The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) has embraced an approach to inclusive design that will set new Canadian and world standards for universal accessibility, its president announced today.
Cutting-edge technology, nation-wide input from the disability community, and pioneering Canadian research have ensured the Museum visitor experience is designed – right from its early planning phases – to include the full range of human diversity.
"In our Museum, disability will not be treated as a special condition, but as an ordinary part of life that affects us all," CMHR president and CEO Stuart Murray said at today's news conference with members of the disability community, the Museum's Inclusive Design Advisory Council and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.
"Our commitment is to treat each visitor, regardless of age or ability, as a unique individual who deserves an enriching experience," Murray said. "That means using things like multisensory technology and design expertise, so everyone can participate equally – whether blind or Deaf, in a wheelchair, intellectually challenged or culturally diverse. No other Canadian institution has ever been able to approach accessibility in this way."
Smithsonian guidelines for accessible design will be met or exceeded, as will the most stringent criteria under the National Building Code and Web-based accessibility standards. A national testing group has also been created.
Murray also announced a memorandum of understanding has been signed with the Inclusive Design Research Centre at the Ontario College of Art and Design University to help develop interface/input devices for touch-screen and kiosk-based exhibits. Centre director Jutta Treviranus said their uniquely Canadian approach to digital accessibility, adopted by the CMHR, has become a guiding example for the United States government, European Union and other jurisdictions around the world.
"The Museum's bold, new approach is an amazing opportunity for accessibility to permeate all aspects of design right from the beginning – as opposed to tacking it on later," she said. "The timing is perfect because the technology now exists to take accessibility to a new level that was not possible before."
Winnipeg human-rights lawyer Yvonne Peters, who is blind, said access issues go far beyond moving wheelchairs through doors. "I get very frustrated when I go to Museums and often feel alienated," she said. "I want to be included in an experience that is designed to include me, where my needs are not considered as an afterthought."
Laurie Beachell, national coordinator of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, welcomed the Museum's commitment to address accessibility issues on an ongoing basis – creating modular components that can be updated as needs arise and technology evolves. Concerns initially identified by members of the disability community have helped guide the Museum's current approach, including creation of a nation-wide Advisory Council to provide analysis and feedback on a wide variety of elements.
"The exciting thing for people with disabilities is not only that a space is being created for a new understanding of human rights, but that it will also be fully accessible," Beachell said. "As our understanding of human rights evolves, so will our understanding of access and inclusive design. The disability community is pleased to be part of something that can raise awareness about what inclusion really means."
The CMHR is hosting a meeting tonight with members of the disability community to explain its inclusive design approach and Museum content related to disability rights.
Examples of the Museum's approach to inclusive design and accessibility can be found in the attached backgrounder.
Currently under construction in Winnipeg, the CMHR is the first museum solely dedicated to the evolution, celebration and future of human rights in Canada. It is the first national museum to be established since 1967 and the first outside the National Capital Region.
Find our more at www.museumforhumanrights.ca, follow us on Twitter at @cmhr_news or like our Facebook page.
Examples of the CMHR approach to inclusive design include:
- A unique tactile keyboard, conceived by the Museum and vetted by the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD. Incorporated into touchscreen installations, it will enable visually impaired and mobility restricted visitors to navigate digital exhibit information and access inclusive functions without needing to seek assistance.
- Software interfaces designed and developed to go beyond best practices in areas like colour contrast, reach, visual and functional hierarchy (for ease of digital navigation and comprehension) and other usability aspects.
- Tactile wall and floor elements to indicate the location and orientation of various exhibits and assist in wayfinding.
- Film and video that includes open captioning, descriptive video (audio track), American Sign Language (ASL) and Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ).
- Positioning of text panels and other visual elements that consider distance and angles for people with low vision lines, such as those in wheelchairs.
- Exhibit tactile markers that provide information about accessibility options for exhibits and gallery zones using clear, raised type and graphic icons, and Braille.
- High contrast visual elements and text to accommodate low-vision visitors, with consideration to other visual disabilities such as colour blindness or dyslexia.
- Mobile and digital media that incorporate elements like closed and open captioning, described video, ASL, and LSQ. The Museum is also investigating Near Field Communication technology which would prompt visitors when (via proximity) to access descriptions and supplemental interpretation on mobile devices.
- Staff training that ensures interpretive programming and visitor interactions are inclusive and mindful of a full range of accessibility needs.
- Graphic standards that meet or surpass Smithsonian guidelines for text organization and visual presentations that consider features such as easily legible typeface, font size, weight, contrast and proportion.
- Physical design and wayfinding techniques such as accessible ramp elevation, doorway clearances, and mobility issues – especially important given the Museum's complex architecture.
- Consideration of the needs of people with intellectual disabilities, children, the elderly, those with language barriers, and the mentally ill.