Museums and the Web 2005
Papers

Reports and analyses from around the world are presented at MW2005.

Providing Deaf and Hard-Of-Hearing Visitors With On-Demand, Independent Access To Museum Information and Interpretation Through Handheld Computers

Nancy Proctor, Antenna Audio (London), UK

Abstract

This paper discusses the use of handheld computers or PDAs to provide accessible interpretation for deaf and hard-of-hearing visitors to museums and visitor attractions. It describes the differing needs of and attitudes towards deafness and hearing loss among this diverse population, and outlines best practice guidelines for producing access tours for deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences. These guidelines are based on visitor feedback and evaluations of digital Sign Language and Subtitled Guides at three museums in the US and UK in 2003 and 2004: the British Sign Language Multimedia Tour at Tate Modern in London, the American Sign Language Guide at The Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore and a Subtitled Guide at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

Keywords: Access, deaf, deafened, hard-of-hearing, sign language, subtitling, captioning, PDA, handheld computer, multimedia, wireless

New Technologies for Access

For many deaf and hard-of-hearing visitors, new handheld technologies offer the first chance to tour cultural attractions in complete independence, receiving interpretation about the exhibits on demand and in a visual format – video or text – on a handheld computer or PDA. Thanks to the mobile screen-based platform, a number of solutions are now possible for providing access to audiences of varying needs based on the following digital guide concepts:

  1. Sign Language Guides provide Deaf visitors with subtitled video footage of signed interpretation;
  2. Subtitled Guides add an extra layer of communication to audio-visual tours for visitors who are hard-of-hearing or deaf visitors who do not sign; and
  3. Audio+™ Text Tours make audio tour scripts and other textual information available in a full-screen, scrollable, large print format along with the audio guide.

Screen Shot: Deaf visitors to Tate Modern

Fig 1 :† Deaf visitors to Tate Modern use the British Sign Language Multimedia Guide.

Text and signed content is locally-stored on the handheld device or accessed through a wireless network that connects to a central server. In a wireless network, practically limitless information and content with real-time interactivity can be delivered to visitors in the gallery, including video and still images that provide additional context for the exhibits and other interactive features. Often the same handheld computers, wireless infrastructure, and even content deployed for multimedia and audio tours can be re-utilized in Sign Language, Subtitled Guides and Audio+™ Text Tours. Conversely, text and signed content produced for handheld tours can be repurposed for use online and in multimedia kiosks, CD-ROMs and DVDs.

Diverse Audiences

Deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences are far from homogeneous, and no single solution will satisfy every special need; there are, however, areas of overlap among these disparate audiences that offer strategic opportunities to broaden access, and not just to deaf and hard-of-hearing visitors. Good access benefits all visitors.

Who is Deaf?

The Deaf community is a cultural and linguistic minority, which includes people who were born deaf, were deafened before beginning to speak, or who may have deaf parents and whose first language is one of the world's many sign languages. People who identify themselves in this way do not consider themselves to be disabled, but as members of a specific community, describing themselves as Deaf with a capital D.

The use of museums, libraries and archives has often figured low in the cultural experiences of those whose first language is sign language, as written text represents a second or 'foreign' language and is therefore a less accessible or direct route to information. Often there is very little provision of information and interpretation in sign language at museums, and deaf visitors requiring sign language interpretation are usually required to book in advance or attend talks as a group.

Who Is Hard Of Hearing?

Varying degrees of hearing loss and various communication means and skills make it difficult to define a uniform public that is hard-of-hearing. Some people can hear audio played at a high volume. Users of digital hearing aids may find that a t-coil makes standard audio tours accessible, or that subtitled audio content is the most accessible form of interpretation. Still others are deaf but communicate through text, lip reading and speaking instead of sign language. Many people with hearing loss also have other sensory impairments, such as tunnel vision, or mobility difficulties as a result of aging, which can impact their ability to use digital guides and other interpretation facilities.

There is an equal diversity of both cultural and personal attitudes towards hearing loss; some people may aim to integrate with the hearing population as much as possible, while others tend to identify with distinct communities of people with similar needs. Regardless, with 20 to 26 million people who are hard of hearing in the US alone, there is huge demand for cultural and visitor attractions to communicate effectively with this population. Cultural tourists who are hard of hearing have generally been offered audio tour scripts and other printed matter as the primary source of interpretation on site. While this may be adequate for some, it tends to impose a choice between the audio tour and the script on those visitors who would simply like an audio tour with subtitles in a convenient, portable format. Other hard-of-hearing visitors don't like to carry a script when the majority of visitors are using a digital guide; they would prefer a solution that allows them to tour alongside and interact with their hearing companions more easily.

