In the age of inclusivity, making resources more accessible is the way forward for organisations and institutions across all industries. For the heritage and cultural sector, this most certainly begins with upgrading a museum, gallery or heritage site’s physical accessibility; but it must also stretch beyond the walls of the museum, out into the community and into people’s homes.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, thousands of cultural attractions and venues have pivoted successfully to online delivery. With the nationwide lockdowns resulting in many museums and galleries closing their doors to the public, every institution has had to improve their presence in the digital world to continue their mission to educate, inform and entertain.
As many speakers at recent MuseumNext Summits have shown, these efforts have been warmly received and highly successful in many instances. And so the challenge now is to both consolidate those accessibility improvements and work hard to ensure that momentum continues to build in this digital direction.
The importance of website accessibility
Ensuring ease of access for people with disabilities gives every visitor the means to participate fully and independently in the digital resources that are now so abundantly available from institutions.
Just like the installation of access ramps and disabled access lifts in museum buildings, a more accessible website ensures broader inclusivity and a removal of barriers to digital entry.
Online accessibility matters because an institution’s digital assets have been shown to grow participation and engagement drastically. Not only that but digital tools enable institutions to market themselves to groups in society that might never have been exposed to museums before – be that for cultural reasons or due to disability.
Meaningful content, seen and heard
Adding alternative text or ‘alt text’ throughout a website is the simplest step to upgrading digital accessibility. Alt text offers a short description of an image, and is integral if the browser visiting a website cannot see the image in question.
The use of alt text on every image isn’t necessary, but visually describing images classed as ‘meaningful’ is. Meaningful imagery, such as diagrams, graphs, maps, tables, or links, buttons and other interactive controls must be labelled accurately and made compatible with assistive technology. This will ensure a website can be used exactly how it’s meant to be used and the specific information depicted is legible to all, including the visually impaired.
For graphs, diagrams and other displays that use colour and contrast to deliver information, alt text and other non-colour-based methods communicate the information accurately to people who have difficulty perceive colours.
Multimedia, such as videos, should also be captioned, transcribed and described precisely for museum websites striving for digital inclusion. Across the entire website, text should be able to be enlarged and entire pages made zoom-friendly up to 200% magnification to deliver an optimisable experience to disabled visitors.
Limiting language barriers
Opening up a museum’s digital resources to a global audience should be another accessibility priority in 2022, and this extends to altering speech and braille output in different languages. At the most basic level, museum websites must be compatible with web standard speech-enabled software to guarantee legibility for disabled visitors.
Navigating digital accessibility
Ensuring that websites and apps make navigation simple and intuitive is a challenge many institutions face. Indeed, as any tech expert will attest, optimising the user journey through a digital platform is both a science and an art in itself.
In addition to providing alt text for images that depict links, buttons and other interactive controls, the clear labelling and styling of hyperlinks placed within text is important. There are numerous methods for enhancing link styles to ensure better accessibility, including the age-old underline.
The primary controls of a website should be just as accessible, even if visitors don’t have or cannot operate a mouse. Striking the balance between design and digital accessibility isn’t easy, especially as the museum website has to appeal to both disabled and able-bodied people. Many museums provide better primary navigations through a clearly visible ‘point of regard’ indicator.
As with the zoom function, making keyboard navigation possible across all or part of a website will be beneficial to all users, making pages mobile friendly, and enhancing usability and performance for all visitors.
Further Reading and Resources:
W3 – Introduction to Website Accessibility
VocalEyes – Accessibility Resources for Museums
BBC Accessibility Help
British Museum Accessibility Statement