Cooper Hewitt Visit #1: Casing the Joint
As part of the Cooper Hewitt Co-Lab, my mission for these fourteen weeks is to research, design, and test a system for accessibility for either the museum’s website or the physical building itself. Of course, the first thing is to see the museum itself, where it weak point lie, where it is already strong, and where can we improve.
So my initial thought is with the Pen itself. Sometimes it wasn’t as reactive to touch screens or even the target points, thought I suspect that is simply a matter of calibration. (As Dom noticed I would often subconsciously go with my finger on the touch screen, a force of habit of mine with very unreactive styli.)
(Unsure how it would link to accessibility, more of a user experience sort of note I suppose, but I noticed my saved visit was missing many items I had ‘saved’, and had items I didn’t even ‘save’ on it. Just figured I would share on that front.)
I did have some ideas as using the Pen in sync with an app in order to help make the museum more accessible with regards to those who may need large print or possible other uses that could be looked into.
Some minor improvements to suggest, particularly with some ASD people would be like maybe ribbed/bumpy rubber grips? Not to improve grip, mind you, but holding the pen, I found it to be really nice as a stimming tool. It had a nice weight (although too big to twirl), and found myself playing with the rubber tip with my thumb, as I would with a pen or similar stim device.
I cannot speak for every person on the Spectrum, but I personally find having a tool, or having a system where stimming is not seen as abnormal improves socialization and anxiety. Which leads me to the direction I feel drawn to: Implementing a tactile element to the tours. Not just the fabrics, but even have it where replicas of the old timely radios or birdcages can be touched, the door hinges open, the article being held (and in the cases of some of the furniture on display), sat on. Not only does this benefit people on the spectrum that might need or want to stim, it also has benefits for kinesthetic or tactile learners, as well as the visually impaired or blind.
(And thinking on Pamela’s thoughts on putting on the site, perhaps putting something on each of applicable item’s page on the site that it has a replica that can be touched, as well as informing the availability of a tactile tour on the admission page as a start.)
Two things that were great on that were the touch screens, and the strange chairs outside the lecture room. The interactive screen encourage you to touch, and explore, and the chairs are great for people who stim with their whole bodies. It all is just fun on a fundamental level and seeing even my classmates have a blast sitting in them was great.
My personal favorite part was the conservatory with the pillows you can touch. Which I will note despite being right in an high traffic area (next to the gift shop), I found the high, brightly lit, and relatively quiet place an excellent stop for someone on the spectrum who might be overstimulated and need a place to recollect and decompress. (If I could I probably would have spent my whole day there just people watching in the corner, I enjoyed it that much.)
The Immersion room was fun, but felt it a bit of misnomer. I was expecting a multisensory experience. More tactile things, ambient sound, more than the touch screen and the projections. I personally feel like there is an opportunity there to improve upon those things as well. I did find the radio transmission on the 3rd (?) floor not too abrasive, but rather added to the ambiance of the area. Something about strolling the hallway of a very old mansion and hearing music from the 30s-40s, just felt fitting. (It also helped that the museum wasn’t as particularly crowded, so the hum of conversation was less of an annoyance, and more part of the atmosphere? (Of course I’m so used to the loud echoing parts of the Met, and AMNH—particularly the dinosaurs.) Same with the chirping in the bird cage displays, it didn’t really detract too much and wasn’t enough to cause me overstimulation.
It had a nice ‘flow’ of people, I didn’t feel too claustrophobic, but I see the potential of it being if it was really crowded, but outside of removing the historic architecture and renovating it, I don’t see any solutions there at current.
So while I did focus more on a personal level, with the ASD mindset, I did try to less some other things of note that might affect others as well.
The lack of braille signs, not just on the displays, but even for directions to the elevators, bathrooms, entrances, and so forth. Pamela mentioned the blind greatly dislike museums, and Cooper Hewitt has not even the bare minimum to accommodate the blind, or at least not from the signage I’ve seen. And the lack of a good audio tour of course is the challenge for any museum and the lack of one does alienate a portion of potential patrons.
Though for a museum, the have surprisingly good direction signs, easy to understand, and straightforward. And while it is a very small museum, I do believe having either a map kiosk on every floor, or a takeaway map that actually shows the layout might still be a benefit for those who may not understand English as well as they like, but that’s just a personal opinion.)
However, on the topic of signage, I did find some of them weren’t clear on their labeling, but it was really only one or two items. (One of them was the “Spanish Moss” hanging beads; it did not indicate it was hanging above the conservatory doorway and would have not known if I didn’t look up towards the ceiling on a whim.
Now as much as I loved the touch screen (and immersion room) I did realize some noticeable issues (which may also overlap with the site). Their color coding system is fantastic, but may be misinterpreted by someone with colorblindness. Certain animations might trigger epileptics. I am unsure if Cooper Hewitt will implement more video-based works on display but there’s also a risk of that for epileptics as well.