New Solutions

Sign Language Guides

In many communities here is a high take-up of new technologies by deaf people; here there can be quicker acceptance of the handheld computer platform amongst the deaf population than others. In addition, the Sign Language Guide is a particularly good way to provide access for deaf children: most children learn to sign long before they learn to read, so a Sign Language Guide is ideal for reaching deaf children under six, even when they can't yet read the subtitles and other text.

Crucially, the Sign Language Guide is not a simple translation of a tour into a sign language. Unlike more traditional signed interpretations of television broadcasts or presentations, the Sign Language Guide must not only communicate information about the displays, it must also help engage deaf visitors with the exhibits – teaching, entertaining and inspiring them. The deaf visitor, like any visitor, has after all come to the museum or gallery to see its collections and exhibitions, not to watch signed television on a very small screen! Interpretation on the PDA is therefore interpretation in both senses: it communicates in the Deaf visitor's preferred language, but it also goes beyond simple facts and information to interpret the objects on display, drawing the visitor into a three-way dialogue among the exhibit, the tour message about the exhibit, and his or her personal reaction to both.

The 'voice' of the interpreter is key to this conversation among exhibit, interpretation and the visitor. Although the Sign Language Guide must remain faithful to the museum's message and approved script, it also needs to read as the interpreter's commentary in order to communicate fluently and effectively to a Deaf audience and not feel like a stilted translation. The interpreter literally embodies the tour's message and strongly impacts the tour experience. It is therefore imperative to choose the sign language interpreter(s) carefully, looking for an ideal match between the interpreter's skills and interests and the message of the museum or gallery producing the tour.

The negotiation of these three elements – the exhibit, the interpretation, and the visitor – requires careful structuring of content in the Sign Language Guide. Generally speaking, the Sign Language Guide should never stand on its own: it should always bring the visitor back to the exhibit, never being complete without that direct experience of the object(s) in the space. This aim governs the ordering of information in the tour, including the interspersing of signed interpretation with other multimedia content and interactive elements. Just as importantly it informs the inclusion of pauses in the tour content and moments in which the visitor interacts with the displays. To the extent it is possible, the pacing of the signed tour should be roughly equivalent to that of a spoken tour. As with any tour, the visitor requires time to look and think, and the ability to pause, rewind, replay and fast forward content in order to remain in control over his or her experience. An effective Sign Language Guide, taking all of these points into account, is a multi-faceted tool that will help each deaf visitor find a unique way of engaging with the museum or gallery.

Because of the prevalence of sign language dialects, some deaf visitors cannot rely on signing alone, even when using their national sign language: for example, the British Sign Language sign for 'Saturday' differs between London and neighboring Essex, so even understanding opening dates can be a challenge! Subtitles for the signed content overcome these regional differences and reinforce deaf visitors' understanding of words, phrases or ideas that may be unfamiliar by showing the text for a sign at the same time as that sign is made in the video footage on the PDA. Subtitling is also useful to show visitors the correct spelling of someone's name, or underscore a key date or other figure where these items may be finger-spelled by the interpreter in the video footage and therefore be harder to catch on the PDA's small screen. Subtitled signs can be referenced in a sign language glossary as part of the tour to provide additional support to the visitors' grasp of the language and information in the tour. By seeing subtitles with signs for art and other specialist terms with which they may not be familiar, visitors both learn about the objects on display, and also learn the signs and words necessary to enable them to participate more fully and delve more deeply in these topics. Thus Sign Language Guides increase access not only to the museum, but also to the fields of study addressed in the museum.

Subtitled Guides

For those who don't use sign language, Subtitled Guides can be an indispensable part of the museum visit, providing subtitled audio-visual content to visitors with a range of abilities. In the past, visitors with hearing difficulties who prefer text have often used printed copies of the audio tour script or other written materials as their primary interpretation in the museum. But scripts can be awkward to carry and read in dark galleries, and the hard-of-hearing visitor can feel cut off from the audio-visual tour experience that their hearing companions are enjoying.

Now, using a screen-based device, visitors with some hearing can listen to the audio content while reading subtitles where necessary to aid in comprehension. Others with greater hearing loss may rely more on subtitles for understanding the audio content. In both cases, visitors enjoy a small, portable, back-lit device that can include interactive multimedia features and activities. The Subtitled Guide allows hard-of-hearing visitors to enjoy the same kind of tour experience as their hearing companions, promoting social interaction among visitors of all abilities.

As with the Sign Language Guide, there is more to making a successful Subtitled Guide than simply adding scrolling script to the audio content. A program developed for subtitling must take into account the reading speeds of visitors in order to ensure that the audio and text can be synchronized. Large print text is preferable to make the subtitles accessible to those with low vision, and other visibility standards such as high contrast and resolution should be employed. It may also be desirable to include facilities in the interface to toggle the subtitles on and off. These considerations impact interface design, the size of the content window and therefore the overall look and feel of the subtitled guide. Indeed all visual elements of the program should be designed with an awareness of how they will work with the subtitles.

