Accessible resources for cultural heritage ecosystems

November 19, 2019

The V&A strives to be as welcoming and accessible to all visitors, and has built a reputation for best practice by promoting access for disabled people.

A 3D representation of a fountain interactive
Table Fountain 3D relief and interactive multimedia guide

To further improve our work in this area, we have been the leading partner in a three-year EU Horizon 2020 funded project called ‘Accessible Resources for Cultural Heritage EcoSystems’ (ARCHES), intended to make art accessible for all.

The project aims to embed accessibility in the art world, and to make museums a more inclusive environment by:

  • Sharing expertise internationally
  • developing participatory research methodology with the Open Universityand Bath University
  • developing accessible technology with technology partners from Austria and Serbia

As the lead museum, we worked with a consortium of five partner museums and 200 disabled participants. The museums were: the Wallace Collection in London, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien in Austria, the Lázaro Galdiano Museum and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museo Nacional in Madrid and the Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias in Oviedo. Each museum recruited a panel of disabled people with a visual impairment, hearing impairment, or a learning disability, to evaluate existing museum resources and provide practical feedback on new technologies.

The V&A took held 50 participatory research sessions over this three-year period, where disabled people and technology companies co-designed accessible 3D replicas of art works, and also mobile phone apps, games and sign-language video avatars. Having established ways of working with the participatory group in London, additional groups were set up in Madrid, Asturias and Vienna.

The technology partners from Austria VRVis produced tactile images with audio descriptions, Easy Read and sign language interpretation; and Sign Time created a digital avatar to provide automated sign language in English, Spanish and Austrian-German.

Participants creating an artwork using the game

COPRIX Media from Serbia developed a game for desktops and tablets that features selected objects from each museum, so users can create their own masterpieces. The game’s accessibility options include voice accessibility in three languages, to enable visually impaired users to create their own art.

A further strand of the project was to carry out participatory research, led by The Open University and Bath University. Researchers found that people’s needs do not neatly fit into traditional categories, such as ‘blind’, ‘deaf’ or ‘learning difficulties’. So their focus has been upon the tools people can use, and their access preferences, such as audio-description, sign-language, Easy Read information, or step-free access, all integrated into each of the technical resources.

The final event of the project showcasing the newly-developed resources was held on 7 November in Madrid, where we shared a day of talks and roundtables at the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum.

This post was written by Barry Ginley and Suzana Skrbic

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 693229. 
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