Museums have long been places of learning, discovery, and cultural exchange. However, ensuring that everyone, regardless of their background or abilities, can access and enjoy these institutions remains a challenge. One tool that has been instrumental in bridging this gap is the audioguide. Traditionally seen as a mere translation tool for foreign tourists, the audioguide has undergone significant transformations in recent years, evolving into a powerful instrument for inclusivity.
The Evolution of Audioguides
For many years, audioguides were primarily viewed as tools for translating content for foreign tourists visiting museums. However, they have experienced several fundamental changes over the past few years. Audioguides are companions of visits.
Initially, the audioguide was primarily a linguistic accessibility tool, allowing for the translation of cultural content. Over the past two decades, its form and function have evolved. The device has become more compact, ensuring that it doesn’t hinder the visitor’s experience. Some modern audioguides, can be directly connected to hearing aids, enhancing accessibility for the hearing-impaired. Additionally, some devices now come with screens, transforming them into “visioguides” that can provide content in French Sign Language (LSF).
Audioguides for Diverse Audiences
Beyond the physical changes, the content of audioguides has also evolved to cater to a broader audience. Typically, audioguides offer translations in the most common languages spoken by foreign tourists. However, for a truly inclusive audioguide, it’s essential to involve the target audience in its production. When setting up an audio guide, museums should consider their audience and the story they want to convey. Avoiding complicated words and sentences, and ensuring that texts are free from jargon, can make the content more accessible. The Mucem museum in Marseille took this approach in 2019 by allowing local middle school students to curate an exhibition. Audioguides were then made available to visitors, allowing them to hear the students’ perspectives on the exhibits.
Audioguides as Accessibility Tools
The audioguide as the primary tool for assisting visitors. While the primary target remains foreign visitors, the museum can offer tours in LSF and audio descriptions, emphasizing translation that respects the language and culture of the users
The Power of Audioguides
Audioguides have evolved from mere translation tools to instruments of inclusivity. They not only provide linguistic accessibility but also cater to diverse needs, ensuring that museums resonate with a broader audience. For instance, modern audioguides, like those offered by Orphéo, can connect directly to hearing aids, enhancing the experience for the hearing-impaired. Devices with screens, known as “visioguides,” can offer content i Sign Language (LSF), further promoting inclusivity.
Promoting Equal Access and Inclusion
To truly make museums welcoming, barriers must be removed. This means considering the myriad ways visitors might engage with content. Some initiatives that have been adopted by museums globally include:
Quiet hours and sensory-friendly resources: These cater to individuals on the autism spectrum, providing noise-reducing headphones and fidget toys.
Tactile exhibits and multisensory tours: These are designed for the blind and visually impaired, offering a more immersive experience.
3D printing: This technology is used to create touchable replicas of paintings, allowing visitors to “feel” the art.
Braille and tactile floorplans: These ensure that even the layout of the museum is accessible.
ASL programs and tours: These cater to the deaf and hearing impaired, ensuring they don’t miss out on the rich narratives museums offer.
Real-time captioning: This is especially useful for events like lectures, making them accessible to those with hearing challenges.
Activities for individuals with Alzheimer’s: Tailored discussions and art-making sessions can provide therapeutic benefits.
Workshops for visitors with learning disabilities: These can be designed to cater to their specific needs, ensuring they have a fulfilling museum experience.
Innovative Initiatives in Museums
Several museums have taken the lead in promoting inclusivity:
The Smithsonian American Art Museum offers America InSight verbal description tours for visitors who are blind or have low vision. These tours, led by trained docents, provide rich verbal descriptions and sensory experiences.
The Whitney Museum introduced video blogs (vlogs) featuring deaf museum educators communicating in American Sign Language (ASL), focusing on contemporary art topics.
The Canadian Museum of Human Rights (CMHR) prioritized inclusion from its inception. They set up an Inclusive Design Advisory Council and developed a mobile app offering a fully accessible self-guided tour in ASL and Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ).
Language Access and Diversity
With 20% of U.S. residents speaking a language other than English at home, language access is crucial. Museums are now embracing multilingual approaches, offering translated subtitles for films, captioning multimedia content, and providing audio tours in multiple languages. For instance, the Metropolitan Museum of Art offers an audio guide in English and nine other languages, enhancing the visitor experience.
Supporting Visually Impaired Guests
Audio description is increasingly being used to assist blind or visually impaired visitors. This entails providing concise, objective descriptions between dialogues to help listeners understand essential visual elements. Museums are incorporating audio description into various presentations, ensuring that the content is accessible to all.
Inclusivity in museums is not just about physical access; it’s about ensuring that every visitor feels seen, heard, and valued. Audioguides, with their evolving features and capabilities, are playing a pivotal role in this transformation, ensuring that museums remain spaces of learning, discovery, and cultural exchange for all.