The COVID-19 pandemic pushed many science centers and museums to start or expand their online presence and digital programming—or to accelerate plans that had been part of longer-term strategies. As more and more virtual offerings are created, the discussion around digital accessibility has rightfully gained momentum. In listening to our members, ASTC learned that museum professionals were concerned about their digital programs’ accessibility, but many felt that they did not know where to start.
ASTC and our members share a commitment to engaging all people in science and technology, which includes individuals with disabilities. With the often rapid shift to digital engagement, it is essential to ensure that our standard practices maximize accessibility for all.
Even beyond our values, accessibility of digital programs is incredibly important as one out of every four adults in the U.S. (CDC) and one in five Canadians aged 15 and over has a disability (Government of Canada). Digital programming has the potential to meaningfully engage these audiences because it avoids many of the barriers that in-person programming can present to people with mobility impairments, sensory sensitivities, or compromised immune systems. However, poorly designed digital offerings that are not built with accessibility in mind may inadvertently create new barriers for their audiences.
Practical Guidance for Science Centers and Museums
ASTC created a toolkit, to provide concrete guidance on making accessible and equitable digital programs to advance efforts towards accessibility in digital engagement programming. In fact, ensuring that digital content is accessible is one of our 10 Tips for Museum Digital Engagement!
This toolkit offers clear and practical advice, but it is not a checklist. This toolkit encourages proactive, iterative work that is deeply embedded in the organization. While this call to action may seem daunting, the toolkit’s pragmatic approach meets organizations wherever they may be now. A guiding principle at the heart of the toolkit is “progress over perfection.”
What’s in the Toolkit
The toolkit covers a range of topics including:
- Creating an effective accessibility statement
- Language and definitions related to disabilities and accessibility
- Specific guidelines for making accessible museum programming for a range of disabilities including mobility, visual, auditory, and neurocognitive impairments
- Considerations around virtual visits, tours, and digital collections
- Accessibility in online communications and event promotions
- Examples of digital accessibility tools organized by type of disability supported, human-power required, and cost
- List of accessibility organizations
We hope that you find this toolkit useful, and encourage you to share it with your colleagues in other departments to center accessibility throughout your organization’s digital offerings. This resource can also serve as an onboarding resource for new staff.
Every action to improve accessibility, no matter how small, is progress. Don’t wait for a perfect product, start taking steps to improve your digital accessibility right away. Learn from the mistakes, celebrate the successes, and work on it every day!
Thank You to Our Partners
ASTC thanks our partners, Sara Kobilka from Renaissance Woman Consulting and Meryl Evans, for creating this toolkit. Also, thank you to the accessible digital engagement practitioners who provided input, including Cèleste Frazier Barthel, Jamie Vought, and Ashley Grady.
The ASTC Digital Engagement Inquiry Project helped us learn about our members’ experiences, challenges, and opportunities when it comes to digital engagement. The project is generously supported by the Overdeck Family Foundation. You can learn more and access additional resources produced on our project webpage: www.astc.org/digital-engagement