I took a trip to Whitney Museum of American Art last weekend. The new building of Whitney was constructed during 2014-2015, which means it might got fairly new designs in terms of visitors experience and accessibility. Some of them were very worthy for reference, especially the digital accessibility part which is not limited by hardware/environment that much.
They got a single category for accessibility at menu bar
Under which it is divided into two parts – accessibility service & accessibility programs
- mobility issues
During my 2-hour-stay at Whitney, I came across more than 5 people using wheelchair. I believe that’s not only because they got accessible and efficient wheelchair services, but also due to the fact that they provide you with a map which clearly show “ the area surrounding the museum, highlighting accessible pathways from public transportation, parking facilities, and the High Line.”(think it could be useful for Cooper Hewitt)
- vision / hearing impairment
– assistive listening systems
equipped with induction hearing loops that transmit sound directly to hearing aids equipped with a T-coil.
– ASL MULTIMEDIA GUIDE TOUR
This engaging video tour explores iconic highlights from the Whitney’s collection in American Sign Language with closed captioning. The multimedia guide is available at the admissions desk on Floor 1 and is free for visitors with disabilities.
– VLOG project
Whitney Video Blogs (vlogs) are original short videos featuring Deaf museum educators communicating in American Sign Language (ASL). The vlogs focus on topics in contemporary art or exhibitions on view at the Museum. Each vlog is produced by an integrated team consisting of a director/editor and Whitney educators who are Deaf, working with a cinematographer and interpretive media and education specialists who are hearing. The goal of these vlogs is to increase cultural opportunities for Deaf and hard of hearing audiences and create a communications laboratory to expand the ASL vocabulary of contemporary art terms. We hope that these videos can serve as a model for other institutions to create original interpretive content that meets the learning needs of multiple audiences and engages people with disabilities in a collaborative creative process, highlighting the unique perspectives they bring to the cultural field. (quote from Whitney’s website)
What’s more, they also have various services include American Sign Language interpretation, Real-time captioning, Verbal Description and braille.
Their audio guide has an online version also:
What I noticed is that Cooper Hewitt website’s “object of the day” also provides both audio and script. I do think it’s a very useful resource for people with impairment, just lack of implement.
What features are missing in the marketplace?
As art museums nowadays put more and more attention on interactive experience / interactive art, it’s hard for people with impairment to get engaged into interaction. Especially for people with vision impairment, motor neuron disease, ALS and so on. Interactions which mostly rely on hands and gestures are not accessible to them. Eye track / kinect technology that allows different parts of human body other than hands might be able to help make interactions more accessible to all people. (Cooper Hewitt’s interactive table for example, could only play with your hand)
What is the most important way that the Cooper Hewitt can innovate and serve a wide range of museum-goers, with and without a range of disabilities?
People with photosensitive epilepsy might have seizures triggered by flashing lights or contrasting light and dark patterns. I noticed that the interior of Cooper Hewitt (especially the first floor) is relatively dim, while placed with several interactive touchscreen tables (which are super cool and playful for visitors), might create some sort of light and dark pattern from time to time. But I’m wondering if it would really affect people with epilepsy as according to an article from epilepsysociety.org said
“Some people are sensitive to geometric patterns with contrasts of light and dark such as stripes or bars. Patterns are more likely to be a trigger if they are changing direction or flashing, rather than if they are still or moving slowly in one direction.”
Also, the new interactive piece “IMMERSION ROOM” which shows bright changing geometric patterns in a dark space might be a trigger as well but there’s no sign out of the room to warn people with epilepsy.
1.There’s no audio tour. To this question, I found their answer on website which said “Because we encourage you to participate in our new interactive experiences, we don’t currently offer a traditional audio guide.”
2.Haven’t seen any braille on descriptions of art pieces (but do have braille on facility signage )
3.There were some huge pieces hanging from the ceiling (the beautiful cloth pieces at the first floor for instance), and with no protection／barrier around, blind people may run into it with no caution, even got injured
- Service animals (for example guide dogs) are permitted
1.The texts on description next to each piece are too small for low-vision people to see (it’s too small for me also!)
2.Hard to match interactive pen to the tiny little cross sign next to art pieces
3.The dim environment makes people with low-vision even harder to move
Most of the pieces and descriptions are placed at a relatively low height, which is very welcoming to people in wheelchairs. What’s more, elevators have big space for wheelchairs to fit in and there are big signs to show people.
While certain concerns are:
1.The entrance of Cooper Hewitt is a bit confusing, I entered from their garden and you need to walk for a while to the museum. And path leads you to museum shop and cafe first. I thought it might be a wrong entrance but actually it was not, as the website said “Please use our garden entrance on 90th Street in between Fifth and Madison Avenues and head towards our cafe, Tarallucci E Vino; the elevator located in our cafe will convey you to the first floor. Inside of the museum, all four floors of gallery space are accessible by passenger elevator.” If people with mobility issues didn’t know where the elevator is, or they simply want to take a look at the café/shop before first, the stairs on the way from café to the lobby may make them feel uncomfortable.
- Too few places to sit and rest.
Hearing Impairments and Deafness
Most of the exhibits didn’t have sound. People with hearing problems may not have difficulties in most of their experience at Cooper Hewitt.
Cognitive and Intellectual Disabilities
I’m not sure if the descriptions were worded properly for people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities to understand but if simple audio guide/staff guide may help them gain a better understanding of the exhibits.
From my previous experience of volunteering as an art teacher for people with intellectual disabilities, it’s pretty hard to sustain their attention for long time. I do believe the interactive touchscreen table would be an interesting one for them to enjoy art in Cooper Hewitt as long as the interface could be easier to understand (clearer signs and instructions).
Autism Spectrum Disorder
I’m not sure whether people with ASD are willing to visit a new environment, but the quiet and peaceful atmosphere at Cooper Hewitt might be comfortable for them. With the touchscreen tables, they could look for information they want without directly talking to staff. It would be even better if there’s vending machine for tickets (or they do have access to booking tickets online at Cooper Hewitt website)