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Universal Design (Accessibility)

Organization of this section
A word about Universal Design
An example of Universal Design


Exhibit Development at the Museum of Science encompasses

  1. Design - The "look and feel" of an exhibit
  2. Technical design - the design and construction of interactive components, from odor delivery systems to accessible computer interfaces
  3. Content - What is presented and how it is presented
  4. Formative and summative evaluation
  5. Planning for accessibility (universal design)
  6. Planning for maintenance of exhibit displays and interactives
  7. Construction of the space and its components
  8. Links with Program Division - related school and public programing, from plays and public demonstrations to classroom kits and school programs.

For major projects, exhibit development is a team process.

The development team typically consists of a project manager, designer, a technical designer, a planner (the content person), an access advisor, someone from the production and the exhibit maintenence shops, and a Programs Division liason.

Universal Design, guided by formative evaluation, is a consideration in each aspect of exhibit development, and the responsibility of all team members. Accessibility is part, but not all of - the Universal Design story.

Organization of the Universal Design section

This section will describe how the Museum integrates Universal Design into exhibit development. It will be illustrated with examples taken from exhibits developed by the Museum (Primarily New England Habitats, The Observatory, Investigate!, Secrets of Aging and Messages) and list general resources that we find helpful.

This will not be an exhaustive summary of all the considerations, measurements, etc that should go into developing a universally designed exhibit. We will link you to several excellent references that provide this. Rather, this will be an ongoing narrative of issues encountered and lessons learned during the development of several exhibits, and of our attempts to address these issues.

A word about Universal Design

"Universal Design" is about inclusion. In museums, it goes beyond accessibility, to educational concept. It defines an approach that uses multisensory, multimodal experiences as an educational tool - the means of communicating an exhibit’s main point.

"Multisensory and multimodal" implies choice - something for everyone. It implies that visitors with widely ranging ages, abilities, levels of interest and sophistication, learning styles and cultural identities can access the exhibit’s main messages and have fun doing it.

An example of Universal Design:

A xylophone in a case

A xylophone in a display case, accompanied by a text label could explain the relationship between the length of a vibrating sound source and the wavelength and pitch of the tone produced by the vibrations.

Add a way to strike a key and hear the tone, and a few more people will stop at the display and perhaps read the label.

Add an audio label

Add a descriptive audio label and you could include people who can’t read the text label - perhaps a young child, or someone who is blind or dyslexic.

Take away the glass case, and let people play with the xylophone. Or better - let them explore the science by assembling their own instrument.

Visitors construct their own xylophone
This xylophone is more attractive, interesting and potentially educational - not only for people with visual impairment, but for everyone who uses it. It is a universally designed activity.

It’s worth emphasizing that the choice of a xylophone is an access-driven content decision. There are many ways to present that particular scientific concept, but a xylophone illustrates the principle auditorally and tactiley, as well as visually.


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