Audio design can also be different in a Subtitled Guide: it may be preferable to record audio content using certain voices, chosen for their clarity to those with hearing loss. A simple narration may be best, eliminating background music and other audio elements that may make the narration less intelligible.

Nonetheless, Subtitled Guides enjoy a high degree of economy of scale in terms of sharing content with the audio-visual program, so do not necessarily require significant investment beyond the original audio-visual tour. In fact, the museum may prefer to subtitle all its audio-visual programs, since subtitles can be helpful to all visitors regardless of their ability.

Audio+™ Text Tours

Audio+™ Text Tours are an easy way to make audio tours accessible to hard-of-hearing visitors. In contrast to Subtitled Audio-Visual Guides, there is no visual content in an Audio+™ Text Tour other than text. For this reason, the entire screen can be given over to the audio script, allowing visitors to read while listening to the audio tour, or use either the audio or the text exclusively.

A flexible interface is best with an Audio+™ Text Tour: while an automatic function scrolls the script slowly up the screen in synch with the audio content, a manual function also allows the visitor to page at will through the text of each commentary. Volume controls for the audio content also allow the audio to be muted should visitors choose only to read the tour. Those who prefer not to consult the text can simply wear the PDA as an audio player, ignoring the screen.

Like Subtitled Guides, Audio+™ Text Tours are efficient to produce and can serve both hearing and hard-of-hearing audiences equally well. They also afford opportunities for future expansion of the audio tour program to include additional text and audio-visual content.

Best Practice in Access Guide Design for Deaf and Hard-of-hearing Visitors

In 2003 and 2004, Antenna Audio produced digital guides for deaf and hard-of-hearing visitors to three museums in the US and the UK:

  1. Tate Modern's British Sign Language Multimedia Guide in London, England
  2. The 'Voices of History' American Sign Language Tour of the Great Blacks in Wax Museum, Baltimore, Maryland
  3. The Subtitled Guide to 'The Enemy Within: Terrorism in America 1776 to Today' exhibition at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

A summary of each project and of its evaluation by visitors can be found in the appendices to this paper.

Subsequent to each project's individual review, these three access tours were evaluated together by a several different groups at various events in the US and UK in 2004, to help us understand where each program's strengths and weaknesses lay for a range of audiences:

  1. U.S. Access Board at Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C. 23 July, 2004
  2. Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) Conference, Washington, D.C. August 12-14, 2004
  3. Colchester Museums Focus Group, October 9, 2004
  4. 'Art & ASL' Evening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 29, 2004

From this wide range of users, we have been able to derive the following 'best practice' guide for designing access tours for Deaf and hard-of-hearing visitors.

Access Guides For Deaf And Hard-Of-Hearing Visitors

For visitors who have some hearing, there is a number of access options based on the standard audio tour model:

  1. Audio tours with:
    a.Volume control
    b.Clear, easy-to-understand narration without background music or sound effects
    c.T-coils to work with digital hearing aids
  2. Hardcopy text guides, including:
    a.Audio tour scripts (regular and large print)
    b.Catalogue and label text booklets
  3. Subtitled Guides for audio-visual tours
  4. Audio+™ Text Tours for audio-only tours

For deaf visitors, the following digital tour solutions are available:

  1. Hardcopy text guides, including:

    a.Audio tour scripts (regular and large print)
    b.Catalogue and label text booklets

  2. Subtitled Guides for audio-visual tours
  3. Sign Language Guides including subtitles

In all cases, the availability of access tours should be well publicized with signage and publicity materials that include standard accessibility symbols.

Best Practice: Sign Language Guides

Sign Language Guides provide signed commentary for the tour, and are designed primarily for sign language users. The following issues should be taken into account when designing a Sign Language Guide:

Tour content

  1. Choose appropriate, high quality signers: whether a native sign language speaker, or a respected authority, the right narrator is key to the success of the Sign Language Guide
  2. Tell a great story: the narrator creates atmosphere, effect and drama for your message
  3. Subtitle signed content to reinforce understanding
  4. Use large text for visitors with low vision
  5. Set both signers and text against high contrast backgrounds for better visibility
  6. Include a sign language glossary of new or unfamiliar terms where possible

Operations

  1. Provide the handheld device on a neck strap, so visitors can more easily sign to others while taking the tour
  2. Provide deaf awareness training for distribution staff
  3. If no distribution staff know sign language, consider playing a signed video at the distribution desk to instruct deaf visitors in the use of the tour

Best Practice: Subtitled Guides

Subtitled Guides make audio content accessible in an audio-visual guide without using signed commentary. Subtitled Guides can be used by either deaf or hard-of-hearing visitors. When subtitling an audio-visual guide, take the following points into consideration:

