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Seven awesome accessibility features at the Museum

By Matthew McRae

A hand touches braille letters on a sign listing various locations in the Museum.

Photo: CMHR, Ian McCausland

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Think about the last place you visited. Was it easy to get around? Could you find everything you were looking for? Were you able to do everything you wanted to do? 

When accessing a place is easy, we often take it for granted. But when a space isn’t accessible, it can be frustrating and isolating. That’s why the Canadian Museum for Human Rights was designed with accessibility in mind. We wanted everyone to be able to enjoy our exhibitions and galleries, including people with disabilities. As a result, the Museum experience has been enhanced for everyone. 

Here are seven awesome features you can find here at the Museum that help to create an inclusive and accessible experience for everyone.

The Universal Key Pad allows all visitors to access the information available in the Museum’s touchscreen kiosks.

Photo: CMHR, Ian McCausland

1. Universal Key Pads

The Museum uses the latest technology to tell the stories of human rights. Often, important and interesting information about our exhibitions is located in touchscreen kiosks found in almost every gallery. But if a visitor is blind or has low vision or restricted mobility, how can they get at the stories presented in those kiosks? That’s where the Universal Key Pads (UKP) come in. These large, tactile keypads use simple symbols and audio instructions to help visitors navigate through the kiosks and discover exhibit content through audio tracks. These keypads are found beside nearly every touchscreen kiosk in the Museum and include a headphone jack and volume control for users.

There are also simpler UKPs in theatres or near some non-navigable monitors; these offer only basic volume controls in addition of audio tracks available through headphones.

We thank the Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD) for its support in creating this accessibility feature.

Slideshow

  • The Museum contains more than 120 Universal Access Points that visitors can use in sync with the Museum’s mobile app.

    Photo: CMHR, Ian McCausland
  • Cane stops allow visually impaired visitors who use a cane for navigation to locate accessible features such as Universal Access Points.

    Photo: CMHR, Ian McCausland

2. Universal Access Points

So, the UKP helps make the Museum’s digital content available to everybody – but what about the Museum’s physical content? The artifacts and photographs, and their text descriptions? Don’t worry, we have you covered. The Museum has created its own unique system in the form of over 120 Universal Access Points (UAP).

A UAP doesn’t look like much – it’s a small metal square that features a number and a braille version of that same number. But don’t be fooled by its humble appearance. The UAP connects visitors to all kinds of information about an exhibit or a gallery. Using a personal wireless device, you can punch the number into the Museum’s mobile app and hear about the exhibit in front of you. In some instances, American Sign Language (ASL) and Langue de signes québécoise (LSQ) are available as well.

If you aren’t able to punch in the numbers, the UAP also produces a Bluetooth signal that can send the information directly to your mobile device. If you don’t have a mobile device, no problem – the Museum can lend one for free.

To help visually impaired visitors locate the UAPs, there is a raised strip on the floor, indicating that a UAP is nearby. Visitors who use a long cane to navigate their route will discover the presence of a UAP when their cane touches one of the floor strips. 

The Museum’s mobile app has many features, including fully accessible self-guided tours.

Photo: CMHR, Ian McCausland

3. The Museum’s mobile app

The mobile app itself opens up a whole new world. In addition to accessing the UAP information, the app also contains fully accessible self-guided tours and an interactive map. The tours are available in ASL, LSQ and both French and English with audio description.

Want to explore the Bentwood Box that the Museum welcomed for a time and that has now been returned to the National Centre For Truth and Reconciliation? The app will let you zoom in to the carvings as close as you’d like and provide information about their symbolism. Another feature worth checking out is the augmented reality in the Israel Asper Tower of Hope and near the terrace connected to the Indigenous Perspectives gallery. If you look out at the city, the app will use the camera on your mobile device to tell you more about the Winnipeg landmarks you can see near the Museum.

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.

Photo: CMHR, Ian McCausland

4. Accessible galleries

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 need to push themselves up from a seated position.

There are also over 800 metres of glowing, alabaster-clad ramps crisscrossing from one Museum gallery to another. The ramps are very photogenic, but they weren’t just built for sharing on Instagram. Thanks to the ramps, you can travel through all 10 of our core galleries without ever having to take any stairs. For those who prefer, there are a number of accessible elevators in the building, providing access to any level, including the Israel Asper Tower of Hope.

Last but not least, the Museum’s washrooms have also been designed to be accessible to all. Each level (except Level 4) includes at least one gender-inclusive, barrier-free, single-room washroom. As well, one of the washrooms on Level 1 of the Museum is equipped with an adult-sized change table, and baby change tables are located in washrooms on each floor.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights has, in our opinion, as the parents of a child with special needs, the best washroom in the country. It’s a place where parents of children with disabilities – many of whom are incontinent – can change a child and not have to put them on the floor, which is a pretty dirty place to change a child.

Kevin Rollason, Museum visitor

Tactile images like this one, created in collaboration with 3DPhotoworks, allow visually impaired visitors to experience some of the powerful images featured in the Museum’s galleries through touch and sound.

Photo: CMHR, Aaron Cohen

5. Tactile images

Not long after the Museum opened, we partnered with 3DPhotoworks to create tactile representations of some of the photographs and images featured in our galleries. These three-dimensional images are accompanied by audio descriptions so that visually impaired visitors can both feel the pictures and hear descriptions of what they are touching. These representations have been featured in a number of exhibitions, including Sight Unseen, Points of View and A Time to Act: Rohingya Voices.

Much work went into creating captions and sign language interpretation for the more than 100 hours of video featured in the Museum.

Photo: CMHR, Ian McCausland

6. Accessible films

The exhibits at the Museum contain over 100 hours of video. This includes seven feature films, including a 360-degree video, and 26 small format films, all offered in both French and English. We wanted to make sure these films could be enjoyed by the widest audience possible, so they all feature sign language interpretation and closed captions. Many also feature an option for audio description – which describes what is happening on screen – and individual volume controls. Preparing all these features involves many hours of work, but ensures more people can experience everything the Museum has to offer. 

For the first time, [my daughter] Madison was able to make her own way, learning alongside her brother Matthew and me about human rights champions who fought for her right to participate in society without being discriminated against because of her vision and hearing loss. To know that the Museum valued Madison learning as much as anyone else’s and to see her face light up with amazement and delight moved me to tears. I still hold onto that memory today as a reminder of what being equal feels like.

Estella Pinlac, Museum visitor

Images that the Museum shares on social media platforms – such as the Museum’s Instagram account, pictured above – all include an image description that is embedded in the image itself.

Photo: CMHR

7. Accessibility online

Technically, the Museum’s online content isn’t “at” the Museum, but it’s still an important part of the Museum experience. With French and English accounts combined, the Museum has tens of thousands of followers on Facebook, 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. These photo descriptions are accessed through screen readers. This way, people who are visually impaired will know what images we are sharing. For videos, we add captions for the hearing impaired as often as we can. On our website, we often provide audio description so that people with visual impairments can hear a description of what is happening on screen.

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.

There you have it – seven awesome accessibility features you’ll find at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Be sure to try some of them out for yourself on your next visit, whether in person or online.

Ask yourself:

Why is accessibility so important to upholding human rights?

What obstacles to accessibility do you see around you in your daily life?

How could your home, school or workplace be more accessible?