Six Awesome Accessibility Features #AtCMHR

Thursday, August 18, 2016
The Museum contains more than 120 Universal Access Points that visitors can use in synch with the Museum’s mobile app. Photo: Ian McCausland/CMHR

Early on in the construction of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, we realized we had a tremendous opportunity to create one of the most accessible Museums in the world. Sometimes, when a product or a building is designed, accessibility is only considered later on. Here at the Museum, however, we decided to think about accessibility right from the beginning. We wanted persons with disabilities to be able to fully experience our exhibitions and galleries and so we asked ourselves how the Museum could provide an inclusive experience for all visitors. As a result, the Museum experience has been enhanced for everyone, regardless of their ability. 

This level of accessibility would not have been possible without the work of the Inclusive Design Advisory Council (IDAC). Made up of experts, advisors and activists in the field of disability rights, IDAC provides analysis, identifies gaps and gives feedback to the Museum on a wide variety of issues relating to accessibility.

The advice and guidance of IDAC has helped make the Museum inclusive in many different ways. Some of our accessibility features use cutting-edge technology to open up our exhibitions and galleries. Others are very simple, but still incredibly innovative and important. These features are often built seamlessly into the Museum’s galleries and exhibits – if you’re not seeking them out, you might not even be aware that they exist, or that you are using them yourself! With that in mind, we thought we would share with you six of the awesome features you can find here at the Museum that help to create an inclusive and accessible experience for everyone.


1. Universal Key Pads

A hand holding a headphone jack reaches out to plug the jack into an outlet. Above the outlet is a keypad with various symbols on the keys.
The Universal Key Pad allows all visitors to access the information available in the Museum’s touchscreen kiosks. Photo: Ian McCausland/CMHR


The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a digital museum – often, important and interesting information about our exhibitions is located in touchscreen kiosks found in almost every gallery. But if a visitor is blind, vision-impaired, or has mobility problems, how can they get at the stories presented in those kiosks? That’s where the Universal Key Pad (UKP) comes in. It is a tactile keypad that uses simple symbols and audio instructions to help visitors navigate through the kiosks and find the information they’re looking for. They are found beside nearly every touchscreen kiosk in the Museum. The UKP also has a headphone jack to provide volume control for users, and headphone sets are available to visitors at the Ticketing and Information desk. The entire setup was designed with the help of the Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD).


2. Universal Access Points

A hand reaches out to a Universal Access Point, which is a small metal square attached to a wall. The square has the number 241 imprinted on it, as well as braille writing and a Bluetooth symbol.
The Museum contains more than 120 Universal Access Points that visitors can use in synch with the Museum’s mobile app. Photo: Ian McCausland/CMHR


So the UKP helps make the Museum’s digital content available to everybody – what about the Museum’s physical content – the exhibition text, photographs and artifacts? Don’t worry, we have you covered. The Museum has created its own unique system – over 120 Universal Access Points (UAP). A UAP doesn’t look like much – it is a small metal square which features a number and a braille version of that same number. There are also “cane stop” strips on the floor, to alert those who are visually impaired that they are near a UAP. But don’t be fooled by its humble appearance – the UAP number connects visitors to all kinds of information about an exhibit or a gallery. The visitor can punch the number into the Museum’s mobile app on their wireless device and begin hearing about the physical exhibit that is in front of them. In some instances, American Sign Language (ASL) and Langue de signes québécoise (LSQ) are available from the UAP as well. If the visitor can’t punch in the numbers, the UAP also gives off a Bluetooth signal, so the visitor can simply accept that signal to access content that is close to them, using a function in the app called “Near me.” If you don’t have a mobile device, no problem – the Museum loans mobile devices for free, available at the Ticketing and Information desk.