  1. Use large text for visitors with low vision
  2. Set text against a high contrast background for better visibility
  3. Carefully match reading and listening speeds so that text and audio content remain synchronized
  4. Include the audio content with volume control so those with some hearing can follow the audio and the subtitles simultaneously, or can mute the volume if desired
  5. Use clear, easy-to-understand narration, and consider removing background music and sound effects to avoid obscuring the narrator's voice
  6. Provide t-coils for visitors with digital hearing aids
  7. Publicize the availability of access tours with signage and publicity materials that include standard accessibility symbols
  8. Consider playing a signed video at the distribution desk to instruct deaf visitors in the use of the tour

Best Practice: Audio+™ Text Tours

Audio+™ Text Tours make audio tour scripts and other textual information available in a full-screen, scrollable, large print format along with the audio content. Audio+™ Text Tours can be used by either deaf or hard-of-hearing visitors. The following production issues should be taken into account when creating an Audio+™ Text Tour:

  1. Use large text for visitors with low vision
  2. Set text against a high contrast background for better visibility
  3. If automatic scrolling of each text screen is provided, be sure to match reading and listening speeds so that text and audio content remain synchronized
  4. Consider including a manual override so that visitors can scroll through the tour text at will, regardless of where the audio is
  5. Include the audio content with volume control so those with some hearing can follow the audio and the subtitles simultaneously, or can mute the volume if desired
  6. Use clear, easy-to-understand narration, and consider removing background music and sound effects to avoid obscuring the narrator's voice
  7. Provide t-coils for visitors with digital hearing aids
  8. Publicize the availability of access tours with signage and publicity materials that include standard accessibility symbols
  9. Consider playing a signed video at the distribution desk to instruct deaf visitors in the use of the tour

Repurposing Resources For The Access Guide

The production of any digital tour usually requires the commitment of precious resources and funds on the part of the museum, gallery or visitor attraction, so it is essential to obtain as many uses out of any new and existing assets as possible. The technical infrastructure of an existing wireless network or multimedia tour system offers the most direct opportunities to get multiple uses out of the same investment. At Tate Modern the wireless network in the galleries serves any of three tours to the same stock of PDAs, and can also be used by Tate staff for back-office and administrative purposes.

In many cases, multimedia and interactive resources can also be repurposed from the museum's other tours and digital publications to help create the Sign Language or Subtitled Guide. Conversely, the signed video footage and subtitles can be added to a museum's website, on-site information kiosks or digital catalogues to expand access to these publications. And this is not just an economic consideration: at Tate Modern the interactive games and instant messaging facilities shared by the BSL and multimedia highlights tours serve to bring deaf and hearing audiences together in the galleries, emphasizing common interests and experiences rather than segregating visitors on the basis of ability. Links to Tate Modern's website, included in emailed 'bookmarks' of information that visitors send themselves from the tour, also build the visitor's relationship with the museum and help extend it into the school or home.

As is the case in any project to repurpose content across platforms and audiences, assets are far more likely to be reusable in the future if they are created with the goal of repurposing in mind from the outset. The audiences and publication platforms that the repurposed assets will be aimed at should be established early on in the content production process. This will help the script writers and designers consider how best to craft a multimedia message for maximum reuse, and will also flag any copyright problems or additional expenses that could arise when a given asset is published in a new way.

At the Great Blacks in Wax Museum, the script of the Voices of History audio tour was used as the basis for the American Sign Language tour script, while Tate Modern's British Sign Language Multimedia Tour is an adaptation of the Multimedia Highlights Tour. Perhaps contrary to expectations, however, it is not enough simply to translate the English script into a sign language in order to produce an accessible tour. Information is structured differently for oral delivery than for reading. Similarly, an idea may need to be structured or phrased in a particular way in order to be communicated optimally to a sign language user. In addition, as with any translation, there can be profound cultural differences in how an idea is understood or received by Deaf people in comparison to its common usage in the original language. These and the different amounts of time required to convey a given bit of information in sign language in comparison to the original written or spoken language must be taken into account when structuring the sign language script. An expert signer can help with the translation and provide an approved sign language script to the signer who is actually videoed for the tour.

In particular, the temporal difference between a signed and a spoken statement can be marked. Although each of the world's official sign languages and sign language dialects is unique, they generally differ from written and spoken languages in their three-dimensional and often a-linear nature. Meaning is not created in British Sign Language, as in English, for example, by the linear sequencing of ideas in time or space of the spoken or written statement. Instead, ideas can be elaborated and placed in the three-dimensional space that exists in front of and around the signer. They can be touched upon, literally, and combined in a semiotic structure that is articulated in the physical areas between and among interlocutors. The difference in length and structure between sign language and written languages also means that in order to guarantee logical synchronization, the Sign Language Guide's subtitles are generally a translation from the sign language, rather than a simple reuse of the original text script.

