Russian: Museums and the Web 2016 – Accessibility

Citation: Russian, Regina. (2016). Museums and the Web 2016: Accessibility. Carnegie Museums Studio [blog post].

Document Type: Blog Post

Description: Blog post on Museums & the Web 2016 conference, focusing on sessions and panels on Accessibility and online design

Anable: Accessibility Techniques for Museum Websites

Citation: Anable, Susan (2001). Accessibility Techniques for Museum Websites. Museums & the Web.

Document Type: Conference Paper

Description: This case study of the Virtual Museum Tour, part of the website of The Dayton Art Institute and developed in collaboration with Wright State University, details the challenge of making a variety of internet technologies accessible to people with visual or hearing impairment or mobility limitations, and the use of web accessibility guidelines to develop an online solution

Wyman, Gillam & Bahram: Inclusive Design – From Approach to Execution

Citation: Wyman, Bruce, Gillam, Scott & Bahram, Sina. (2016). Inclusive Design: From Approach to Execution. Museums & the Web.

Document Type: Conference Paper

Description: This case study of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights details the museum’s early mandate for inclusive design to be implemented throughout the museum experience, and the resulting variety of designs and intentions that ultimately required development and implementation strategies

Petrie, King & Weisen: The accessibility of Museum Web Sites – Results From An English Investigation And International Comparisons

Citation: Petrie, Helen, King, Neil & Weisen, Marcus (2005). The accessibility of Museum Web Sites: Results From An English Investigation And International Comparisons. Museums & the Web.

Document Type: Conference Paper

Description: This paper presents the results of an audit of the accessibility of 125 museum web sites: 100 from England and 25 from around the world

Bahram: Inaccessibility Is Not An Option, from Demos to Contracts – Demonstrating the fantastic benefits of accessibility and inclusive design, then making your contracts match your beliefs

Citation: Bahram, Sina (2015). Inaccessibility Is Not An Option, from Demos to Contracts: Demonstrating the fantastic benefits of accessibility and inclusive design, then making your contracts match your beliefs. Museums & the Web.

Document Type: Conference Paper

Description: This paper aims to advance general awareness of inclusive design, convey a working knowledge of digital accessibility issues, and proffer actionable advice and tools to museum professionals who wish to join the ever growing community who are incorporating accessibility and universal design into their everyday practice

Questions from MWConference 17

Notes and questions from the Accessibility session at the Museums and the Web Conference 2017.

Table 1 Questions

What is the potential visitor’s pathway to getting information? What are the questions these various communities need to have answered:

  • blind or low vision
  • wheelchair or limited mobility
  • doesn’t speak the language
  • can’t drive/public transportation
  • breast-feeding mother
  • deaf or hearing-impaired: ASL or assisted listening devices/TTY
  • autism spectrum
  • aging population: bypass a line?
  • Alzheimers
  • olfactory sensitivities
  • illiteracy
  • service animals
  • caregivers
  • distances: how much walking?
  • Map with location of accessible parking & entrances

Table 2 Questions

How does accessibility influence programs?

  • without undermining content
  • e.g. exhibition design e.g. height of shelves etc.
  • Inclusive design is an easier sell (useful to greater audiences) as opposed to accessibility
  • Impact of accessibility on design. Resentment or ambivalence to accessibility guidelines if it constrains them.
  • Different thinking required: e.g. a button to trigger the accessible version
  • everything is subjective, so one person’s design/aesthetic guideline may not be someone else’s

 How do we view disability in general?

  • it’s not all just visible disabilities
  • it then expands to those who require accessibility considerations
  • it can be injuries to those who don’t have disabilities
  • can start with low cost ways: signage and awareness
  • connect with the organizations that support and are part of the community
  • to also help with training

Table 3 Questions

  • hungry for a toolkit — including guiding questions on how to even start thinking about this — sets agenda
  • mandate…start from the very beginning – not tacked on at the end
  • prompts for each project
  • strategy for accessibility champion – how do you include it as apart of a process
  • different toolkit — technology checklist item
  • investing in staff resources – dedicated staff hours
  • every department had a specialist addressing accessibility needs
  • designers not present for our group — they should be made aware and part of the force for change
  • use case scenarios as part of manual – easy entry points, low hanging fruit, scale it up
  • shared resources and language – contracts, labels, etc
  • data – for justification / arguments for inclusion
  • Dialog in the Dark – exhibition in germany – O.Noir *
  • SEGD accessibility tour *
  • create empathy —> step 1

Table 4 Questions

Physical space and digital properties – different departments all responsible for those entities

  • How do we establish standards for both?
  • How do we agree on similar goals?
  • How to begin? Accessibility affects so many aspects of the museum business

Cal Academy – physical space is inclusive and accessible, but the digital space is less so

  • Language center – ability to translate pages
  • New to the organization – is the website even up to the standards to be compliant

