Children's Museum of Indianapolis
Redesigning museum's website with accessibility in mind
Accessibility is an important factor to consider while designing a website that will be visited by children and their parents. The goal of the world's largest children's museum in Indianapolis was to ensure that visitors can get the information they need before visiting them. This is a crucial step to ensure children with accessibility needs don't get overwhelmed during their visits.
We were asked by the museum to address the needs of children with sensory sensitivities such as Autism, Asperger’s or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and improve their existing accessibility features and standards to help children with such acute needs. Due to the nature of the project, extensive research was needed to determine accurate accessibility design recommendations.
I undertook this project as a part of my Final year project (a.k.a. capstone) at Indiana University with 3 other teammates. The goal of doing this project was to get hands-on experience in designing with accessibility in mind and to present several accessible design recommendations for improvements to be made to existing museum standards.
August 2018 to May 2019
Balsamiq Mockups, InVision Studio, Sketch, Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects
User Research, Interviewing, Data Analysis, Low and High Fidelity Prototyping, Video Filming & Editing
UX Design, UX Research, Interaction Design, Cinematography
My role in this project was to research the pain points that might have existed for children with sensory sensitivities and their parents, brainstorm for solutions in the form of a low fidelity prototype that can be tested with a sample set of users and accessibility experts. And creating high fidelity prototype based on the feedback received during testing which would be submitted to the museum for development.
PRIMARY RESEARCH - COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS
We reviewed accessibility features that are currently present in other children’s museums to evaluate their usability and to understand the current design and accessibility standards that are in existence. From our competitive analysis on Hands On Children’s Museum, WA, Children's Museum of Arts, NY, Port Discovery Children’s Museum of Baltimore, MD and Explora, NM, we found that every year, some of these museums set aside two special weeks for children with special needs and their caretakers as part of the museum’s dedication to inclusive learning. The staff lowers volume and sound effects so that children with sensory sensitivities can truly enjoy the museum experience. Similarly, Explora museum has sensory-friendly dates and times mentioned on their website with the sensory-friendly entrance as well as spaces inside dedicated to people with sensory sensitivities. All of the studied websites below have sensory-friendly social stories on their websites. Most of the museums have them in downloadable pdf format.
SECONDARY RESEARCH —USABILITY AND LITERATURE REVIEW
We performed a usability review of the existing website on the museum's website accessibility features and the sensory maps and social narratives present on it. We found that the page had a cognitive overload of accessibility information which made it look cluttered and aesthetically painful to view. The sensory maps and other resources were in the process hard to find.
We conducted a literature review to discover relevant information, processes, methods and design guidelines regarding museum accessibility as well as web accessibility. According to multiple resources and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, an accessible website is defined as one that ensures that all of its pages can be used effectively by all people using the website. We learned that People with sensory sensitivities have a wide range of conditions and may face difficulties while using the internet if the proper format is not used.
Our stakeholders were the primary source of the users for research. We set our target users for this project to primarily be parents of children with various sensory processing disorders. Usability tests along with post-test interviews with 4 parents of children with sensory sensitivities were conducted. The purpose of the tests and interviews was to find out their views on the current website regarding the accessibility features, the issues, and obstacles they face as well as to learn about their expectations.
We also included experts from various sensory processing disability fields. This allowed us to validate our findings and gain better insight into industry-standard accessibility initiatives.
Children with sensory sensitivities are oversensitive to various factors such as noise, light, clothing, temperature, etc. and require extra care from their guardians in preparation before visiting any place. This was identified as the primary problem that we had to focus on as discovered in our research phase and validated by the stakeholders at Easterseals Crossroads and The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Besides that, we also identified:
Sensory Maps on the website are not interactive and do not show useful information such as where the crowded or loud areas are.
Parents want their children to be able to connect with the museum's experiences.
Preparing such children to keep them engaged/calm during the visit is the biggest problem for parents.
Insights gained from the research phase
IDEATING THE SOLUTION
The storyboard depicts a mother and her daughter. The mother is planning a trip to The Children’s Museum and her daughter is nervous about the trip due to the fear of the crowd. The mother utilizes the museum’s website to search for quiet areas that would best help her daughter cope with the new experiences that she would face while at the museum. She finds the accessibility portion of the website and utilizes various sensory stories to give her daughter an idea of what to expect throughout the trip. This calms her daughter down and they create a checklist of areas to see, areas to avoid and which areas might be best to visit at specific times.
