Milton Keynes Gallery requested our advice regarding the extension to the building. MK Gallery wanted to improve the accessibility and inclusion of deaf and hard of hearing visitors to the building. Below is an outline of the advice and information that we gave to support MK Gallery’s accessibility and inclusion process.
Deafness and hearing loss occurs across a spectrum. The categories of deafness are determined by the level of hearing loss/deafness – mild, moderate, severe or profound. Consequently, there are different groups of deaf and hard of hearing people: deaf (sign language users), deaf (speech users), those who use cochlear implants or hearing aids and so on. Ultimately the ‘labels’ attached to these groups are irrelevant as the aim of any visiting experience needs to be ‘universality’ so anyone, regardless of difference or need, can access and enjoy a museum or gallery.
Integrated and mobile hearing loops – we agreed that some areas need integrated loops. There are a number of companies that supply hearing loops but for convenience, I suggested approaching Action on Hearing Loss as they have a range of loops and can also install them.
Training for staff – we can provide Deaf & Disability awareness training. We can also provide sign language training which would consist of a six week course and would include bespoke signs for the gallery.
Deaf artists – there are a number of young artists at university at present studying photography, fine art, sculpture and there are also theatre groups run by deaf artists. A list of contact details can be provided at a later date.
A member of staff who is deaf/hard of hearing – we discussed Access to Work funding and how interpreters would be used by a staff member.
Equality Act and reasonable adjustments – I explained that there are alternatives to the provision of sign language interpreters at events such as remote speech to text services.
Website: You could add a note near the contact telephone number such as ‘Textphone prefix 18001’ as this indicates your awareness that some visitors have hearing loss. Alternatively, you could use a video relay service that enables BSL users to contact you with any queries they have.
Café areas of any attraction are problematic to hearing aid and cochlear implant users due to sound reverberation. It is possible to reduce noise reverberation by attaching panels or baffles to the ceiling/walls. The panels could be integrated into the colour scheme so they would not be readily noticeable in the environment. The positioning of panels also needs to be considered in order to achieve maximum sound absorption.
Some of the ways in which the visiting experience could be made to make a museum or gallery more accessible and inclusive:
Map: In each room/area, have a map available with a key to identify and briefly explain an item of interest.
Mobile app: Alternatively, have an app that explains objects within each room. There are companies such as Heritage Interactive that create apps for museums.
Tour guides: Encourage the volunteers to demonstrate how objects work. Demonstration brings objects to life and helps visitors get a clearer picture of how an object was used. For deaf visitors, demonstration can be key to understanding an object. Volunteers and staff need to be aware of communication strategies that are needed when communicating with deaf and hard of hearing people.
Subtitles: Video clips need subtitles. There are many software options for embedding subtitles on the market. However, youtube has an edit feature or you can download free software depending on which operating system you have on the museum computers.
Interpreted events: Have events that are interpreted into BSL to make the museum more accessible to sign language users.
We are pleased that many of our recommendations were taken on board and are still being used today. For example, the gallery has been host to Chisato Minamimura who provides art tours in BSL.