National Gallery Accessibility Conference notes


I attended the National Gallery of Canada conference entitled "Collections, Connections, Communities: Making Museums and Galleries in Canada inclusive and accessible". The conference was an event that covered ideas of inclusion and accessibility in the museum world. Some broad themes were:
- Universal and inclusive exhibition design
- Museum human resources (e.g. staff training and awareness around disability issues, hiring policy)
- Programming (e.g. inclusively designed general programs, and programs tailored to specific audiences)
- Representation of disabled and Deaf artists in museum collections
- Experiences of disabled and Deaf museum visitors
- Law & policy
This being said, I tried to attend sessions that had a focus on technology and exhibition design. My notes from these sessions, and further resources, are below.

As well, here is the script of John Rae's keynote presentation.

Exhibition design for Access: A universal design approach

- this presentation was quite critical of the "one size fits all" aspect of universal design. it emphasized the importance of universal design as a baseline, and going beyond this by doing consultation with community stakeholders and by doing user testing.
- Brian Casey, an education specialist at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, gave an overview of the museum's "Braille: Knowledge at your Fingertips" exhibition (more info here). This was a partnership between the museum and the CNIB.
- a discussion about access barriers in museums followed. Access barriers discussed were: wayfinding; modality translation; small font sizes; physical affordances; language related (e.g. French? English? ASL?); lack of visual aids to address low vision (e.g. colour blindness, colour contrast); cost of attending museums; museum hours
- solutions to these access bariers were discussed: better architecture & signage; legislation; frontline staff training; information and promotion of accessibility affordances

Checklist for "Universal Design" in museums:
1. start with physical access, keeping in mind:
a) circulation - can traffic (esp. wheelchair users, people w/ service dogs) move around the artifact or display?
b) is the furniture height appropriate?
c) is there knee clearance underneath?
2. Visibility
a) viewing angles
b) lighting levels
c) barriers to visibility?
3. Protection & Security
a) is the collection secure?
b) conservation requirements taken care of?
c) staff & visitor safety
4) Information treatment
a) visual communication
b) attraction
c) text size & contrast
5) Check in
consultation with stakeholder communities & user testing should occur iteratively along points 1-5.

Accessible Websites and Accessing Collections Through the Web

In this session, Benoît Fontaine of the National Gallery Canada gave a very basic introduction to Web accessibility and emphasized using W3C & WebAim standards, and user testing. Mike Potvin of Canadian Council of the Blind gave a JAWS demo.

We were also introduced to the MOMA's visual descriptions Website as a "best practice" example for providing non-visual access to their collection. MOMA's accessibility page.

Multi-modal Learning and Museums

Nina Levant of Art Beyond Sight gave this presentation and my notes don't do it justice so I encourage consulting her Webiste for many practical examples. She talked a lot about participation and inclusion to exhibits. Her basic principle is that participation/use of exhibits should be able to occur in as independently as possible (usability!). Accessibility should be "transparent" and not segragated.

Accountability , Responsibility and Liability: What You Need to Know About Human Rights Law and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

The most relevant take-away point for Engage, vis a vis the law, is that we should stay on top of legislation because museum will be and are affected by laws (e.g. the Americans with Disability Act, AODA) and incorporate the necessary compliances into our designs. For example, customer service rules are about to come into affect in Ontario, and this is something museums will have to prepare for (e.g. are frontline staff, info desk people, docents trained?). Because the AODA is evolving, we should keep checking back.

Factoid: In Canada Federal human rights law gives a broad definition of "disability", which encompases psychiatric conditions, mobility impairments, learning disabilities, sensory disabilities, and environmental disabilities.