Internal resources to devote to tackling accessibility

  • Where do you start? It’s a daunting task to solve all of the problems simultaneously
  • Types of disabilities that need to be addressed – Socioeconomic? Different types of  disabilities that need to be addressed

China – very new topic to be addressed, interested in learning from other countries and practices

  • Canadian Museum for Human Rights – Accessibility options on the website (newer websites may have access to newer standards)

Education – having to shift the organization’s perspective at all levels to create change

  • Who can we talk to and how can we reach them to address the needs of our community/visitors?
  • User testing/user focus groups
  • Events/programs that are inclusive to groups with disabilities
  • Raising awareness – how do you tackle training/changing internal culture to appropriately serve those with disabilities
  • How does a blind person engage with a website? What are they looking for? What is that embodied experience like? Need to gain more insight into challenges that we (without disabilities) don’t even think about?

Additional Questions

  • Budgets – how do you fit these programs/initiatives into a budget?
  • Is it more expensive to design a website or a digital product with accessibility in mind? Is that illegal or should it be?

Table 5 Questions

  • Given a limited budget and resources, how do we prioritize which functional needs to serve?
  • What are some methods that we can use to do an accessibility assessment or our institutions?
  • How do we educate staff and decision-makers?
  • How do we make sure that these policies are sustainable and built into the culture of your museum and way of working?
  • How do we keep our museums from siloing audiences by their functional needs, and instead recognize that they are also families, students, they just have non-standard requirements?
  • How much does it really cost to enact policies? Does it increase program costs exponentially or are there incremental and sustainable ways to enact access policies?
  • Is there a tipping point when making products more accessible begins to lessen the comfort level or aesthetic experience of the majority?
  • Who are the experts in the field that we can turn to to gain confidence that we’re doing the right things?

Major questions for all institutions to consider

  • What is the scope of the problem? Who are the audiences or groups that don’t have access right now?
  • Does it extend to socio-economic distinctions or cultural backgrounds?

Accessibility at the MCA: A Values Statement

Accessibility at the MCA: A Values Statement

In keeping with the MCA’s commitment to access, inclusion, and equity, the museum’s Board, staff, and volunteers endeavor to extend an authentic welcome to our building, exhibitions, programs, and information at all times and to all visitors. This includes visitors with disabilities, that is: people with mobility problems, vision impairment, hearing impairment, and cognitive disabilities, whether temporary or permanent.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law passed in 1990, guided the museum’s accessibility work for many years. Until recently, the museum focused on two key aspects of the ADA guidelines: providing accommodations to employees and job applicants with disabilities, and ensuring that people with disabilities could access and navigate our physical facilities. In 2015, in response to a city-wide celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ADA, a group of museum staff began to think about how we might go beyond the mere letter of the law to do more for our most underserved visitors. That group, now the museum’s Accessibility Leadership Task Force, is a pan-institutional team with an interest in thinking creatively about how to encourage long-term engagement with disabled visitors.

To do so, we are studying our already-excellent accessible offerings and working to improve and expand them, to share information about them more broadly; and to make them more consistent, useful, and innovative. These programs include stage and gallery programs that feature ASL interpretation and open captioning; touch tours; staff trained to support visitors of all abilities; a website with best-in-class accessible features; and more. Our work has shown us that common assumptions about accessible programs and facilities—that they are expensive, and useful only for a limited audience—are not usually true. We believe that by crafting programs and spaces that serve the needs of the disability community, we are improving our offerings and our invitation to all visitors.

We still have a lot to learn from our visitors with disabilities and from others who are thinking about accessible practices, but we aspire to be leaders in the community in embracing tenets of universal design. Keeping accessibility and universal design principles in mind as we plan, decide, create, teach, fund, hire, train, communicate, and execute our programs and exhibitions will guide our staff, who—regardless of department or role—share the responsibility and privilege of making the MCA accessible to all.








MCA Accessibility Leadership Task Force

MCA Accessibility Leadership Task Force

The accessibility team is a pan-institutional group meeting once monthly. Members include staff from Collections and Exhibitions, Design, Publishing, and New Media, Education, Facilities, HR, Performance, and Visitor Services. In 2015, the group developed a 3-year accessibility plan in response to a challenge by the Chicago Community Trust’s ADA 25 celebration of the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The MCA plan outlines the group’s commitment to providing a welcoming, accessible, and authentic experience for all museum visitors, both onsite and online, regardless of their ability or need. The group’s activities are reported to the Access, Inclusion, and Equity Task Force by Pat Fraser and Yolanda Cesta Cursach.
Many of the task force’s goals for Year 1 of its 3-year plan have been met or are underway. A summary of achievements and activities to date follows:


  • Barak adé Soleil (disabled artist): 10-day MCA Stage residency and public performance (FY16)
  • ONEOFUS’s Beauty and the Beast stage performance treating issues of disability and sexuality and featuring a disabled performer, organized with UIC-based disability and arts consortium Bodies of Work (FY17)
  • MCA’s first “relaxed performance” for people uncomfortable in a traditional theater environment, of ONEOFUS’s Beauty and the Beast (FY17)
    8 stage performances (FY16) with enhancements (ASL, titles, open captioning) for patrons who are deaf
  • 18 stage performances/post show talks/workshops (FY17) with enhancements (ASL, titles, open captioning) for patrons who are deaf
  • 3 ASL tours for 4th floor exhibitions, created and provided by a tour guide with hearing loss (FY17)
  • Pop Art touch tour for Blind Services Association (FY16)
  • Andrew Yang artist-led touch tour (FY17)
  • Sculpture Garden artist-guided touch tour (in development for FY18)
  • SMLXL balloon rides for visitors with mobility devices (FY16)
    Mobile tours for Murakami, 50th anniversary shows (in development for FY18)


  • Full facility self-audit conducted by leadership group (FY16)
  • Visitor services plan for construction (restrooms, accessible entrance, performance seating) (FY17)
  • Accessible (“talking”) map of building developed for launch of new public spaces (FY17); new wayfinding signage will include upgraded accessibility information
  • Office renovations consider universal design practices (FY17)
  • Admissions and box office desk replacements consider universal design practices (FY17)
  • Listening device test for theater (FY16)
  • Tech table reset for improved ADA seating (FY16)
  • Pre-show chair sets for patrons (FY16)


  • Institutional sensitivity shift = understanding and welcoming visitors with disabilities via accessibility leadership committee
  • Welcoming training for VS staff (FY16/17)
  • Accessibility principles included in onboarding for all new MCA staff (FY16/17)
  • MCA lunchtime Discovery Forum presented by JJ’s List, a disability training team (FY17)
  • Box Office/Usher/Performance team training for relaxed performances (FY17)
  • FT ASL-trained staff member at Admissions


  • New website sets goal of being fully ADA compliant (FY16)
  • Sina Bahram hired to work with design/digital team for planning and launch of new website (FY16)
  • MCA website evaluated against the WCAG AAA standard (FY16)
  • Coyote project created to describe website images; monthly training/description sprints draw volunteer staff from across the museum to create and review descriptions. Participants include staff from curatorial, education, publishing, visitor services, store, and collections teams, among others (FY16/ongoing)
  • Coyote featured in a New York Times Fine Arts and Galleries section article on innovative uses of technology in museums (Oct 30 2016)
  • Review of new intranet software to maximize accessible features
  • New accessibility information online (FY17)
  • Hi badges and lanyards for VS staff (FY16)


  • Yolanda Cesta Cursach appointed to Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium (CCAC) Steering Committee for a two-year term (FY16)
  • MCA hosts 5 CCAC meetings (FY16/17) with 400 attendees, including LEAD round robin; MCA staff are featured speakers at the CCAC technology accessibility meeting
  • MCA is one of two cultural organizations featured at the 2016 ADA 25 Cultural Accessibility Summit, presenting the Coyote project at a Goodman Theater event for cultural organization directors, board members, and patrons
  • MCA represented at 4 citywide ADA 25 seminars (2015)
  • Coyote presentation at Board of Trustees Lab (Feb 2016)
  • Coyote workshop and presentation at Museum Computer Network (Nov 2016); several museums agree to partner in Coyote development, including the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh
  • Coyote presented by Susan Chun and Sina Bahram at AAMD midwinter meeting (Jan 2017)
  • Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago partnership including complimentary admission/tours/stage passes for RIC therapeutic use and marketing of MCA accessible activities (FY18)
  • Partnered with Beth Finke, blind/low vision consultant on facility and program (FY16/17)
  • Partnered with Bodies of Work and CCAC to welcome disability community to ONEOFUS (FY17)
  • Partnered with Deb Kent to support teens and touch tour (FY17)
  • Host annual Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Job Shadow Day

Planned Near-Future Activities

  • Internal accessibility statement
  • External accessibility statement
  • Additional planning for universal design for exhibitions, facilities
  • Consistent, scheduled, and promoted accessible offerings for performance, education, and exhibition programs (ASL, open captioning, touch tours, audio description)
  • Artist-led touch tours of most Chicago Works exhibitions
  • Accessibility line in MCA budget
  • Grants to support accessibility initiatives
  • Tessitura ticketing accessibility for patrons with blindness/low vision
  • MCA accessibility “manual” for staff use
  • Short video descriptions for web videos
  • Store descriptions for online merchandise
  • Develop broader partnerships with RIC, CCAC, Bodies of Work, Blind Services Association, and Lighthouse (opportunities for teens with blindness/low vision)
  • Mobile tour for Murakami exhibition with ASL video (in English and Japanese)
  • Paper on touch tours authored by ABB and SC with registrars as target audience with a goal of increasing field-wide understanding of potential of touch tours, development of shared guidelines