Museum podcasts: An ideal virtual format for blind and low vision visitors

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic closed museums across Canada. In response, museums began looking for ways to offer accessible remote experiences of their exhibitions online.

In September 2020, I joined Ingenium – Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation as a Curatorial Studies practicum student.

My task was to explore possibilities for producing a web-based version of the Canada Science and Technology’s Sound by Design exhibition that was accessible to the blind and low vision community. After developing several concepts — and consulting with potential target audiences — it was determined that the podcast format offered many benefits to the blind and low vision community that made it ideally suited to this purpose.

Between October and November 2020, with assistance from the Canada Council of the Blind (CCB), I interviewed several blind and low vision participants, including radio hosts and thought leaders. One-on-one conversations were conducted over the telephone. Participants also volunteered to evaluate the accessibility of virtual exhibitions and share their interpretations of these experiences.

Over the course of these consultations, it became clear that museum podcasts were an ideal means of translating exhibition content into engaging virtual experiences for blind and low-vision visitors.

Participants frequently remarked that podcasts were well-established sources of news and entertainment within the vision-impaired community, and that this format ranked high for its ability to fit well with their lifestyles, offer a variety of content, and provide accessible and familiar navigation.

Participants also provided a list of recommendations for how the museum could create a museum podcast that would offer the best experience for members of this community. These recommendations included:

  • It should be developed with a member of the blind and low-vision community
  • It should be in an interview tour format, with the voices of those directly involved
  • It should be as in-person as possible
  • It should include binaural soundscapes for spatial presence
  • It should include image description as part of the interview/discussion
  • It should use authentic audio clips to bring the exhibition to life
  • It should provide visuals, allowing the museum experience to be shared with sighted friends simultaneously
  • It should be an entertaining and social experience

The full results of this study — including consultation summaries, participant-provided audio museum tour reviews, recommended podcast design frameworks, and a sample podcast script — can be found in a report titled, “Experiences and Methodologies in Working with People with Impaired and Low-Vision to Create Content for a Virtual Exhibition.” (PDF)

While COVID-19 pandemic restrictions prevented us from producing the podcast as planned, Ingenium aims to revisit the project as soon as public health and safety guidelines permit.

Funding support for this project was provided by NSERC CREATE READi.

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Carla Ayukawa

Carla is a Master of Design and Curatorial Studies student at Carleton University. She is interested in participatory design strategies for developing inclusive and accessible museum exhibitions that are intellectually accessible to visitors with vision impairments. She combines multisensory-oriented object reading and qualitative research methods to develop new insights on old objects.