Raising the bar for inclusivity and access in museums

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) addressing the rights of persons with disabilities?

The CMHR will tell, among others, stories about the struggle for and achievement of rights for people with disabilities. Talking about the rights of people with disabilities is important, but it is not enough. The CMHR aims to develop inclusive and accessible practices in all aspects of its exhibits, programs, and the building itself!

The CMHR exhibit program has many Media and Technology based components. This being the case, is it possible for all visitors – online or in the Museum- to experience the exhibits, programs, and content being developed for the Museum?

For the CMHR, digital technologies will not be an obstacle to participation. In fact, the CMHR is using technology to facilitate interactive experiences, encourage reflection and dialogue, and provide every visitor with an appropriate equivalent experience. What this means is that is that every CMHR visitor, both online and in gallery, regardless of age or ability, will be able to enjoy and participate in the experience.

How can a museum be inclusively designed and universally accessible?

Part of the CMHR’s process to create an inclusive and accessible museum has been to form the Inclusive Design Advisory Council (IDAC). This Council, which first met in September of 2011, is made up of eight experts, advisors, and activists in the field of disability rights. The purpose of IDAC is to provide analysis, identify gaps, and give feedback to the CMHR on a wide variety of elements of the Museum’s development including, among others, exhibit development, visitor services, education and programming, visitor research, digital media and technology, web, and prototyping. Ultimately, the goal of the Council is to help the Museum make informed decisions.


Braille marker

Coding exhibits with Braille markers


What are some difficulties that people with disabilities could encounter when they visit museums?

Some difficulties could be simply navigating space and finding exhibit elements. To mitigate this potential issue at the CMHR, the Museum is investigating coding exhibits with numeric and Braille markers coupled with near field communication. Depending on how the visitor is experiencing the Museum, they could then access descriptive audio on an exhibit by punching a code into a mobile device or simply walking near it.

The CMHR is also investigating tactile floor treatments, tactile maps, and 3-D models to orient the visitor and provide direction. We have experimented with these tools in our IDAC meetings as a way of explaining the overall museum structure and the shape of galleries.

3-D printed model of the Museum

3-D printed model of the CMHR to orient the visitor and provide direction

3-D printed model

3-D printed model of the CMHR: view from the tower of hope


More than adhering to current standards, the purpose of this process is to go beyond these standards, to raise-the-bar for inclusivity and access in museums.

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