In December 2020, as I reflect on the year, I am struck by how completely the closure of physical spaces pushed activity online. My work was no exception. Meetings became conference calls, physical exhibits moved to websites, and in-person conferences were transformed into online presentations.
collaboration was another theme for this year. I am thankful for the contributions of my smart and talented colleagues who contributed to the work that I produced in 2020.
The Unintended Consequences of Current Events
I found myself reflecting on how responses to the coronavirus pandemic affected people with disabilities. Here are essays that I wrote with colleagues for an online exhibit called
I created MuseumSenses last year, but I added most of its’ content after the Covid-19 pandemic started. Since many of us are spending a lot of time online now, I decided to write this post to draw back the curtain and reveal the process of creating a website and sharing content from it to my social media feeds.
##Step 1: Choose a Domain
Most people are familiar with common domains like .com, .org, and .edu, but there are other options. A domain name is the internet equivalent of a street address and purchasing a web domain is like buying a vacant lot. Just as titles are registered to property owners, domain names are assigned to the users who purchased them. There are directories of registered domains, and searching these sites is the best way to determine if a name is for sale.
##Step 2: Choose a Web Hosting Service
Creating the website that will appear when a domain name is entered into the address bar of a browser is like constructing a building on a vacant lot. Selecting a web hosting service is like commissioning an architect to design a building, and then hiring a construction company to build it. I suggest that anyone wishing to build a website should carefully evaluate the various web hosting services because they differ in features and pricing. Some services combine domain registration with hosting.
Creating a website that is accessible to all users, including people with disabilities, is like building ramps and stairs to enter the house. This article is a great overview of common accessibility problems.
Designing sites to be accessible can save time and money when compared to retrofitting them for accessibility later.
##Step 3: Creating Content
Creating content is the most enjoyable part of building a website. It is like moving into a new house, painting the walls, and arranging the furniture. The content on a website is accessible if it complies with guidelines set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Some considerations when designing an accessible site include:
• text color contrast
• properly-labelled buttons and edit boxes
• heading structure
• alt tags (improves accessibility and search engine optimization (seo)
There are many more considerations, and I suggest that before people design a website, they should familiarize themselves with any accessibility guidelines provided by the web hosting service(s) that they are thinking of using. For example, this is a WordPress site, and accessibility information from WordPress can be found at this link.
##Step 4: Sharing content
There are scheduling tools that will automate the sharing of content from a website to specific social media accounts. To extend the comparison of domain and street address one last time, This process is like leaving a forwarding address at the post office to send mail to a new location.
As with websites, it is important to be mindful of accessibility considerations when creating and sharing social media posts.
I will finish this post with a word of caution about comments online. When I launched this site, I set comments to require my approval. I was bombarded with spam and messages to visit porn sites. That is why I always turn off commenting on my posts and pages. If you wish to reach me, please use the links in the social menu found on every page.
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.