Planning Accessible Virtual Events

In the time that we have been at home to limit the spread of covid-19, I have attended three online conferences, presented in a webinar, and had numerous zoom calls. Even as we re-open, I expect online meetings to continue to be common. I am sharing resources with information on planning virtual events that are accessible to people with disabilities. This list of helpful links was prepared by Robin Marquis, an Accessibility in the Arts Consultant who works in Baltimore and Washington D.C.


Rooted Rights: How to Make Your Virtual Meetings and Events Accessible to the Disability Community

National Endowment for the Arts: Resources to Help Ensure Accessibility for your Virtual Events for People with Disabilities

Cooper Hewitt Guidelines for Image Description

National Center on Disability and Journalism: Disability Language Style Guide (available in Spanish and English)

We presented this Online Inclusion Webinar for the Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture. The video is near the bottom of this events page under the heading for online lectures and webinars.

accessibility publications research

Attitudes of Blind People About Museums

In 2018, my colleague, Don Winiecki, and I conducted an online survey that collected data about the museum experiences of adults who are blind or have low vision. We document strategies that survey participants employ to gain information about the content of exhibits despite facing access barriers to their participation. Strategies can be characterized as either in-sourcing (using resources provided by museums, or out-sourcing (gathering information from sources not provided by the museum, for example a sighted companion or third-party accessibility application on a personal device). I presented a paper about the survey results at MW20.

accessibility exhibits publications research

museum information on cell phones

The smartphones that many of us use daily have the ability to receive content about museum exhibits. People who are blind or have low vision can use their preferred accessibility settings on their personal devices to access content in museum exhibits. I presented work on this topic at the MW20 conference. Here is the link to my paper.


What is MuseumSenses?

MuseumSenses is a product of my unique experience as an archaeologist and museum professional who also happens to be blind. While conducting my doctoral research on variation in stone projectile points, (spear tips), I became familiar with the behind-the-scenes of museums where research occurs. In these research areas, careful handling of artifacts is expected. I would investigate artifacts by touch while my sighted colleagues primarily relied upon their vision.

Contrast the openness of research settings with public areas of museums where artifacts are generally inaccessible to me because they are kept in display cases where they can only be seen. Over the years, I have had conversations with blind people who express frustrations with the inaccessibility of museum exhibits. Most blind people, and sighted people for that matter, will only experience the public areas of museums. They will not feel the excitement of examining artifacts in a laboratory setting.

I relish the opportunity to create multisensory experiences for both blind and sighted people. For example, my colleagues and I designed a prototype of a traveling exhibit containing 3-D printed replicas of stone projectile points found at archaeological sites. Then we attached QR-codes to the replicas that, when scanned with a smartphone, opened a webpage with more information about that artifact.

Similarly, I helped to organize a multisensory art exhibit that ran in Baltimore during June and July 2019. The Art displayed in the “Ways of Seeing” exhibition included paintings, sculpture, wood carving, and works comprised of mixed media. Artworks were designed to be experienced through all five senses, primarily sight and touch. About 375 people attended the show and associated programming. The organizing team expected to receive positive feedback from blind people, but we were pleasantly surprised to learn that sighted people also enjoyed touching the art.

I can leverage my research skills and my lived-experience as a blind person to develop exhibits that are accessible to both blind and sighted audiences. My work includes:

*Conducting research about the attitudes of blind people towards museums using surveys to quantify participant responses.

*exploring responses of sighted people when they encounter multisensory exhibits

*Developing innovative accessibility solutions that convey information in tactile and audio formats enabling blind people to participate more fully in the offerings of museums and other cultural organizations.

*Promoting the development of inclusive content that can be experienced by mixed groups of blind and sighted people.

Future posts on MuseumSenses will describe my work. I also intend to highlight the work of other organizations when it promotes the integration of blind and sighted audiences at the same exhibit or program.