The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, in Article 27.1, that “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” Museums and heritage sites are certainly a central point of our cultural life, the arts and displays of scientific achievement, but how do we ensure that everyone can engage with these institutes and their exhibits? This is a question of Interpretation and Accessibility.
blackbox-av recently developed a bespoke Audio Frame 15 for the London Canal Museum. Part of this custom design was an enlarged faceplate, onto which a Braille plaque was fitted with instructions and information relating to the Audio Frame as well as the exhibit it supplemented. This was a simple addition to the device which enabled it to be useable to people with a diversity of needs and shows that enabling accessibility for everyone is a simple case of design and making use of what is already in practice.
The Audio Frame 15 is operated through push buttons on a panel and can be listened to through a handset, headphones or speakers speakers allowing for a range of listening and installation options. For the visually impaired, sound can play a vital role in their world but it also plays a role in the life of those are not visually or hearing impaired and can often be taken for granted. Fire alarms tell us when there is danger; the ping of a microwave tells us our food is ready and the sound of a car horn warns us when someone isn’t driving safely. If we could not hear any of these noises, our world would change considerably, yet they are common place and based on technology which is easy to obtain and utilize. The Audio Frame for the Canal Museum simply added directions and information to enable better access and use for those with a visual impairment, raising their awareness of the presence of a device they could use with ease to better enjoy the exhibits.
Our Video Frame 15 is a device which already has a considerable basis for universal access. Working with sound and video, our work with the Canal Museum has shown that the addition of Braille or other alternative instructions is as easy as working the device itself. Video benefits those with a hearing impairment whilst, as already discussed, audio assists those with a visual impairment lending the Video Frame to a huge audience of diverse needs; but there is one more consideration.
Recently, we posted an article in the blog called Creating Museum Audio Content. Point two of this guide was “Who are your audience?” If you do not consider your audience in the creation of audio content, or visual content for that matter, then they will not be able to relate to or use it. Audio which heavily references visual items may alienate those with visual impairments, whilst video which relies too much upon audio distances itself from those with additional hearing needs. Yet it is not difficult to adapt content to suit everyone. Description in audio can create a beautiful image in the mind of someone who is unable to engage visually with exhibits but it also draws attention to the finer points, points which may have been overlooked by someone with standard visual ability, helping them appreciate what they are experiencing as well.
Some of the greatest films ever produced were silent films. Before sound could be recorded with images, silent films and actors such as Charlie Chaplin conquered the world with their cleverly constructed stories, actions and occasional cards of writing for clarification or dialogue. Surely it is not beyond us now to create video which effectively communicates its content to people of varied physical backgrounds?
We should not be limiting access through neglect or lack of consideration. Simple alterations, adaptations and planning can open up a world of culture and appreciation for virtually everyone and the technology and capability already exists, we just need to remember that our audience is as diverse and interesting as the exhibits themselves.