As a project, I partnered with the on-campus museum, the David Owsley Museum of Art (DOMA), to create design solutions that help the museum become more accessible for visitors with disabilities.
“Adapt DOMA” is an initiative to improve the museum experience for visitors on the autism spectrum. The initiative consists of three design solutions: a sensory map, a social narrative, and a museum app that aids the user in navigation while integrating the previous design solutions.
Problem: Overwhelming Sensory Information
While moving throughout the museum, I noticed a variety of potentially overwhelming sensory information in the Museum such as spot lighting, bright colored walls and reflective surfaces. According to the National Autism Society, many people on the spectrum have difficulty processing everyday sensory information and can be over or under-sensitive to this information.
Design Solution: Sensory Map
Every person on the spectrum responds to sensory information differently so there is not one way to design a space to be sensory friendly. A sensory map displays what spaces may have potentially overwhelming sensory information and can help the individual know what to expect. Including this map on the DOMA website would be a helpful pre-visit resource, a type of resource that is directed towards those on the spectrum. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a variety of pre visit resources, including a sensory map, which I took inspiration from in creating DOMA’s version.
Problem: Unclear Rules
During my research, I noticed the rules and guidelines for visiting the museum are not explained on the website. Most visitors will understand the rules of a museum upon entering for the first time. However, for those on the spectrum, it can be difficult to learn how to behave in a new public space. Through my research, I learned about the use of social narratives, which help the reader understand concepts using a simple story and picture format. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has their own social narrative available on their website. I took inspiration from their photography and writing style.
Design Solution: Social Narrative
The Social Narratives for the David Owsley Museum of Art help explain the rules and give a walkthrough so readers will know what to expect and how to prepare. The use of imagery in social narratives is crucial because many people on the spectrum are visual based learners and it aids in the comprehension of the message explained. I based my design decisions on The National Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders guideline for creating social narratives. Like the sensory map, the social narrative would be accessible through the David Owsley website.
In my research, I was inspired by the Social Stories Spectrum Project, a current ongoing project that involves high-functioning adults with an autism spectrum disorder who work together to create “social stories” for the museums they visit. One of the initial reasons this group was created is because a lot more autism resources are geared towards children on the spectrum rather than adults. This presents issues for adults because there are less resources to assist them in navigating a public space because parents or guardians are relied on to find these spaces.
Design Solution: Museum App
An app focused on helping adults on the spectrum navigate the museum empowers them with the ability to visit the museum indepently. The app is based on the social narrative design, with simple text and images. The home page is a navigation page, where the user has access to clicking where they want to go. The user then selects a current location and gets step by step directions with pictures. The previous design solutions (the sensory map and social narratives) are also available for easy reference while in the museum.