunities to discuss strategies together and to develop successful programs. Since I am still new to the museum community in New York, I am not surprised that I have not heard about this organization. This looks like a great resource I would use as I create lessons for all visitors of various abilities. Also, I learned more about audiences I have not worked with before; as a museum educator, I have worked on occasion with students with learning differences and I have worked with adults with memory loss in various programs. I have very limited experience working with children with autism for instance; Stringer found helpful advice on creating activities for children with autism including plan for multiple levels of development, incorporate levels of sense involvement, activities build success at any level in process and/or product, provide visual cues in set up, minimize distracting incorporate areas for sensory down time, and always have a backup plan. This advice will be very helpful for me and for museum professionals when creating programs for children with autism.

The experience I do have, other than working on occasion with visitors with disabilities at the museums I worked at in Connecticut, is at the Long Island Museum I worked with adults with memory loss in the “In the Moment” program. The “In the Moment” program is a hands-on program that allows individuals with memory loss engage with LIM’s exhibits to stimulate their own memories. Each experience is different depending on what exhibit the day care service or Alzheimer’s Association group is interested in; a program is developed each time a new exhibit is installed. At each exhibit, the exhibit is viewed and a few items or sections are chosen as topics of discussion for the group; questions are brainstormed for them to answer; either music or objects are chosen to help connect with the exhibit and inspire discussion; and provide cookies, juice, and photographs of the featured items to bring home with them. At LIM’s Long Island in the Sixties exhibit, for instance, music of the 1960s was chosen that represented different sections of the exhibit and the pictures chosen were of a dress from the era, the set up for a girl’s bedroom in the 1960s, and the New York Mets section of the exhibit. From my experience, not every individual automatically start talking about what they see or what an item reminds them of but it allows them to be outside of their environments to experience something new or different; and it is always interesting to see what they enjoyed about the exhibit and what stimulated their memories. One woman was so moved by her experience that she started talking about all her life’s experiences including the fact that her family came from Italy and that she used to be a teacher. I always smiled whenever I get an opportunity to work with them so I can make a difference in their experiences. I wish Stringer’s book went into detail about programs for people with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other related memory loss, but someday there may be a book that will address more on how to create these programs if there isn’t already.

I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving! Be good to one another and be safe!