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Enhancing Accessibility Through Digital Content

Published: 15 Feb 2024

As cultural hubs, visitor attractions hold the key to unlocking knowledge, fostering shared experiences, and celebrating diverse perspectives. Yet, for visitors who are D/deaf, hard of hearing, or visually impaired, navigating these spaces can pose a significant barrier.

This is where sign language tours and audio descriptive tours step in, offering powerful tools to unlock the experience for a wider audience. By incorporating these accessibility services, venues don’t merely fulfill a legal obligation – they embark on a mission of true inclusivity, enriching the collective understanding and allowing their story to be appreciated everyone.

This article explores the broader significance of these inclusive tours. We have also put together videos to share best practice from across the sector on how to improve accessibility for those who are deaf or hard of hearing and for people with sight impairments. Please click on the video links to visit our YouTube page.

Sign Language Tours: Bridging Communication Gaps [VIDEO]

For individuals who are D/deaf or hard of hearing, traditional museum tours can be a silent and isolating experience. This is where British Sign Language (BSL) and International Sign Language (ISL) tours emerge as a transformative solution. By providing tours with sign language interpretation on multimedia devices, museums and attractions can bridge the communication gap, ensuring that the rich narratives of their exhibits are accessible to a wider audience.

One notable example of the success of BSL tours is found at Titanic Belfast. The iconic museum dedicated to the ill-fated RMS Titanic has gained acclaim for its commitment to inclusivity. The BSL tours offered here allow deaf visitors to engage with the exhibits on a deeper level, breaking down barriers and fostering a sense of connection to history.

Audio Descriptive Tours: Painting a Vivid Picture [VIDEO]

Just as BSL tours cater to the D/deaf community, Audio Descriptive (AD) tours cater to visitors who are blind or visually impaired. These tours use handheld audio guides to provide narrated descriptions of exhibits, enabling individuals to visualise and appreciate the visual elements of the displays.

Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle stand out as pioneers in offering exceptional AD tours. The grandeur of these historic landmarks is brought to life through vivid audio descriptions, ensuring that blind visitors can explore the opulence and history of these iconic British sites. By extending the richness of the visual experience through carefully crafted audio narratives, these institutions demonstrate a commitment to making their cultural treasures accessible to all.

Promoting Inclusivity and Equal Opportunities

The provision of BSL and AD tours goes beyond addressing immediate accessibility needs; it sends a powerful message of inclusivity and equal opportunities. By investing in these initiatives, museums and attractions affirm their commitment to making cultural experiences accessible to everyone, regardless of physical abilities. Such efforts contribute to breaking down societal barriers, fostering understanding, and promoting a sense of unity among diverse communities.

Educational and Cultural Enrichment

In addition to breaking down barriers, inclusive tours provide educational and cultural enrichment for all visitors. Offering BSL tours encourages hearing individuals to learn and appreciate a new form of communication, promoting a deeper understanding of D/deaf culture. Similarly, AD tours challenge sighted individuals to experience exhibits from a different perspective, fostering empathy and a greater appreciation for diversity.

Challenges and Future Considerations

While progress has been made, challenges persist in making cultural spaces fully inclusive. Financial constraints, technical limitations, and a lack of awareness can impede the implementation of these initiatives. Museums and attractions must work collaboratively with accessibility experts, advocacy groups, and the disabled community to address these challenges and continually enhance their offerings.

6 steps to breaking down accessibility barriers:

  1. Conduct an Accessibility Audit:

Begin by understanding the barriers people with disabilities face in your venue. This can involve analysing physical layout, communication methods and exhibit design. However, it’s really important to consult accessibility experts, advocacy groups and disabled community members for their insights. Remember the mantra Nothing About Us, Without Us. [VIDEO]

  1. Embrace Multiple Communication Methods:

Don’t rely solely on traditional information signage. Using digital guides or mobile apps you can offer audio descriptions tours (using vivid imageries and engaging narration) or British Sign Language (BSL) or International Sign Language (ISL) tours. You might want to also have a look at our article about whether a D/deaf person would need BSL and/or subtitles.  You can consider providing information and signage in multiple languages as well, or use language neutral content (like infographics), catering to a more diverse visitor base.

  1. Vary Your Content:

Multimedia guides, in particular, allow visitors to personalise their experience by choosing language options and adjusting narration speed and volume. We can also help you offer a variety of content styles to encourage exploration and engagement.

A mixture of images, interviews, music and narration, as well as incorporating gamification elements such as quizzes and virtual scavenger hunts for children, will help keep visitors motivated.

You can also widen your audience appeal by providing virtual tours and online exhibits that are accessible to visitors with disabilities via your website.

  1. Seek Public Grants and Sponsorships:

Many local and national organizations offer grants specifically for improving accessibility in cultural institutions. Research and apply for opportunities that align with your needs.

  1. Train Your Staff:

Staff training is crucial. Educate all employees on disability etiquette, proper assistance techniques, and the use of assistive devices. Promote an inclusive culture within the museum and build awareness among visitors about available accessibility features.

  1. Promote Awareness:

Once you have your offering ready you need to make sure audiences know about it! Be sure to promote your services on your website and social media platforms. We can provide advice on how to ensure your digital marketing in accessible with regards to screen reader compatibility, alternative text descriptions for images, descriptive link anchor text and focus indicators for keyboard navigations. Finally, make sure all your visitors are sharing their experiences on review websites such as TripAdvisor as well as on your own website.

In conclusion, the provision of  Sign Language tours on multimedia devices and Audio Descriptive tours on handheld audio guides is a significant step towards creating truly inclusive cultural spaces. Establishments like Titanic Belfast, Buckingham Palace, and Windsor Castle serve as inspiring examples, showcasing the positive impact of these initiatives on visitors with visual and hearing impairments.

As museums and attractions continue to prioritise inclusivity, they not only enrich the experiences of individual visitors but also contribute to building a more accessible and harmonious society. Even small venues with limited resources can take meaningful steps towards becoming more accessible and inclusive. We discuss low-cost solutions in our article Breaking Barriers on a Budget.

Great storytelling (and a flair for the creative!) is at the heart of what we do and the expert teams at ATS can advise on the best way to bring your story to life. So get in touch for a chat!

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