Inclusive Digital Interactives: inclusive design for accessible museums


4 minute read
Jo Morrison

Jo Morrison

Director of Digital Innovation & Research

Digital Placemaking

Arts & Culture

Mobile Technology

A crowd of people have their phones out to take a photo of a digital interactive exhibit - neon lights in a circle, crossing over with the words 'know' 'care' 'doesn't' - lots of random words

I still recall the thrill of touching moon rock at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC when in my teens; a few decades on and I’m honoured to have written an essay for their recent publication, ‘Inclusive Digital Interactives: Best Practices and Research’. To add to the lustre of this opening paragraph is the fact that Vincent Martin, who acted as my advisor, is a US Paralympian.

This globally sourced book represents current theory and practice in designing interactives for the spectrum of museum visitors with a broad range of abilities, ages and cultures. Access Smithsonian, together with the Institute for Human Centered Design, and MuseWeb, have built the publication from the ground up, ‘by the museum community and for the museum community.’ Its focus is on inclusive design and technologies for inclusion – through a variety of lenses.

Expanding human-centred design

Entitled “Mobile Digital Wayfinding Tools: Enabling and Enhancing the Experience of Visitors with Different Access Needs” at the crux of my essay is a call to expand the way that human-centred design is commonly framed, discussed and practiced in the museum context. By adopting a more inclusive and holistic design approach the cultural heritage sector will be better able to serve ​all​ its visitors and remove, or limit, current obstacles.

Over the past decade, due to the availability and advancement of digital technologies, there has been a rise in the number of digitally-enabled products and services deployed in cultural sites to support visitor orientation and navigation. More recently there has been a growing interest in developing and deploying wayfinding technologies to support those with physical and mental impairments. Hence, now is an opportune time to explore this intersection of people, place and technology to address how designers, software developers, museum professionals and, crucially, the intended users can inform the design of mobile digital wayfinding tools to enhance the museum experience of visitors with different access needs.

“For people with less visible impairments, being in a museum can prompt feelings of uncertainty, discomfort, confusion and apprehension that can quickly lead to high levels of anxiety.”

My primary motivation for writing this essay is to provide museum leadership teams and managers of accessibility programmes with greater strategic and operational understanding when envisioning and commissioning digital wayfinding tools to enhance the experience of visitors with less visible disabilities, some of whom may also have physical impairments.

A picture of people in an art gallery with paintings aligned in rows along the walls. On two balcony levels, people are walking, looking at the paintings or taking pictures.

Essay Content

Firstly, I highlight a number of barriers that people with less visible impairments experience when travelling to, and moving around, a museum and summarise their impact. I go on to explore different ways in which digital technologies have been employed to assist people to overcome these challenges by enabling them to navigate cultural venues and public spaces more easily – with an emphasis on two mobile wayfinding apps, UCAN GO and NavSta. Drawing on the insights derived from researching the experience of designing and developing both apps, I then discuss how the application of an inclusive and holistic design approach to the interconnected problem area of people, place, technology and data can produce location-specific, digitally-enabled tools that help users to overcome common barriers in the physical environment.

To the left, is an image of a girl holding her phone using the UCANGO app. To the right, someone is holding their phone in their left hand. This is all you can see, and on the phone they are using the NavSta wayfinding app.
NavSta (right) & UCANGO (left)
Read the chapter


I concluded my essay by suggesting that we expand the way that human-centred design is commonly framed, discussed and practiced in the museum context. 

“As vital as participatory human-centred approaches are, to ensure the best outcomes of mobile digital solutions, it is also necessary to spend as much time – and concurrently – researching the spatial context and the technological context of a potential service.”

Interactive projects such as UCAN GO and NavSta are informed by a wealth of insights – drawn from researching people, place, technology and data – which provide a more successful outcome for all museum stakeholders with different access needs.

Call or email us today to discuss how we can provide you with the digital solutions for a more inclusive & accessible project: 0117 226 2000 / 

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