Making Collections accessible to deaf people - a checklist
Welcoming deaf visitors
- Reception desks are often located in very noisy areas; this creates almost impossible conditions for hearing aid users. What can you do to improve the acoustics around your reception area?
- Most modern hearing aids are equipped with an inductive pickup coil which will work with a standard “loop” system. Are your reception positions equipped with loops? Are these designed so that the microphone is very close to where the reception staff usually stand? [Tie-clip microphones are ideal.] Are the loops regularly tested? Are there clear signs telling customers that a loop system is available?
- All reception staff should be familiar with the contents of the NADP’s guide “A few tips for successful communication with deaf people”. Full time reception staff should have received some form of recognised deaf awareness training, with periodic refresher training.
Many museums & galleries now provide self guided audio tours, which create obvious accessibility barriers for deaf people, particularly where the audio guide is used to replace descriptive labelling of exhibits rather than to supplement it. Ways of handling this problem could include:
Tours and Video based material
- If your audio guides don’t have a built-in loop coil, insist that your system supplier provides an adequate number of inductive neck loops which hearing aid users can plug into the guide to link it to their aids. Ensure that these loops are regularly tested by an experienced hearing aid user, and are clearly advertised to potential users. [If your audio guides won’t support a loop coil then you need a new system supplier!]
- Many deaf people aren’t able to use hearing aids, and many hearing aid users have only limited speech perception. They need to have the information in your audio guide system made available to them in text format. Could you provide an alternative system based on PDA technology which allows deaf people to read the audio guide commentary on a hand held screen?
- As a basic fallback the audio guide commentary should be made available to deaf people in printed format, and reception staff should ensure that visitors are aware of this facility.
- A significant number of deaf people also have eyesight issues, so ensuring that all your exhibits are labelled in an easily readable format will help them as well as helping visually impaired visitors.
- Increasingly museums & galleries offer video displays running short films or slide shows to enhance the visitor experience. In many cases most of the information content of these displays is in the sound track, and watching them without access to the sound track can be an extremely frustrating experience. As a basic minimum these display points should all be provided with inductive loops to help hearing aid users. The loops should be tested regularly, and be equipped with signs telling visitors that a loop is available.
- However for many deaf visitors the only realistic way of making these displays accessible is to equip them with subtitles. The cost of doing this is minimal, and the NADP will be pleased to advise of ways of doing so.
- Deaf visitors will only buy DVDs from your shop if they are subtitled. When deciding which DVDs to buy for your stocks, explain to your suppliers that you have a strong preference for stocking subtitled material.
- Many museums & galleries provide gallery tours and lectures, and should consider how to make these accessible to deaf visitors. There are various ways of tackling this issue. Remember that deafness comes in many forms, and adopting just one of these measures is unlikely to address the needs of all your deaf visitors.
Gallery refurbishments and extensions.
- Lectures should always be hosted in a room with good acoustic treatment and equipped with a good quality loop system. Ensure that the lighting arrangements in the room allow for the needs of lipreaders.
- Consider using a radio based microphone system to allow hearing aid users to listen to tour guides through the inductive loop in their aids.
- Consider providing lipspeaker supported tours.
- Consider inviting an organisation such as STAGETEXT to provide captioning support for some of your tours and lectures. Less formal captioning support for lectures can be provided by a speech-to-text reporter [see AVSTTR].
Inevitably many museums & galleries have to work within the constraints of buildings which were not designed with accessibility issues in mind. This underlines the importance of ensuring that all refurbishment and extension projects are vigorously exploited as an opportunity to improve access. All too often we see cases where tens of thousands of pounds have been spent on providing wheelchair access ramps, but without any provision of the things costing a few hundred pounds that improve access for deaf people. Architects and designers should be instructed to pay direct attention to issues such as improving room acoustics and lighting, providing inductive loops, etc.