Best practices: Making museums accessible

10. December 2019

The Rhineland-Palatinate Museum Association consciously promotes the creation of barrier-free access. Barbara Weber-Dellacroce was present at the dialogue between representatives of museums and the associations concerned.

tagung mainz

The creation of barrier-free access to museums in Rhineland-Palatinate is a process that is deliberately promoted by the Rhineland-Palatinate Museum Association.

In 2014, the Museum Association of Rhineland-Palatinate became the first German museum association to conclude a target agreement with associations of affected persons for the creation of barrier-free access in museums. This agreement has now been extended for another 5 years. ("Agreement on objectives for the creation of accessibility according to § 5 BGG between the Museum Association Rhineland-Palatinate and the organisations and self-help groups of disabled and chronically ill people in Rhineland-Palatinate"). Among the signatories were: for the state of Rhineland-Palatinate Prof. K. Wolf, Minister for Science, Further Education and Culture; Matthias Rösch, state representative for the concerns of disabled people; Bettina Scheeder, managing director of the Museum Association Rhineland-Palatinate; Dr. Elisabeth Dühr, chairwoman of the board of the Museum Association Rhineland-Palatinate and numerous representatives of the associations of disabled people. The aim of the event, held at the Museum of Ancient Shipping, was to use the best practices presented to start a dialogue, to identify what was successful and what needed improvement and to benefit from the experiences of others.  The event was a success precisely because it was very well attended not only by museum people, but above all by representatives of the associations of those affected.

In the greetings, it became clear that a process is underway, but tht it has not yet reached its goal. Those responsible in the museums are still learning, especially through feedback and expert advice from the associations of those affected. Numerous museums are therefore making efforts to develop their programmes and projects together with these experts. This has created many projects which, in the spirit of "Design for All", not only provide access for all those affected, but are also useful and convenient for all visitors.

At the meeting, Bettina Scheeder, the managing director of the Rhineland-Palatinate Museum Association, introduced the new museum portal. This was planned and implemented in a barrier-free manner, which can be seen in the excellent bitv test result. The association's website is to follow soon and together they can serve as best practice for e.g. museum websites.

Projects and programs from four museums

The first museum was the Museum of Ancient Shipping itself.  Ingrid Schmidts-Jütting presented the "Mixed Reality Open Lab". For some time now, a Roman shipwreck has been used here to test how content can be conveyed to everyone using analogue and digital means. A virtual reality station allows visitors to dive down to the wreck in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea. Stations with documentation boards offer in-depth information and in future an augmented reality station will also be available. All analogue stations are equipped with hands-on objects, texts in Braille and pyramid writing are available. A floor guidance system provides orientation. tuomi presented its NFC-Mediaguide, our contribution to the MR Open Lab. With tablets or smartphones, visitors can access either multimedia content or audio descriptions. All they have to do is briefly touch the tactile NFC chip with their device. Information can also be retrieved on a vistor's own smartphone, even without downloading an app. Currently, the focus is on the visually impaired and blind, but the guide can be supplemented at any time with videos in sign language or content in simplified language. During the joint tour, the MR Open Lab and especially the media guide met with great interest. We were especially grateful for the diverse feedback, which will enable us to improve the system even further.

Afterwards Julia Nebenführ and Theresia Kiefer from the Wilhelm-Hack-Museum Ludwigshafen presented an exhibition project with an inclusive design that was realized that summer. In the exhibition "Growths of the Soul", works by disabled and non-disabled artists were jointly presented on the theme of plants and their significance as signs or expressions of one's own feelings and thoughts. Works of Outsider Art as well as Surrealism and Symbolism dealt with dream worlds, dreams and secret desires. The supporting programme was also designed to be barrier-free and inclusive. Open guided tours with sign language interpreters and tours with tactile objects were offered, whereby anyone could participate in these tours. However, it was reported that some of those concerned would be more comfortable with a tour in the "protected space" of a closed group. Part of the supporting programme was also the planning and implementation of an inclusive art project in the museum's outdoor area.

Guided tours by specially trained staff

Under the heading "Hand in Hand zum inklusiven Museum - Ausstellungsgestaltung und Vermittlungsarbeit", Dr. Elisabeth Dühr from the Stadtmuseum Simeonstift Trier (Municipal Museum of the Simeon Abbey of Trier) presented the many different efforts the museum is making to make permanent and temporary exhibitions inclusive. Numerous approaches are being pursued, always in cooperation with those affected acting as consultants, idea providers and test groups. The museum, which was completely redesigned in 2007, is barrier-free for wheelchair users (including, of course, people with a walker or pram) and offers mobile seating.

Even though the website is not barrier-free yet, it still provides an overview of all barrier-free offers, also in simplified language. The museum offers public or special tours in sign language or for the visually impaired and blind. Special offers for dementia patients make it possible for them to visit the museum, but they are also conducted by the specially trained museum educator Dr. Dorothée Henschel in e.g. nursing homes.

Audioguides in several languages, including simplified language, are available. Among the bestsellers in the museum shop are the exhibition guides in simplified language especially the "Communist Manifesto", which was published by the museum for the Karl Marx Year 2018.

A special highlight is the so-called "Blinden-Kit" (kit for the blind), which was created by the museum in cooperation with the Trier University of Applied Sciences. One freely available trolley was set up per exhibition room, containing tactile room models for orientation, tactile objects for the highlights in the room, texts in pyramid and Braille, and an NFC audio guide (by tuomi) with audio descriptions. Thus, an independent visit to the permanent exhibition is possible at any time. In addition, the tactile objects also reduce the feeling of being in a "do not touch" museum. The tactile model of the Porta Nigra, a model consisting of several parts, also contributes to this, thus making clear to everyone the historically and art-historically complicated development from the Roman city gate to the landmark of today's Trier.

 "It is that easy!"

To see what is happeing outside of Rhineland-Palatinate, Svenja Gaube from the Stiftung Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin presented the video series in simplified language "It's as simple as that! A Visit to the German Museum of Technology". This idea, of making videos to help people find their way around the museum or to find their way into the museum in the first place, was developed by experts with learning difficulties in autumn 2017, who advised the German Museum of Technology on the subject of inclusion. The museum, in cooperation with the team of experts led by Holger Behrendt, who came up with the idea, has implemented this idea in an excellent way and intends to continue the project. An orientation film on the museum's website and a specially developed map, explained in easy language, now provide all visitors with easy access to the museum.

To visit:

How to get there:

You can find the films on the museum's Youtube channel:

What can we learn from all of this? The development of barrier-free and inclusive museums is a process that can only succeed in cooperation with affected people who contribute their expertise. It is extremely helpful that the target agreement in Rhineland-Palatinate has been extended. The museum representatives have presented many good ideas and projects. Certainly, many projects are very costly, especially for smaller museums, and thus difficult to implement. But the attention of all participants was drawn to some points in their own museums, where optimisation can be achieved, perhaps with more modest but still effective means. Whether it is the accessibility of the museums and the often very abstract directions, or the involvement of experts before projects are implemented. There are many ways forward. Some of them also turn out to be too complex for a simple solution, because there are not really "homogeneous target groups". (Lessons learned: this is a rather useless term, because it suggests that the demands of a clearly defined group are similar or equal. And in reality, these "clearly definable, homogeneous groups" probably never exist!) We can learn particularly well from practical reports on successes and especially on failures. Therefore, events like this, which provide direct feedback on projects and the opportunity for constructive discussions, are a real asset and we would like to thank the Rhineland-Palatinate Museum Association very much for organising the conference.

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