Digital technology can make access to culture and knowledge easier. Many museums try to meet the requirements of all visitors - so people with and without disabilities.
A museum visit often begins on the internet as people gather information on current exhibitions. This is also when people with disabilities will find out if a visit will be possible for them. Often if the webpage is not barrier-free the museum isn't either.
Barrier-free serves everyone
Barrier-free means that people find information in a form that is accessible to all: sufficient color contrasts for people with impaired vision, as well as big buttons and switches. Information should also be available in sign language as well as simple language (texts are carefully rephrased to make them easier to understand). Domingos de Oliveira in Bonn is an expert on barrier-free webpages. He says: "Barrier-free serves everyone." Inclusion means all people can self-reliantly participate in society
It would be ideal because then it would be irrelevant if someone has a disability or not. Despite the UN convention on people with disabilities in 2008 making inclusion a fundamental right there is a lack of unitary standards. Webpages like the one for theBundeskunsthalle Art Museum in Bonn are still the exception rather than the rule. Buttons on a navigation menu help users select information in sign languages or simple language. In addition all information comes with diagrams. By choice the webpage avoids using the term "barrier-free". De Oliveira says: "From the beginning a page should be designed in such a manner that this category is no longer necessary." The homepage should appeal to all people.
Why can't museum exhibitions be available online? This way people with impaired vision or mobility can still get to engage and enjoy art, says de Oliveira, who himself is blind. Technically this is possible. What is lacking is the willingness to design exhibitions to be inclusive. There are reservations that artistic content might have to be modified, which is why the possibilities offered by digital media are often not fully used.
And yet there are several aids available, like the Audioscript project, which creates audio guides for the visually impaired or the "capito App" which transfers texts into simple language - where the user specifies the level of simplicity of language. In Aachen scientists developed - "SignGES"a program that translates information into sign language. Designer Antonia Eggeling came up with the idea for the "Lingusio" audio guide.
This scarf with integrated loudspeaker was developed with the help of people with learning difficulties, who contributed their interpretations of art objects.
Experiencing museums with all senses
Digital media help improve what museums have to offer says de Oliveira. The more specifically displays are tailored to the needs of different people the more likely they are to visit the museum. "It is therefore also an economic consideration," says de Oliveira
Museums that adapt and cater to people with disabilities will find that they'll come. "They tend to tell each other about places worth going to," says Gisela Moser, a tour guide for people with disabilities. Her work can include things like taking a group of blind people to a museum. TheHistorical Museum in Frankfurt is getting ready for new visitors. As of 2017 for instance they will launch a redesigned webpage, run subtitles at video displays as well as offer apps in simple language and those designed for people with impaired vision and hearing. The museum says it wants everyone to benefit from these improvements, not merely those with special needs.
Gisela Moser says that based on her experiences the most important thing apart from adapting the museum displays, is to have specially trained staff on hand. She tells us: "Great high-tech displays are one thing, but a wasted effort if the admissions staff doesn't know how to explain using the audio-guide to someone who is blind".
Elisa Makowski (epd)