What is an Accessible Circuit?
An Accessible Circuit consists of a Visitor’s Guide, featuring various inclusive resources and interactive displays and having Universal Design as the ultimate goal, that is, a design for exhibits and environments that may be used by everyone, with the highest possible accessibility.
In the initial stage of an Accessible Circuit project, temporary exhibits take place and prototypes of the resources to be included in the museum are tested. In the case of the Wise Stones Circuit, the goal is the implementation of interactive digital interfaces, i. e., display shelves that allow the interaction with the collections (handling) and make use of digital technology to communicate with visitors, by means of sensors, audio and video devices etc.
Technologies enhancing the functional abilities and the autonomy of physically impaired people are referred to as Assistive Technologies.
This stage, therefore, is an effort to analyze the best technologies to be adopted later for permanent displays. This is a stage for experiments and prospection, necessary for an appropriate construction of definitive solutions.
Suggestions for this stage
- Performing a brainstorming session with the museum’s staff, with the purpose of collecting proposals for the Accessible Circuit, as well as identifying professionals (both internal and external with respect to the institution) willing to be part of the team.
- Structuring the exhibit’s design process management, selecting also the communication tools among the staff members, adopting from a simple email to sophisticated software applications (please check, in this Guidebook, some free solutions in the Accessibility References). This is important that communication and decision-making processes be defined from the very beginning.
- Making guided visits with users of various profiles, especially from the target group of the circuit to be implemented (in case there is a specific profile), trying to find out opportunities to make the existing collection accessible and to list the visitors’ interests in the museum’s collection.
- Identifying the existing resources in the permanent exhibits that may be incorporated into the inclusive circuit.
- Analyzing the collection with respect to the possibilities of its use with interactive displays. In the case of visually impaired visitors, for example, the handling of the objects is an excellent option. However, not all pieces may be touched, due to preventive conservation issues. In some cases, original collections having replicas may be used, ensuring the preservation of at least one of the items. Finally, when the handling of original objects is not possible, making replicas may be a good option.
- Producing reduced models for huge pieces of the collection, the museum’s architecture and/or urbanistic aspects of its surroundings. Through the models, visually impaired visitors can better understand the original objects’ proportions.
- After selecting and listing those collection items to be part of the Accessible Circuit, performing a furniture simulation to shelter them and make them available for the institution’s permanent exhibit. That simulation may be a computer model and/or life-size prototype, making use of materials such as cardboard for the furniture or, in the case of equipment support items, MDF. The purpose of this stage is to analyze the adequacy of the furniture design proposal, testing the possible assistive technologies and equipment to be incorporated into the digital interactive interface.
- Inviting various visitors, especially from the target group, to evaluate the finished prototypes in temporary exhibits. That post-use evaluation may be in the form of interviews or questionnaires.
- Promoting seminars and staff meetings for consolidation and assessment of the stage results. Producing iconographic records and reports throughout the process, for the purpose of documentation, improvement and future training of professionals.
- Structuring a proposal for an Accessible Circuit. Considering the differences in the demands of each target group, as well as the peculiarities of each collection, the circuit may focus on a specific target group (such as visually impaired or hearing-impaired visitors). However, whenever possible, it must meet the needs of as many users as possible (Universal Design).
- With the purpose of increasing the contact with all museum halls and galleries, providing also, to the visitors’ companions, a full experience of visitation, the suggestion is to integrate accessible resources to the whole extension of the permanent exhibit.
- Another important aspect is that inclusive display shelves must always be available during the museum’s opening hours. Some museums have only isolated activities oriented to physically impaired visitors, limiting both the visitation (restricted to specific moments) and the interaction among them, their relatives and friends.
- Preparing a manual of operation, maintenance and post-use evaluation of interactive displays and other Accessible Circuit resources.
Wise Stones Project
This project started in 2014, with an international research interchange between Roberto Ivo Fernandes Vaz (Portugal) and LavMUSEU/UFMG (Brazil). At that time, Roberto Vaz intended to develop an interactive interface in a Brazilian museum as a case study for his master’s thesis at Aveiro University (Portugal). He found, through the Research Groups Directory of the Brazilian National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq – DGP), the LavMUSEU Group, coordinated by Professor Ana Cecília Rocha Veiga, who was interested in investigating the use of assistive technologies in museums. Sharing the same goals and interests, with the support of Mines and Metal Museum – MM Gerdau, chosen by Roberto, the prototype’s construction started.
The final prototype consisted of a display with four mineral samples, which could be freely handled by the museum’s visitors. Whenever a sample was lifted up, sensors located on the display triggered some digital resources.
For users with low visual capacity, enlarged images of the pieces and texts were projected on the museum’s wall. For visitors with total visual loss, an audio recording corresponding to the sample chosen informed about its geological characteristics, highlighting curiosities and texture aspects. The prototype allowed also the simultaneous lifting up of two samples, presenting comparative images, texts and audio recordings.
The prototype continued in temporary exhibition at the second floor of the Mines and Metal Museum, being handled and evaluated by dozens of users. After that period of tests and analysis of the data collected from interviews and questionnaires, the conclusion was that users approved the experience, having obtained excellent results. Both visually impaired and non-deficient visitors approved both the possibility of handling pieces of the collection and the interactivity provided by the technology.