Project Description

 Children’s Museum Accessiblility Design

Overview

The Children’s Museum is a brick-and-mortar museum that showcases exhibits and programs to stimulate informal learning experiences for children. While most museums have a hands-off approach to learning/viewing exhibits, Children’s Museum’s feature interactive exhibits that are designed to be manipulated by children.

The location that I partnered with for this project was located in Indianapolis, IN, and is well known as being the world’s largest Children’s Museum.

While the museum already had features available to assist children with more common, mild accessibility needs, they needed help with improving their existing accessibility features and standards to help children with more acute needs. More specifically, the museum wanted to focus efforts into addressing the needs of children with sensory sensitivities such as Autism, Asperger’s, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), etc.

A small group consisting of myself and 2 other designers were tasked with improving accessibility standards for children with sensory sensitivities throughout the museum in both digital and physical formats.

Solution

Conduct a full-scale accessibility study spanning across The Children’s Museum’s responsive website and mobile app, as well as individual physical exhibits located inside the museum itself. The main goal of this project was to present several accessible design recommendations for improvements to be made to existing museum standards. Due to the nature of the project, extensive research was needed to determine accurate accessibility design recommendations.

My Role

  • UX Research, Interviewing, Data Analysis
  • U‌X/UI Design, Prototyping

Duration

1 year

Tools Used

  • Sketch
  • Studio
  • After Effects

The Challenge

This project was nearly 8-10 months of pure research, and as such, the biggest challenge was that most of our target audience were minors, and naturally needed a guardian present throughout any research scenarios. In addition to this, due to the nature of the project itself, a large amount of the children we were interviewing may have been nonverbal, or have other challenges that may have impacted their ability to participate in some activities.

As such, a lot of reliance was placed on guardians to accurately depict ways in which their child may react to certain hypothetical situations, or determine ways in which their child would benefit from accessibility enhancements at the museum.

General Overview

Individuals with sensory sensitivities have difficulty processing certain stimuli that may be present in various situations. You can imagine that in a place such as a museum (and one that caters to children at that) there are dozens of stimulating sights, sounds, colors, or objects constantly buzzing around these individuals at all times.

The Children’s Museum acknowledged that while situations with large amounts of stimulants may be perfectly fine for most children – those who are able to process this new situation and react appropriately once prompted – for other children, being overstimulated can be overwhelming.

For children on the Autistic spectrum, for example, new, unfamiliar situations, coupled with large crowds, flashing lights, and unfamiliar noises, could prove to be quite a large obstacle they’re faced with to enjoy what some may consider a fun trip to the museum.

Research

Research for this project consisted of several phases. Our first phase of research was done with families who were frequent visitors of the museum. Families were then narrowed down to common visitors who simultaneously had children or young adults with sensory sensitivities.

Group interview sessions were scheduled with one child and their guardian with 1-3 interviewers present. Interviews typically consisted of general interaction with the participant in varying formats, with initial discussions detailing common experiences for the sensory sensitive participant in new, unfamiliar situations, as well as detailing ways to assist with keeping them from being overwhelmed in various situations. Observations and impromptu interviews were completed in various areas of the museum, most notably new exhibit launches, bright areas, dimly-lit areas, loud areas, quiet areas, common areas where large groups were prevalent, and even entry and exit areas, including parking lots and ticket counters.

Our later phases consisted of web accessibility studies for all of the museum’s digital platforms, including their mobile and tablet apps, and current responsive website. Based on all of the research that was conducted, we ultimately made several recommendations for accessible design improvements for both digital and physical museum experiences.

Recommendations

Based on all of the research that had been completed over the larger part of a year, prototypes that were made and tested, and data that was analyzed, we made several recommendations for accessibility improvements spanning both physical and digital platforms.

With each of our recommendations we included fully analyzed data and summarized interview transcripts to ensure that the museum retained all of the data for any future concerns about accessibility standards. Some of the accessible design features and changes that we recommended included the creation of various exhibit-focused educational games for children, improvements to the Accessibility page currently available on The Children’s Museum’s website, various accessibility features including interactive and customizable social narratives, sensory maps, and much more.

Although I am not able to show much relating to the research, prototyping, or accessibility recommendations that were completed throughout the span of this project, I’m happy to talk about it in more detail. Feel free to get in touch!

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