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  Betty Davidson with the Messages exhibition

Betty Davidson with the Messages exhibition.

Photo courtesy Museum of Science

By Betty Davidson

A Ph.D. in biochemistry with 15 years of research experience, Betty Davidson worked as an exhibit planner at the Museum of Science, Boston, also for 15 years. Betty's book New Dimensions for Traditional Dioramas: Multisensory Additions for Access, Interest, and Learning was published by the Museum of Science in 1991.


Sound can be an important part of a multisensory exhibit. But even a component based on sound is not going to be accessible to someone with visual impairment unless you provide an audible alternative to the text label. Without that, someone who can't see has no idea what the exhibit elements are, or where they are, why they are there, or how to use them. They may not even know that they are there.

At the Museum of Science, we regularly use auditory labels in our exhibitions. Some auditory labels are interpretive, or descriptive. Anyone might enjoy listening to these. Other auditory labels are instructional, or navigational they're intended for people who are blind or have low vision. In both cases, the size, shape, and location of the activating button is consistent, so people know where to look for them.

Here in Boston, we record auditory labels on a digital ELK-124 message repeater by Elk Products. The system is flexible and relatively low cost—about $80 per one-minute segment. It's easy to record and revise messages of 20, 60, or 120 seconds. We have used our own voices and also professional readers and actors. Carpentry, wiring, and the handset are additional costs.

Following is the script from an instructional auditory label from "What's the Message?", an activity in the Messages exhibition.

There are two side-by-side stations in front of you. Each has its own message. Each station's message is presented in several ways. Your job is to interpret the two messages.

For audio instructions, find the small square button and the handset on the left side of the table.

The station directly in front of you delivers the same message three ways: to your nose, to your eyes, and to your ears. Beginning immediately to the right of the handset: The first message is an odor. It is located in the drum-shaped smell box with the two cylindrical sniffing tubes.

Moving to the right along the rim of the table, a large round button activates a visual message a flashing red light.

Continuing to the right, around the rim of the table, push another large round button to listen to the message.

If you put them together, can you figure out the message?

Betty Davidson's book New Dimensions for Traditional Dioramas: Multisensory Additions for Access, Interest, and Learning was published by the Museum of Science in 1991.

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