But back to the color issue, perhaps having some sort of ‘vision’ mode that recolored the website or that portion of the touch screen to help them ‘see’ better? Not sure if this is possible or too ambitious, but it was the first thing to come to mind when questioning this.
That is all I have thus far, I will be contacting Pamela again sometime after our second (February 13th) visit, to attend the early morning museum visit for kids on the Spectrum, and will try to take as much notes as I can on that.
But so far looking over this, I feel like my direction in this project may lay more in the tactile/physical or more Spectrum-friendly part of the accessibility, rather than on the web. I still will try to take more time to look through the website more in depth just because it doesn’t hurt to browse.
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Cooper Hewitt Visit #2:
My second visit to the museum with United Cerebral Palsy (which I totally just realized is the same UCP that my mom works back home), and my notes were a little less substantial and more noted about how the two gentlemen personally interacted with the museum. We were lucky to have two different extremes, one was fairly mobile with a higher power chair, while the other had very limited mobility and range and had a very low, self propelled wheelchair that he pushed with his foot.
The main focus of our time at the museum seemed to be the interactive tables, which presented some issues. Sometimes the pen was difficult to use, and their finger was preferred, and many objects were difficult to reach and ‘pull over’ due to their limited mobility and due to the height of the wheelchair. So the height of the table was discussed, fixes like attaching tablets to the side or a tilting screen were suggests as viable solutions. Others were a voice controlled ability, and the ability to change it where holding an object for 2 seconds could be done in lieu of the hold and drag.
Another concern brought up was the amount of text and the wording of the text. One of the gentlemen had pointed out he had a difficult time reading and didn’t do it much, and the possibility of something like an audio reading to accompany the table’s objects.
Furthermore of the wording of exhibits might be too small in some cases, or too verbose and difficult for comprehension for those with cognitive impairments as well. Also discussed were things like QR codes and app devices but they had their own set of issues.
Finally the last of my notes covers the fact that Accessiride drops off at certain points, forcing many people to cross to the street, as well as one entrance (the 90th St. one) has wheelchair access? A solution proposed was perhaps adding that to the website, or even possible Museum greeters for disabled people?
Nonetheless, we have plenty ideas, it’s just getting them into one direction and focus now.
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Competitive Research / UX Research:
So a few weekends ago, I looked through the Accessibility Sections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), and the Guggenheim Museum‘s websites to see what programs they have, and it’s not surprising each one varying things for each disability.
First to access the page from the main menu you need to go to Learn > Visitors With Disabilities, rather than in the Admissions section, which I am curious as to what was the story behind that decisions.
For the blind and visually impaired, they have audio tours, touch tours of many objects, guided, or unguided, as well as tours where the guide will verbally describe the piece they are seeing. They also provide programs for people blind or low visions to make art. They has have large print label books available on request as well.
For the deaf, they have sign language interpreters for events, so long as they have two weeks notice. They also have tours with hearing devices and real time captioning, although if I am honest, not sure what that entails.
For visitors who have dementia and their caretakers, they even have programming for them as well.
However what interests me the most is the level and care they put towards their programming for people on the Autism Spectrum. Some for kids and one for those who are 18 and older! But what I like the most is that the Met provides resources adults/older teens on the spectrum that may be independent, and parents with children on the spectrum and it is one seamless thing broken up into several PDFs.
The have a sensory-friendly map, and an interactive map. a checklist of what you need to go into the museum, a lovely little PDF they call a “social narrative”: it explains the process of getting in (with pictures!) explaining the security checks/coat check/etc to prepare people mentally for it, even a little list for you to write specific places you want (with visuals!), and you write how you need to get there, as well a premade cards with common questions like “where are the restrooms?” that you can show guards if you have a hard time talking to strangers?
On to of that, some tips on making their visit more enjoyable as well. Out of all the sites I’ve poured over, the Met has had the most substantial resources for people on the Spectrum by far.
A quick afterthought– I did not see anything about service animals, but they do provide wheelchairs upon request.
To access their accessibility options, you simply have to go to their Admissions page, and there is an ‘Accessibility’ dropdown menu on the left.
For hearing impaired and the deaf, only certain exhibits have induction loop hearing systems (usually the special temporary exhibits, and the planetarium show), but also have ASL interpreters available for a tour. And most film footage in the museum itself is captioned by default. ASL visitors are asked to register at 72 hours before their visit for interpreter tours. They also have online transcripts to their planetarium shows that you can read as well before hand (although I would find it hard read in the show itself.
Services for the blind or visually impaired, they too, have a touch collection that is shown monthly and requires you to sign up for. And certain exhibits have permanent touchable collections (like meteorites and stones(, but many of them are more geared towards children. They ask if you want to learn more to call or email the museum.