We started our ideation phase by brainstorming for various solutions that could fit in at different stages of the museum visiting experience. The initial ideas were represented in the form of rough sketches.
A tablet application for kids to view their personalized social narratives as well as to play short games while standing in queues or to stay engaged in the museum experience.
A desktop/responsive web application that is centered around allowing children to virtually traverse the museum before they arrive via photos/videos showing the inside of each exhibit.
A mobile application that focused on real-time navigation and on guiding parents and children around the museum. This concept was to allow parents to ensure that they have a quick outlet to an area within the museum in case the child starts to get overwhelmed during the visit.
We decided to move forward with a combination concept that utilizes several areas from all three of our concepts. We believed that this concept will cover the broadest possible range of users before, during, and after a trip to the museum, while also allowing us to meet all of the key requirements.
We start our low fidelity prototyping with a paper given how disposable it is, it enabled us to perform quick modification and easy user testing of a preliminary concept for the service solution.
Low Fidelity Prototype
HIGH FIDELITY DESIGN
Below are some of the main screens of the designed application and the supporting functions as viewed on a tablet device.
Moved Accessibility straight to the home page as a tab to improve discoverability
The Children's Museum Indianapolis Home page
Reduced the clutter and verbiage of the Accessibility page to improve information interpretation
While browsing exhibits and experiences of the museum, 'Accessibility Features' allow users to easily filter them based on their accessibility requirements. Sensory features for each exhibit are also displayed on the exhibit's thumbnail. Detailed information for each feature is also present under each section along with the exhibit key for each sensory feature
Exhibits and Experiences of the Museum
Details of an Exhibit
Games play a very important role to keep the children engaged as well as calm during the times they don’t feel comfortable or are overwhelmed by the environment around them. The games are designed with a focus to enhance the museum experience for kids and provide education about the exhibits.
List of Educational Games offered
Sample Educational Game
Along with social stories as PDF files, children are provided with the option to customize the stories by adding their names to allow the them to connect better and make the most out of the trip to the museum.
Starting a Social Narrative
Social Narrative includes children's name
An interactive map plan lets the children or their parents select the floor level as well as the desired sensory areas around them. They can also get directions to such areas using AR (augmented reality) if their tablet devices support it.
Starting a Social Narrative
Social Narrative includes children's name
AR indoor navigation to desired sensory area
We recruited six participants for user testing. Three participants were adults with children having sensory sensitivities. Two participants were experts in the field of SPD or accessibility in general. One participant was an individual familiar with designing museum experiences for adults and children. We conducted three think-aloud tests and three cognitive walkthroughs on the low-fidelity prototype to identify pain points and improve overall usability in the high-fidelity prototype.
Games would encourage children to look for clues at the museum and will enhance their museum experience
Customization options on sensory stories can be very helpful in enabling children to connect better.
The interactive map can be helpful, both before and during the visit for users to find areas they need to find within the museum.
Some parents were not able to grasp how the interactive maps would work in the low-fidelity prototypes as they were not aware of augmented reality technology, but found it fascinating when the high-fidelity video was demonstrated.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE MUSEUM
After all the research and testing of low and high-fidelity prototypes, we made several recommendations for accessibility improvements to the museum. We included our data analysis and interview transcripts to ensure that thy retained all of the data for any future concerns about accessibility standards. The accessible design recommendations included
A revamped Accessibility pages to improve discoverability and information interpretation to allow children and parents to make better planning of their visits
Personalization of accessibility social narratives to help children feel more connected and be prepared for what to expect at the museum
Short educational games for children relevant to the exhibits and experiences to help calm the children during overwhelming situations like dark or loud environments
Interactive indoor navigation using augmented reality to get children out of overwhelming situations like crowded or scary environments
Overall it was a really enriching experience for me as it was a very intense and long project to complete in 10 months. It not only gave me a chance to hone my skills in the various prototyping techniques like After Effects but also gave me a sense of how important Accessibility is when it comes to designing.