Digital accessibility in museums

An icon of a wheelchair user going uphill

As part of my research intervention, as a One by One Digital Fellow, I have created and facilitated a Digital Community of Practice at the National Museum Wales.  This is an on-going forum, open to all staff to come together to learn and share knowledge on a wide range of digital topics.  At the end of each meeting, staff are encouraged to share areas of interest or themes that they wish to see covered in future meetings.

During the last two meetings, staff members mentioned that they would like to learn more about digital accessibility.  This is a subject that I am passionate about, and as such, I began to think about the breadth and scope that tackling such a topic could entail – especially in the context of our wider project and our aim to build digitally confident museums.

We might think about ‘accessibility’ in terms of creating digital products (web sites, apps, exhibitions, etc.) so that users who are disabled can use them.  This is, of course, a crucial part of any cultural institution’s responsibility to their audiences, and is an area that requires continual diligence, rigour and focus to ensure digital products are created and developed that are usable and useful for everyone.

However, I also began to think about other areas of digital accessibility (especially in terms of workforce skills) which are less talked about, but which would be equally important to bring into this area of discourse and practice. This has led me to reflect more on the experience of staff with disabilities who work in museums, or might want to work there. In other words, how questions and responsibilities around digital access affect museum workers themselves.

People who are disabled play a key part in creating truly inclusive workplaces.  Their knowledge and experiences help create awareness and cultural diversity in our institutions that ultimately benefit all staff.

However, at a time when we rely ever more on digital technology to do our jobs, are we keeping pace with accessibility issues, and if not, at what cost? Are there digital barriers that prevent disabled people from working in cultural organizations?  From digital recruitment practices to workplace accommodation for digital tools such as management systems, are we supporting people who are disabled to be themselves and do their jobs?

Are we creating a level playing field so that people of all abilities can take advantage of work opportunities (particularly in an era of growing online digital collaboration) within our institutions?

Further to this, are cultural institutions embedding accessibility standards and principles within workforce planning practices and professional development plans? Is digital accessibility for staff being championed and communicated as part of corporate values and if so, how well are we measuring the success in staff awareness and the elimination of barriers?

People who are disabled make up our an ever increasing proportion of our society and workforce.  Much like the advances in removing barriers to recruit and better represent gender, ethnic, religious and LBGTQ+ groups within organizations, is the cultural sector keeping pace with what it takes to ensure that our cultural institutions are representing all abilities within their workforces? And where is the conversation about how accessible our ‘digital workplace’ might be? Or – to look at it another way – where are discussing how the arrival of more and more digital tools in the workplace might afford us the opportunity to make the workplace more accessible?

I’d love to hear from you!

Over the next phase of One By One (especially as we enter our last Phase of the project, and start to build our overall Framework) I am keen to explore these themes to try to understand what is being done in the cultural sector, where the gaps lie and how best to embed and promote digital accessibility both for audiences and within our cultural organizations.

If these questions resonate with you and you want to explore them more, or if there are resources, people or projects that you think One by One needs to be considering in this context, do – please – get in touch with us by tweeting @yotigoudas or emailing yoti@fat-ears.com.

After all, one thing that continues to characterise our work on One by One (as this post hopefully shows) is the open and collegial way that we are pursuing this investigation together, as a sector.

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