Exhibitions are complex presentations that convey concepts, showcase objects, and excite the senses. However, as museums recognize the diversity within their audiences, they realize that exhibitions must do more: exhibitions must teach to different learning styles, respond to issues of cultural and gender equity, and offer multiple levels of information. The resulting changes in exhibitions have made these presentations more understandable, enjoyable, and connected to visitors’ lives.
Accessible design must be a part of this new philosophy of exhibition development because people with disabilities are a part of museums’ diverse audience. Discovering exciting, attractive ways to make exhibitions accessible will most directly serve people with disabilities and older adults. But to name an audience who will not benefit by these designs is impossible. Accessibility begins as a mandate to serve people who have been discriminated against for centuries; it prevails as a tool that serves diverse audiences for a lifetime.
Exhibition designers, curators, registrars, conservators, collections managers, designers, editors, developers, educators, and other exhibition team members each offer particular insights into the exhibition medium. All of you are in a unique position to synthesize accessibility solutions into your development processes. The Smithsonian challenges its exhibition teams to invent such solutions and to share those findings with colleagues through this document.
Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibition Design is a living document. The design tools here, like all creative resources, must be mixed and matched and tested in different combinations to find workable solutions. Updates, adjustments and refinements will be distributed by the Accessibility Program as better tools are devised.
Published January 2010