As well as that, services for people on the Autism Spectrum they have a Saturday morning program geared for children 5-14, and nothing for older teens or adults on the Spectrum. They have no sensory friendly map, no social narrative, or anything like that.
And for those who have mobility issues, they inform which entrances are wheelchair friendly, and have plenty of elevators to access the other floors with. Service Animals also are welcomed, so long as they are certified.
For what is my favorite museum of them all, it is kind of disheartening to see what little they have for people on the spectrum to be honest.
To access these options you simply have to select ‘Plan Your Visit’ and scroll down a bit.
The have provided, a mobile App that helps one explore the museum as well as provide options for the disabled. The app has transcripts for the hard of hearing or deaf, is compatible with the T-Coil as well. They also have infrared-based devices too. ASL tours are also available as well.
They too, also point out mobility accessibility and that one of the galleries is now wheelchair accessible, but handouts for descriptions to the gallery are available upon request.
For the blind or those with low vision, the app provides verbal descriptions of their collection, and some provide touch options as well, as well as have special tours for visually impaired or blind visitors. They also provide large print guides as well.
Service Animals are also welcomed in the museum.
As for those with ASD, all they have is social narrative guide like the Met’s, explaining where the entrance, the security, coat checks and so forth. No sensory map, no checklists or anything else of the like.
I have yet to go to the Guggenheim myself, so I am not sure what I would expect from a personal viewpoint on this one. It is the only one of the three I haven’t been to in person (yet).
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Cooper Hewitt Visit #3: Quiet Hour at the Cooper Hewitt
So one of the first things I noticed was how young they were– the age range was about 3 years to 7 few above the age of 10. (There was one very verbal boy– older maybe about 11-13 years, he actually talked with me a bit!) I mostly kept in observations, occasionally interacting with them on the tables. The first thing I noticed though was how the kids were running about freely and very eager– it was definitely nice to not have many guests. They had a design activity down in the Design Room, and some were even just drawing on the cards in the Design Lab. The museum provided a scavenger hunt for objects in the museum, but they were really drawn to the tables.
Which if you want a quick summary of my day: kids REALLY love those interactive tables and the Immersion room. No joke.
They weren’t given the pen to save their works which would be my only concern, but talking Kathleen and Ashley (she runs these down in the Smithsonian in DC), and they said most of them were too young and didn’t feel it was fair to just give it to the older children. Although they might consider a one pen per family so the kids could save their works on the tables and collects.
But honestly my time on the second floor I saw more adults enjoying the works and kids zipping to the Immersion room.
The only issue with the table is that it’s too high for some of them and their parents had to lift them up and their fingers were sometimes too small to recognize and had to push harder to get a reaction.
I think it was a success, but I am not sure what the Museum is thinking.
(I also managed to chat with and catch up with Pamela. She can’t wait to hear about our projects!
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Cooper Hewitt Visit #4: Contextual Inquiry with Leona
Contextual Inquiry/ Descriptive Tour (April 3rd, 2017):
Boilerplate: I am terrible with names and I should have written them down but I didn’t
It was great to see Leona again for sure, and having the audio tour was very interesting. Instead of the Docent tour, the Curators themselves were there to lead the tour and the first (Susan) had confessed they never did a descriptive tour before, not sure about the second curator (Whose name escapes me). But the textiles exhibit was very good considering, the tactile object certainly helped and she was rather quick on her feet when it came to the descriptions for sure. I am curious as to see how a Docent tour would be like in comparison.
The only downside we noted, the videos display lacked any headphones.
The second tour with the radios was a little less so. I think considering they did well describing the tapestry and some of the objects, but wasn’t big on the item name and dates, which would have been nice tidbits.
Leona seemed to confirm about the tactile tour stuff and have some great interest in our app, as does Pamela. In fact Pamela seemed very enthusiastic about the idea. Talking to her, she would rather it be a downloadable standalone app for mobile devices rather than the Cooper Hewitt having devices running the app. Of course if the users would prefer it, I hope we can reach an accord on that part. She also seemed interested in a possible open sourcing of alternative text similar to AMNH’s project scribe. The alt text could also be used for the audio visual description
Some few things have been brought up in the meeting. Possibly dividing the information into a hierarchy, as well as possibly spilling the tour into a historical one with the architecture and another one with the objects on display.
A fun fact from Pamela is the largest search from the collection is color—but no data on the details.
A real silk cocoon provided by the curator!
Leona touching the silk cocoon
Leona touching some fabric scraps
And a polyeurothane sample from one the artists
Leona attempting to use the pen– clearly not very accessible for people with vision impairments!
Wrapping up our first tour in the conservatory
I didn’t get so great shots of the second tour, hopefully Leah and Dong Chan managed, but here is one where Pamela is helping try to keep the conversation going: