Accessible museum tours

Carl Thompson
Summary 
Many museum exhibitions now offer audio tours. The tours use headphones. They let visitors explore exhibitions at their own pace. But they are not accessible to some people. People who are Deaf or have a hearing impairment need information using Australian sign language. New technology can now offer information about exhibits on a mobile phone. The tours are available now at the National Sports Museum. The museum is at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Users can scan special codes. The codes start a sign language video that people can watch. The system means people do not miss out on any information.
Posted by: 
Carl Thompson on 20/06/2011
A black smart phone with an image of a man using sign language on the screen
Auslan phone

The phone plays a pre-recorded Auslan video with captions

Many museum exhibitions now offer audio tours. The tours let visitors explore exhibitions at their own pace. Visitors can enjoy a detailed commentary through a set of headphones. They are particularly appreciated by people with vision impairment.

However, audio tours are not accessible to people who are Deaf or have a hearing impairment. Guided tours using Auslan (Australian Sign Language) are often provided as an alternative. But guided tours do not offer the same flexibility and freedom as a personal commentary.

New technology for people who are Deaf or have a hearing impairment has been developed by the Australian Communication Exchange. It was a partnership with the National Sports Museum. The technology allows people to experience museum tours independently using a smart phone. The tours are available now at the National Sports Museum. The museum is at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Smart technology

The new system uses Quick Response (QR) codes. The codes can be recognised by a smart phone's camera. When a code is scanned, the phone plays a pre-recorded Auslan video with captions. Museum visitors can borrow a smart phone from the museum. They can also use their own compatible device.

Using the system, the visitor can access tour information at their own pace. They can explore the exhibits any way they choose. They can also pause, rewind and skip commentary. The system helps ensure independence and access for Deaf and hearing impaired visitors.

What it means

Jim loves sport, especially Australian rules football. I've always loved footy, says Jim. My old man used to take me to lots of games as a kid. I remember loving the atmosphere in the stadium. (I loved) the roar of the crowd after a big goal.

Jim lost all his hearing when he was a teenager. Learning sign language made a huge difference to his life. When I finally learned Auslan I made some great Deaf mates, Jim says. It really helped me start feeling better. It was a whole new language and a whole new way of communicating. Auslan really opened my ears!

Jim thinks that independently experiencing Auslan tours of sport exhibitions is exciting. Reliving past glory through a tour at the National Sports Museum in my own special language is definitely something I'm looking forward to, Jim says.

Not just sport

Mary is not interested in sport. I've never been a fan, Mary says. Maybe because I was never any good at it! But Mary is excited at the possibility of Auslan tours being introduced to a variety of museums. I love art exhibitions, paintings, sculptures. I enjoy them all.

Mary has had to make do with reading about the art she sees in exhibitions. But she says she would rather be told what she is viewing. Auslan tours will make it just that bit more educational, Mary says. I want to have the passion that goes into the artwork communicated to me directly, and in my language.

Around the world

Australian Communication Exchange CEO Sandy Gilliland hopes the technology will be used in museums around the world.

The Smart Auslan project with the National Sports Museum is a breakthrough in exhibition accessibility for Deaf and hearing impaired Australians, says Ms Gilliland. We see this as the first of many museums and galleries that will look to further cultural access for all Australians by opening their doors wider for the Deaf and hearing impaired communities.

Comment on this article