Through qualitative methods like photo voice, interviewing and survey research, Mobility at the Cooper Hewitt was a project that focused on compiling information about the Cooper Hewitt’s exhibition layout needs for people that use wheelchairs. Working in a group of three, our team presented a toolset that included an interactive tutorial and a checklist to Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York City.
NEED ASSESSMENT 1.0
In our primary research phase, we conducted contextual inquiry by going to Cooper Hewitt, simulating two visits of a wheelchair user: one alone and another with an assistant. We've taken a documentary briefly depicts our trip in Cooper Hewitt.
Our key findings included:
- There are some pathways that are too narrow for people in wheelchairs to pass or turn around. Some spaces are so narrow that they may block the way of others.
- In particular, there’s an interactive screen placed right at the narrow entrance of a gallery, so when visitors play with it, they block the flow of traffic.
- On the way to the garden, you have to take an elevator down to ground floor and pass a small cafe.
- Some of the table cases are placed too high for people in wheelchairs to see the artworks.
- In terms of infrastructure, the main problems are heavy doors and places that should have built with ramps
How might we make the space of Cooper Hewitt more accessible to people with mobility impairments?
In order to figure out the needs of people with mobility impairments when they visit a museum, we designed a survey and from their feedbacks, we notice that they are more intended to avoid busy hours and crowded area and they care about a place to rest more than we expected. Fortunately enough, we got a chance to visit Cooper Hewitt with UCP members and support workers to validate our key findings from previous research and to gain more insights. UCP refers to United Cerebral Palsy , which is an international nonprofit charitable organization consisting of a network of affiliates. As one of the largest health nonprofits in the United States, the UCP dedicates to advance the independence, productivity and full citizenship of people with disabilities through an affiliate network. They share important information and services across the developmental disability community, and advocate for improved services.
We brainstormed on various solutions such as use RFID to detect people flow, create digital map, design stair ramps or lift platform on stairs etc. Eventually, we considered that the original architecture can be hardly changed as Cooper Hewitt is a historic house, but we do see the potential of improving the layout design for future exhibitions by creating a user-friendly design guideline for Cooper Hewitt. Thus we looked into currently existing accessible design standards - 2010 ADA standards, Smithsonian Guidelines and Accessibility for the Disabled. Following the regulations from these standards, our first prototype visualized and demonstrated the basic rules on minimum space for wheelchair users, eye level and viewing angles etc.
NEED ASSESSMENT 2.0
To gain more perspectives from Cooper Hewitt, we talked to exhibition manager Yvonne and understood that for many designers, Smithsonian guideline is “very comprehensive and helpful but may be lack of interaction, sometimes hard to search for the key information” , “not very updated(which was published in 2009) ” and more importantly, their designers would love to be more familiar with the guideline if it could be easier to learn and read when doing layout design. Also, we learned from Matthew O’Connor, the Director of Operations and understood that Accessibility is required from all architects and designers of exhibitions from inception and that all exhibitions go through a series of design drawings for internal review prior to construction and installation. Below was the typical workflow when design an exhibition.
The regulations we use in our tutorial and checklist are from 2010 ADA Standards and Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibition Design. When re-organize the regulations, we follow the principle that firstly pick the more detailed and strict regulations so that it could benefit more people, then choose the most up-to-date one, finally to see if it fits into the scenario of Cooper Hewitt in particular. The tutorial includes 7 sections: Passage way, seating area, eye level, hand reach, historic space, info label and edges design. We did our second iteration in proto.io and below are some screenshots.