Nan Zhao

[Cooper Hewitt] Competitive Analysis with other museums in New York City

For this week, I chose MOMA and THEMET as two competitors of Cooper Hewitt Museum in terms of how accessible they are and how the services they offer.

Here is my competitive analysis.

For MoMA, I visited it again and did another contextual inquiry to better understand how Cooper Hewitt’s competitor’s performance on accessibility. I was impressed by all the services MoMA has to help cover all the audience to enjoy the exhibitions.

There is no stairs at the entrance. There is a way for wheelchairs at the entrance hall and the ticket table for accessibility is right beside the way. The coat check place where you can borrow a wheel chair is also at the entrance with no additional stairs. The elevator is nearby as well. All of these offer a welcoming and convenient way for people to access the museum better.

Also through out the whole museum, I noticed that there is always a road for wheel chair where ever there is a stairs.

Also, I would like to talk about the website design. The website of MoMA has a easy-to-find link to the accessibility page, on which lists all the service they have and all the resources they own.

I was surprised and impressed by MoMA’s effort on caring as many kinds of disabilities as possible. They have separate pages for different disabilities, and they even have pages for education on accessibilities and special events.

Touch tour is definitely what people with low-vision wants to have a better understanding on art pieces. And I believe it is a special feature giving MoMA  a strong competitive advantage.

For THEMET, maybe it is because the architecture itself, the accessibility entrance is not the main entrance, like Cooper Hewitt. Also, the place to check out a wheelchair is a little bit far from the accessible entrance.

One interesting thing I found is that for accessibility, MoMA seems separating  the general admission public and the people with disabilities, based on my research on the website, service, map, and the visiting. Although they have tried to meet so much needs people with different disabilities have, I wonder if people with disabilities will think they are considered as a group of people which needs special notice or they are divided from the majority of the visitors. While THEMET considers the visitors as the whole. They have a map for all the visitors, but show the essential offerings to disabilities clearly on the map. They have audio equipment, audio tour, and web sections for accessibilities, but the sections are along with other important information. I believe it will make people with disabilities feel less nervous and consider themselves as a normal visitor.

For Cooper Hewitt, after comparing it with MoMA and THEMET, I think there is a huge space for the museum to improve itself. Cooper Hewitt can integrate the current interactive system into the accessible design. Maybe use some new tech or design to improve the visitors experience on visiting, not only on the exhibits, but also the overall experience on aspects like restrooms, ticket ordering, tours, education programs and so on.

[Cooper Hewitt] Accessible Museum Experience – Contextual Inquiry

I have visited the museum before, that time I was totally impressed by the interactive way between a visitor and the exhibits. I thought it solved a big need which is a visitor would like to save the artwork they like when they see one in a museum. Normally, what we could do is just taking a photo, but in this museum, we can use the interactive pen to save items online and check them later.

However, this time, with a question about accessibility in mind, I needed to put myself into people with disabilities’ shoes. Then I noticed that the museum lacks accessibility to a great extent. In some aspects, they are even doing worse than a normal museum.

First and foremost, the interactive pen is hard for people with epilepsy to hold and align it with the pattern on a description board. The patterns used to match the pens are not accessible for people with blindness, low-vision neither. Indeed the pen made life easier for many visitors, but at the same time, it would make people with disabilities feel even more unwelcomed. For people with low-vision or blindness, after they went home, they couldn’t type in the codes on the ticket to get the works they saved before without help.

Moreover, although there is elevator served and wheelchair available for people with mobility issues, it is relatively hard for people to know that. On the website, it says “Please use our garden entrance on 90th Street in between Fifth and Madison Avenues; from the garden, an elevator is available in the cafe to bring guests to the first floor, as well as from the terrace level. Braille is featured on all facility signage.” However, when I visited the museum, I accidentally enter from the garden entrance. There was no obvious sign saying that it is the entrance towards the elevator. And at the main entrance, there is also no sign saying that. And the stairs at the entrance would make people with mobility issues feel unwelcomed.

Also, the wheelchairs are available at the left corner of the main entrance. Consider a man with mobility problems, he goes in using the elevator, but then he noticed that he should go to the main entrance, go down some stairs, then can he get access to the coat check-out desk to ask for wheelchair service. That is a long process and time-consuming.

Further, I noticed that some exhibits(ex. sketches/drawings from very old books) were hanged in high positions and require really good vision. Although there are some magnifiers beside these exhibits, first, the instruction is not clear enough especially for people with low-vision or cognitive problems; second, the positions of these exhibits may be too high for people with mobility problems to see.

One more thing is for people with hearing impairments and deafness.   I asked about audio guide and was told that there was currently no audio guide because they encourage the direct interaction between a visitor and the museum. Nevertheless, without a audio guide, it might be unwelcoming for people with both vision and mobility issues.

Last but not least, the overall environment is dark compared to other museums. Kind of understandable since it is a building which was transferred into a museum. But I do encourage some spot light for descrptions.