Museums create interactive tech for disabled youth

In addition to creating audio-tactile maps to the Descriptive Video Exchange, Dr. Joshua Miele has another project — to improve the museum experience for disabled youth.

Miele is working closely with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to create a program where people, specifically blind youth, are able to interact with pieces within a museum.“A lot of museums are things that you largely look at and you don’t have an opportunity to interact with them,” explained executive director Mark Roccobono of the NFB. “There are a lot of great technologies out there that can provide descriptions about the items you’re looking at, and it would be great for blind people who visit museums.”

At the moment, art museums have a different set of problems than science museums, but the issue of the lack of accessibility to the works still remains.

Miele and the NFB are hoping to enhance access to several science museums for blind youth and their families with the help of the National Science Foundation.

In its first month of a three-year project, the Museum of Science in Boston and the Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore are currently involved. Roccobono hopes more museums will come on board later.

“We’re trying to inspire and engage blind youth in science, but also create a relationship between blind people on the local level and the science museum by working specifically on making some exhibits accessible,” said Roccobono, noting it’s a chicken-and-egg problem. “A museum says, ‘We never see any blind people in here so it’s hard to work on access for blind people,’ while blind people say, ‘We never go this museum because they never have anything that is accessible.’ If they do something accessible, it’s done cheaply so it’s not meaningful.”

The project is also looking to build a relationship between the museum and its visitors. Ideally the visually impaired can evaluate and provide feedback on what’s happening and the museum can work to integrate tools and techniques already available.

“It’s important that mainstream technologies are also accessible to blind people and that we have to recognize technology is not what makes people successful, but rather technology provides access to information we haven’t had before,” said Roccobono as the project continues to surge forward.
Overall, Miele and Roccobono agree the vast majority of work that needs to be done is making and providing people with better access in a manner that’s more mainstream and not just focused on the technology.

“I’m here developing these innovative tools and talking about how we can use these to make information more accessible, but I’m kind of out ahead of where most things need to be,” said Miele. “There’s a lot of basic work that needs to be done and most of it isn’t incredibly hard to do. It comes down to awareness and people understanding the problems.”

Future goals for Miele include accessible maps and interactive areas not just for public transit or museums, but also places like the airport that see a lot of traffic and is in need of good information.

Also in Assistive Technology

The series explores how advancements in assistive technology are helping the visually impaired and the disabled.

Originally posted in TechPageOne.

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