Digital technologies in museums: Critical issues and opportunities for equal access to cultural heritage

Open Access
Conference Proceedings
Authors: Alessia BrischettoEster IaconoClaudia Becchimanzi

Abstract: The museum experience is characterized by interaction with many different artifacts, including tablets and smartphones, which support the visit by providing access to purpose-built audio guides, site-specific apps designed for the particular museum to visit, etc. They may integrate Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR) to enrich the visit or otherwise provide for different levels of interaction with the aim of engaging (engagement) people. In terms of inclusivity, major operating systems include built-in Assistive Technologies by default, which are becoming increasingly advanced. In fact, Assistive Technologies now feature most smartphones and have also become pervasive due to the optimization of Vocal User Interfaces and Artificial Intelligence. In particular, in terms of pervasiveness, features such as IOS's "Accessibility settings" (Android also offers similar functionality) in recent years enhanced the modality of access and enjoyment of technology and actually enable millions of people to communicate and practice their right to autonomy as never before (these kinds of features required the installation of accessory plug-ins or the purchase of external peripherals until a few years ago). Audio-guides, although a popular tool, still make knowledge inaccessible to the deaf public. In fact, audio-guides, unlike video-guides, allow visitors only access to audio and exclude other forms of communication support such as text, graphics, route maps, and/or video. To overcome this issue and guarantee access to the widest possible number of people, many museums are adopting customized solutions for the specific category of disability. For example, they use LIS audio guide and video guide on their own tablet devices or provide for their integration within museum apps. This research aims to contribute to inclusive access to culture for all people in museums. This goal is being achieved through the analysis of critical issues and the identification of implementation opportunities for the artifacts with which visitors interact and through which the very experience of visiting is shaped.This paper presents a state-of-the-art study of the main artifacts that are part of the museum visit, with a focus on accessibility. The study includes museum Apps at international level, web accessibility plugins, and the different standard accessibility features offered by the main operating systems (iOS and Android). The results of the research show a lack of tools that provide museum accessibility in terms of full inclusion, i.e., taking into account several disabilities at the same time, including long-term physical, mental, cognitive or sensory impairments, which are often unseen. In fact, apps and artifacts for museum tours have a tendency to divide functions according to disability category (focusing, for example, only on the deaf or only on the blind), thus accentuating the stigmatizing and divisive effect. Moreover, the research highlights that only a few virtuous examples, among those selected, succeed in offering a museum experience according to an inclusive approach, despite the integration of technologies and the support of applications and websites.Lastly, the purpose of this paper is to stimulate a reflection on the topic of accessibility in terms of both technology and design, in order to go beyond mere conformity to standards rather to integrate it with the many qualitative and quantitative tools offered by research in design, so as to disseminate devices and artifacts that make culture fully accessible in the museum setting

Keywords: Inclusive Design, Interaction Design, Accessibility, Assistive Technologies, Museums

DOI: 10.54941/ahfe1003175

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