Nor are the world's many sign languages universally intelligible to all sign language users. French Sign Language is as distinct from German Sign Language as spoken and written French is from German. American Sign Language has more in common with French Sign Language than with British Sign Language. It is therefore necessary to build a distinct tour for each sign language audience addressed in any given museum, just as catalogues, audio tours and wall texts are provided in a variety of written or spoken languages.

Nonetheless, the audio tour script represents a completed body of research and a coherent statement of the museum's key messages about its displays that can be reiterated in the sign language guide. In addition, the written text provides a valuable starting point for any subtitling or concept captioning that may accompany the signed interpretation.

Thanks to these technical advances, museums have ever-increasing means to reach new audiences and better serve all visitors. Good access for any given audience often means better access for all. With nearly universal legislation requiring cultural sites to enable physical and intellectual access, there has never been a better time for museums to test these new solutions and learn how best to integrate each into a complete visitor services and interpretation program.

Acknowledgements

This paper includes contributions from Gillian Wilson and Claire Morgan Burton of Tate Modern, and is based in part on an evaluation by the Susie Fisher Group for Tate Modern. The paper also draws on guidelines for adapting audio tours for hard-of-hearing and deaf visitors presented by Rebecca McGuinness of the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable Annual Conference: Innovative Approaches to Learning Across the Lifespan, May 24, 2004 at the Jewish Heritage Museum in New York. Any errors or misinterpretations of these sources are, however, exclusively the responsibility of the author.

Appendix A: Tate Modern's British Sign Language Multimedia Tour

Overview And Evaluation Summary

British Sign Language (BSL) is the preferred language of 50,000-70,000 people in the UK, and is more widely used than Welsh or Gaelic. The British Government recognised BSL as an official language in 2003, and it is recognised by the Greater London Authority as a minority language.

In October 2003, Tate Modern piloted the world's first wireless sign language guide as part of a three-tour programme, also including an audio-visual Multimedia Highlights Tour for young people aged 16-25 and a text-based Collections Guide that consisted of a searchable database of catalogue essays and labels on works in the permanent collection displays. All three tours were sponsored by Bloomberg and provided in the galleries on PDAs loaned by Toshiba.

Tate Modern has always aimed to work at the cutting edge of educational technology. Audio guides have been part of the interpretation and education strategy since Tate Modern opened in May 2000, winning awards for its tours for children and for the visually impaired. Over the past two years, with sponsorship from Bloomberg, Tate Modern has also worked with Antenna Audio to develop a system of gallery interpretation that connects handheld computers or PDAs to a wireless network and provides multimedia information, communication and access to database-stored texts. In 2002, Tate Modern's Multimedia Tour Programme received the British Academy for Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for Technical Innovation, while in 2003 it was awarded the Museum and Heritage award for Best New Product or Service.

Tate Modern's BSL Multimedia Tour was an opportunity for deaf and hard-of-hearing people to visit the gallery and gain independent access to information in their first or preferred language - BSL. In addition to multimedia and interactive content about the artworks, the BSL Tour featured video footage of Claire Morgan Burton, the Curator of Special Projects at Tate Modern, discussing works on display in British Sign Language, as well as signing by contemporary deaf artists, who gave the artists' quotations used in the tour, and deaf visitors. Several deaf people questioned the choice of narrator – a hearing person who uses BSL fluently – feeling that it would be more appropriate to employ a deaf person for this task. Others felt that this choice was entirely appropriate, as Claire could speak to visitors with the authority of a Tate curator. For all tour users, however, the inclusion of deaf artists and visitors as additional 'voices' in the tour was a good one.

The BSL tour included many of the interactive and multimedia features developed for the Multimedia Highlights Tour, such as games and instant messaging. Visitors taking either tour could send each other text messages in the gallery, and request further information about the art they had seen to be sent to their home e-mail addresses. These features encourage, via Tate's Web site, both a sense of community and exchange of ideas among visitors, and a continuation of the in-gallery experience after the visitor has left their home or school. In fact, Deaf visitors responded very similarly to hearing visitors regarding the tour's multimedia content, confirming that much of the material from the audio-visual Multimedia Tour can be transferred with signed translation to the BSL tour. Nonetheless, the script for the sign language version of the tour had to be completely rewritten to work when signed in BSL, which has a different conceptual and linguistic structure than English. The final BSL script was written in English but in such a way that a signer could easily translate phrases and meanings into BSL while being videoed.

Optional subtitling and 'key word captioning' gave an additional means whereby visitors could access information in English text, while a video Glossary of art terms provided a sign language definition of any unfamiliar art terms that the visitor encountered in the interpretative content. Participants in the focus group commented that deaf people are not exposed often enough in BSL to academic subjects, such as the interpretation of contemporary art, and may not be fluent in those concepts, either in written English or BSL. The subtitles were therefore a hugely valuable addition to Tate Modern's BSL tour. Likewise, the Glossary function was a significant support to achieving greater fluency in art terminology and concepts. The 'key word' concept captioning, on the other hand, did not prove to be of significant added value as an alternative to the full subtitling, as most visitors chose simply to use the subtitles.

The BSL tour users were very sensitive to fluctuations in speed and rhythm in content delivery and playing. The BSL Tour relies on video much more heavily than the Highlights Tour, so any slowness in playing the content is a real irritation; for example, slower PDA processor speeds or network connectivity problems can slow down the signing on screen, creating comprehension difficulties for the BSL user – rather like listening to an artificially-slowed audio track for a hearing person.

Quantitative Evaluation

In order to inform the further development of both the audio-visual and the BSL tours at Tate Modern, all users of the Multimedia Tours were asked to complete a questionnaire evaluating their experience: 130 BSL users responded to the survey regarding the BSL Multimedia Tour.

Of the BSL tour users, 84% were from the UK. Of these, the majority were over 21 (20% were 21-25; 39% were 26-40; 18% were 41-60), in contrast to the Multimedia Highlights Tour, which was specifically designed for younger visitors, aged 16-25. Only 18% of the BLS Multimedia Tour users were under 21 years of age, and 3% were over 60. The BSL tour users ranked themselves as very comfortable with technology, with 62% considering themselves above average in computer literacy.

Although there were half the artworks on the BSL tour, deaf visitors stayed longer than those taking the audio-based Multimedia Highlights tour: their average visit was 77 minutes, with a maximum of 240 minutes, in comparison to an average of 70 minutes for hearing visitors. This lengthier visit of fewer displays may be in some part a result of the visual structure of a sign language guide which requires visitors to look at the displays and at the interpretation on the screen as two temporally separate actions, in contrast to an audio-based guide where the visitor can simultaneously look at an exhibit and hear interpretation about it.

Screen Shot: User Satisfaction Ratings

Fig 3: User Satisfaction Ratings at Tate Modern

Regardless, BSL tour users reported a very high satisfaction level: 79% reported that the tour had improved their visit; 6% indicated no change; 1% reported that the tour had made the visit worse; and 14% did not respond to this question.

The Sign Language Guide was also credited with the ability to bring deaf visitors back: 84% of visitors who come once or twice a month would come more often if there were a permanent Sign Language Guide, while 78% of those visiting once or twice a year and 74% of first-time visitors would return more often.

Screen Shot: Response to Survey

Fig 4: Response to Survey re Sign Language Guide

Qualitative Analysis

All visitors who completed questionnaires on the BSL tour were encouraged to leave their comments in order to provide more qualitative feedback on the tour. In addition, Tate commissioned an independent evaluator, Susie Fisher, to carry out research on the Multimedia Highlights Tour for hearing visitors and the BSL Multimedia Tour during December 2003. Fisher's evaluation consisted of three focus groups, one of which looked exclusively at the BSL tour, and three accompanied gallery visits where visitors using a PDA were accompanied through the gallery as they used the Multimedia Highlights Tour. A mixture of users and non-users were included in the sample (the non-users were asked to try out the tour but wouldn't have chosen to take it otherwise).

The BSL focus group consisted of one two-hour discussion with Claire Morgan of Tate Modern as interpreter. The deaf participants included 2 women and 1 man, aged 16-25.† All were higher education Arts students who had previously used the Tour – young, stylish, and in love with art.

"I saw the Jackson Pollock and looked at it all the way through."

The BSL Tour is uniquely valuable to deaf visitors, so generally speaking, deaf visitors have been deeply grateful for any material designed for the deaf and reluctant to criticise the BSL Tour.

"We're lucky to have Art where you can press a button."

"Having access for deaf people means a lot less doubt. It's very unusual.† It's nice to have more information."

At the same time, these visitors are ready to debate and looking for challenging discussions about Art.

"They should have Art experts and non experts.† People signing to say what they thought.† Here's the debate and compare to the different backgrounds."

The goals of the focus group were:

  • To identify how the Multimedia Tour works within a gallery visit
    • Groups/individuals
    • Navigation
  • To assess the ease of use of the equipment and programme design
    • Interface
    • Menu options
  • To observe how the menu of options is used in practice
    • Triggers to try options
    • Experimental or personal usage profile
    • Likes and dislikes
  • To understand how content options are perceived at each stop
    • Intellectual level
    • Serious or entertaining
    • Interactive or information-giving
  • To understand how the Multimedia Tour impacts the visitor's engagement with the works
    • Depth, learning
    • Stimulation
  • To explore future directions for the PDA
    • Gaming
    • Downloading
    • Personalised content
    • Database access

The BSL Tour includes similar content to the Highlights Tour, and several functions are common to both tours, such as the Tate Txt messaging system, interactive map of the galleries, games, and visitor polling.† Nonetheless, the script for the sign language version of the tour had to be completely rewritten to work when signed in BSL, which has a different conceptual and linguistic structure than English. The final BSL script was written in English but in such a way that a signer could easily translate phrases and meanings into BSL while being videoed.

Deaf visitors responded very similarly to hearing visitors on most of the key content issues, and confirmed that much of the material from the audio-visual Multimedia Tour can be transferred with signed translation to the BSL tour.

Like hearing visitors, BSL users did find that the tour gave them information at the right level:

"It's high enough, easy to understand."

They enjoyed getting involved in the gallery community of hearing and deaf visitors through the tour's opinion poll:

"I loved to see the results.† It's a really nice idea, the graphics bar chart.† It's changing opinion.† It's really interesting."

"You see hearing people with audio guides and you think 'Why havenít I got one'?† I'm equal."

They wanted to hear from the artists themselves:

"More about the Artist themselves, Mark Rothko talking about a picture."

And they appreciated the use of videos of artists:

"The video really helped us understand what the artist does."

They found it hard to orientate in the gallery because of the size of numbers for tour stops on the wall labels and lack of correspondence between room names on the tour map and in the galleries:

†"It took a long time, difficult to follow."

On the other hand, some issues were more salient for deaf people than hearing visitors.† It is genuinely empowering for deaf people to have a BSL tour; it leads them into greater fluency and learning about arts concepts. Conscious of having to work hard to achieve the level of information which is readily available to hearing people, deaf users were particularly grateful for the Glossary function:

"The glossary is so useful.† They are new words. What does that mean?"

Participants in the focus group commented that deaf people are not often enough exposed to academic subjects, such as the interpretation of contemporary art, in BSL. †They may therefore not be fluent in those concepts, either in written English or BSL.†

"It's good for deaf people to learn new things and useful for deaf people to improve their language skills.† For example, the word 'Impressionists' teaches us how to use that sign."

English subtitling therefore provides a bridge between the concept, the sign language, and the wider art discourse that is carried on in English. Each linked element – Signing, Glossary, and Subtitle – bolsters the users' understanding of the others and increases their fluency and capacity.

"The English is at a higher level.† With subtitles you read the English as well. Grab both."

"New art words, a signed dictionary to say what they are."

"It's giving you the tools, you can understand the basic concepts."

"I like to use the glossary.† It's more an explanation of the arts.† The visual BSL gives you confidence.† It's a starting point."

As deaf people and students of Art, some deaf visitors were particularly concerned about getting the most educationally out of the tour experience; they wanted more information and less play:

"I didn't use the game.† I want serious info and the opportunity to hear about Art."

But others were equally passionate about their subject and ready to debate this point.

"Playing games helps you understand things, because artists themselves play games."

Susie Fisher concluded that in this initial, interpretation-hungry period of the introduction of the BSL tour, deaf people may need a more straightforward presentation of serious art content that is more information-based.

The narrator of the BSL Tour is a Tate Modern curator who is a hearing person who uses BSL fluently. Several deaf people questioned this choice of narrator, feeling that it would be more appropriate to employ a deaf person for this task. Others felt that the tour and the need for BSL interpretation in the gallery generally gained legitimacy from being interpreted by a Tate curator who is fluent in BSL.

The BSL tour users were also very sensitive to fluctuations in speed and rhythm in content delivery and playing. The BSL Tour relies on video much more heavily than the Highlights Tour so any slowness in playing the content is a real irritation; for example, slower PDA processor speeds or network connectivity problems can slow down the signing on screen, creating comprehension difficulties for the BSL user – rather like listening to an artificially-slowed audio track for a hearing person.

"It's really frustrating pausing and having to wait.† Very frustrating.† I donít know how to resolve it and go on to the next."

Nonetheless, deaf people were overwhelmingly positive about the provision of such tours in galleries and were delighted to see interpretation in their first language rather than having to rely on interpretation in English or wait for a monthly BSL-interpreted gallery tour.† The focus group evaluation demonstrated that this audience will make serious and thorough use of a BSL tour and will be thrilled to have the opportunity to take a BSL Tour whenever they want to visit.

"It's great to have a BSL Tour Model. I would come here in my own time and study all around the gallery. Thank you."

"Now that I have the information, I look at the art with greater understanding.† Before it was la la la in my brain.† I feel closer now."

The BSL Multimedia Tour makes it possible for deaf visitors to enjoy the same high quality, on-demand interpretative content that hearing visitors have come to expect from Tate Modern's audio and audio-visual tours.

Appendix B: The American Sign Language Guide at the Great Blacks in Wax Museum

The Great Blacks In Wax Museum, a private non-profit cultural and educational institution in Baltimore, Maryland, was founded in 1983 by Drs. Elmer and Joanne Martin. Featuring over 100 wax figures, the museum details the African American experience from ancient Africa and slavery, through the civil rights era, and up to today. Because it is a wax museum committed solely to the study and preservation of African American h istory, it is among the United States' most dynamic cultural and educational institutions, continually updated as African American history and its interpretation develop over time.

A primary motivation for establishing the Great Blacks In Wax Museum was to "use education, history, and example to help mainly culturally disadvantaged youth overcome feelings of alienation, defeatism, and despair"† As a result of their exposure to the Museum and its programs, these young people, as well as many adults, learn more about their heritage and have a greater understanding of significant contributions to civilization by people of African descent.

Intellectual access is a top priority for the Great Blacks in Wax Museum. In order to better reach visitors whose first or preferred language is American Sign Language (ASL), The Great Blacks in Wax Museum collaborated with Antenna Audio to create an ASL tour based on the Voices of History audio tour of the museum. The Sign Language Guide at The Great Blacks in Wax Museum is the first digital American Sign Language tour to be offered in a US museum. A tour for visually-impaired visitors, which provides enhanced visual descriptions of the exhibits, is also available at the museum, alongside a children's and adults' audio tour. All tours are complimentary with admission to the museum.

Following the Voices of History audio tour script, the Sign Language tour discusses many of the significant individuals and events depicted at the Museum. The tour also provides visitors with the option of concept captioning for the signed video footage, depending on their needs and preference, as well as general information about the Museum and a help function. Feedback from visitors indicated that while concept captioning is helpful, full subtitling is even more welcome as a support to their understanding of the signed content.

Screen Shot: Nathie Marbury

Fig 5 : Nathie Marbury narrates the Voices of History American Sign Language Guide to the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, which includes optional concept captioning

The Sign Language Guide is presented in ASL by Nathie Marbury, a well-known Deaf story-teller and teacher. The decision to engage Nathie Marbury as interpreter was very carefully and deliberately made. First, Marbury's storytelling skills were ideally suited to the nature of the Voices of History tour and indeed to the African American tradition of storytelling and oral histories.† Secondly, Marbury's first language is ASL, ensuring that the histories represented in the tour are fluently and accurately communicated to the ASL audience. And finally, being a Deaf African American, Marbury was able to embody the voices of the tour more fully, making the commentary more immediate, compelling and personal for the target audience – not just a translation from a script designed for hearing people.

During the design of the American Sign Language Guide, Antenna Audio consulted with members of the Technology Access Program at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the world's only liberal arts university designed exclusively to deaf and hard of hearing students, to get invaluable feedback on how to make the guide most useful for American Sign Language users. Cary Barbin, research engineer for the Technology Access Program, commented after his visit to Great Blacks in Wax Museum:

For the first time in front of the exhibitions, I was able to see the stories presented in American Sign Language rather than reading off a binder in the dark. This enabled me to follow the story visually. The ASL guide really enriched the whole museum experience.

Appendix C: The International Spy Museum's Subtitled Guide

The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. offers a highly interactive, multimedia experience. Numerous computer stations, video monitors and hands-on exhibits encourage visitors to test their skills in the world of espionage through disguise, surveillance and threat analysis.

Screen Shot: Welcome screen
Screen Shot: Main menu
Screen Shot: Subtitled clip from the Commies...
Screen Shot: War on Terrorism

Fig 6: Screen grabs from the International Spy Museum's Subtitled Guide to The Enemy Within: Terror in America. Left to right, top to bottom: Welcome screen; Main menu; Subtitled clip from The Commies Are Coming video; Script from War on Terrorism exhibit.†††††††††

A new special exhibition, The Enemy Within: Terror in America 1776 to Today included the museum's first access tour designed for visitors who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. The PDA-based guide to the exhibits used in this popular attraction combines Subtitled Guide elements with scrollable text pages providing the script from the audio tour. Three videos from the exhibition play on the PDA in full with subtitled transcriptions of their soundtracks. Scripts and descriptions for 17 shorter exhibits are also available in a full-screen display mode.

No audio is included in the Spy Museum's Subtitled Guide, and feedback on this point from visitors and evaluators indicated that the program would benefit from its inclusion. In this way the Spy Museum's PDA tour would have greater appeal for those who have some hearing but like to supplement their audio understanding with reference to the script.

Cite as:

Proctor, N., Providing Deaf and Hard-Of-Hearing Visitors With On-Demand, Independent
Access To Museum Information and Interpretation Through Handheld Computers, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2005: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 31, 2005 at http://www.archimuse.com/mw2005/papers/proctor/proctor.html