Friday, October 8, 2010

Audiences with special needs

In a blog post today, Alison Russell describes some of the ways the Imperial War Museum in England caters for the needs of sight-impaired visitors.

Imperial War Museum (Jim Bahn on Flickr)

It is not surprising to see her report that the Museum finds that interpretation aimed at special needs visitors is very popular with general visitors. We often see adults having fun in child-oriented areas.

I particularly like her description of audio tours developed for the sight-impaired:
The language and descriptions were beautifully evocative, describing size, colour, shape, detail and history of some of the aircraft on display.

No wonder these interpretive devices have broad appeal!

I recall our 'Knowledge Quest' project where we studied family visitors to museums. One of the visiting groups comprised a mother who was blind and her two primary-aged children. We saw the two boys helping her to engage with the Chinese Dinosaurs exhibition at the Australian Museum. For example, they stood her at the head of one of the skeletons and they all counted the number of steps it took to walk to the tail, and they read text panels to her. In our follow-up interview in their home a couple of weeks later, we noted that these children had more specific memories of their museum visit than most other children we interviewed. 

I often think that parents who accompany children to museums have a strong experience partly because they act as interpreters for their children. Just as the car driver remembers the route better than the passengers, the active party is more engaged than those who just follow along.

This could be the kernel of an idea for new programs that put the audience in the driving seat.

Contributed by Gillian Savage

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