3. The Museum’s mobile app

Two hands hold a smart phone in front of a museum exhibit. On the phone screen, a woman can be seen doing sign language interpretation. French subtitles are also visible.
The Museum’s mobile app has many features, including a fully accessible self-guided tour. Photo: Ian McCausland/CMHR


The mobile app itself opens up a whole new world to visitors. In addition to accessing the UAP information, the mobile app also contains a fully accessible self-guided tour and an interactive map. The self-guided tours are also available in ASL, LSQ and both French and English with audio description. Want to explore the Bentwood Box on display at the Museum in more detail?  The app will let you zoom in to the carvings as close as you’d like. If that’s not enough, you should check out the augmented reality – in the Israel Asper Tower of Hope, and near the terrace connected to the Indigenous Perspectives gallery. You can look out at the city and the app, using the camera in your mobile device, will tell you more about the Winnipeg landmarks that are in front of you.


4. Designing accessible galleries

An image with a glowing white alabaster ramp in the foreground with two silver railings running parallel to each other at different heights. In the background there is a grey bench with a back and arms.
The ramps at the Museum feature double railings for different height levels and rest stops at intervals along the route. These are only a few of the accessible features designed into the building itself. Photo: Ian McCausland/CMHR


Not all the accessible features at the Museum are the result of high-tech wizardry. Some are just the product of good design choices. For example, the height of exhibit displays and digital touchscreens were selected for optimal reach distances whether the user is sitting or standing. Similarly, the size and typeface of the texts on display were chosen for easy viewing. Design choices weren’t restricted to the exhibitions, either. All of the benches in the Museum feature arms and backs – and that was a conscious choice. The backs provide support to those who need it, and the arms can be used by those who require arms to push themselves up from a seating position. There are also over 800 metres of glowing, alabaster-clad ramps crisscrossing the Museum galleries. The ramps are very photogenic, but they weren’t just built for photo opportunities. A visitor can travel through all 10 of our core galleries without ever having to take any stairs. They have double railings for different height levels and there are also rest stops located at intervals along the way, so visitors can take a moment to relax. The ramps are a very important part of making the Museum accessible. For those who prefer, there are a number of accessible elevators in the building, allowing visitors to access any level they want, including the Israel Asper Tower of Hope.


5. Accessible films

A man stands in front of a screen playing a film that shows an adult working with a child. English subtitles and a sign language interpreter are also displayed on the screen.
Much work went into creating captions and sign language interpretation for the more than 100 hours of video featured in the Museum. Photo: Ian McCausland/CMHR


The exhibits at the Museum contain over 100 hours of video. This includes five feature films, including a 360-degree production, and 26 small format films – and all these films are in both French and English. We wanted to make sure these films could be enjoyed by the widest audience possible, and so all our films feature sign language interpretation and closed captions. Many also feature the option for described video – that will describe what is happening on screen – and individual volume control. Preparing all these features involves many hours of work, but makes sure more people can experience everything the Museum has to offer.


6. Accessibility Online

A post from the Museum’s Facebook page features a photo of Mark Tewksbury speaking at a podium. On the right hand side of the post, a detailed description of the photo is written.
Images that the Museum shares on social media – like this photo of Mark Tewksbury – are accompanied by a photo description. Photo: Aaron Cohen/CMHR


Technically, the Museum’s online content isn’t “at” the Museum, but it’s still an important part of the Museum experience. French and English combined, the Museum has more than 14,000 followers on Facebook and over 9,000 followers on Instagram and Twitter. If you follow us on social media, you might have noticed that whenever we share a picture, we include a photo description. On Facebook and Instagram, it is written at the end of the post, while on Twitter it’s written as a reply to the original tweet. This way people who are visually impaired can know what images we are sharing. For videos, we add captions for the hearing impaired as often as we can. We also try to provide audio description so that people with visual impairments can hear what is happening in the video. As we use new social media features like Facebook Live, we will continue to work to make our online content accessible to as many people as possible.  


There you have it – six awesome accessibility features you’ll find inside the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (or online). If you’d like to find out about why accessibility is so important and how people with disabilities experience the world, visit our exhibitions about disability rights in Canada and the world, and come check out our travelling exhibition – Sight Unseen: International Photography by Blind Artists. It is the first major exhibition of work by acclaimed international blind photographers, on display until September 18th. You can also participate in our #VoiceOverPhoto project, which challenges you to take photos on your mobile device without using your eyes.