USS Midway Museum Sets The Standard for Accessibility

USS Midway Museum Sets The Standard for Accessibility
Country: United States
City: San Diego, California
Institution Type: Military, Historic/Heritage
Exhibition Type: Permanent
Language: English

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Client profile
A maritime museum on San Diego’s Navy Pier, the USS Midway Museum is the United States’ longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century—active from 1945 to 1992. The most popular naval warship museum in the US, the Midway offers 60 exhibits on multiple levels of the ship, from bunkrooms to mess halls to "war rooms," as well as a collection of 29 restored aircraft, flight simulators, climb-aboard aircraft and cockpits, interactive exhibits, and an “Ejection Seat Theater.”
Challenge
Since 2004, Antenna International has been Midway's audio-tour partner.  Midway is one of the top tourist attractions in San Diego.  Every year, the museum hosts new exhibitions of aircraft, operations, and life on board. New tour content is constantly needed to keep the informative and entertaining experience fresh for visitors.   Antenna has been updating Midway's tour content annually, resulting in a range of tours, from an encyclopedic audio guide for adult visitors to a very successful kid's tour. 
Over the years, USS Midway Museum noticed that many of its visitors, including veterans, have come form of vision or hearing impairment.  In 2012, the museum decided to develop a series of tours for these specialty audiences. This presented a unique challenge to Antenna's producers, as the ship’s four levels are accessed by climbing ladders, ducking through hatches, walking through narrow passageways and across cavernous spaces; the physical obstacles are a challenge for even the most able-bodied person.  Antenna and the USS Midway Museum sought to create a tour that would make these tricky spaces accessible, going above and beyond anything ever before offered. 
Solution
In the audio descriptive tour, Antenna created a hybrid experience that took advantage of USS Midway’s dedicated docents and their expertise, placing them at the center of the visitor's experience.  Instead of the tour being bogged down with directional information, docents lead low-vision and blind visitors to various locations on the ship where they then access the audio guide to hear dramatic eyewitness accounts of that area of the ship.  This approach allows individuals with low vision to visit the museum together with a docent if they choose, or on their own with family and friends.  Once at a point of interest, the audio includes carefully scripted visual details of the ship and evocative sound treatments to bring the spaces to life, providing a rich and personalized experience.  The audio content also includes multi-sensory experiences as part of the visit, directing blind and low-vision visitors when appropriate to touch the ship’s equipment, lay down in bunks, and use objects as points of departure.  These sensory cues act as another way into the USS Midway’s stories and history.  
For the American Sign Language Tour (ASL), the route specifically highlighted the best stories for Deaf visitors.  Just as different interviewees have distinctive ways of speaking, ASL interpreters have unique inflections and personalities.  Instead of just one narrator approaching each stop like a presentation, the ASL guide introduces “characters” on nearly every stop on the tour to offer their first-hand accounts of the action.  To create a dynamic experience, Antenna cast ASL interpreters who were also actors.  These actors delivered their stories as if they were experiencing them first-hand, rather than a more impassive, neutral "translator."  The script itself was also not just a word for word translation of the audio text, but re-written for a Deaf audience to give cultural context and increase understanding.
For both the Audio Descriptive and ASL tours, Antenna writers and producers worked with blind, low vision and Deaf individuals and accessibility experts to develop fully-accessible content.  The USS Midway provided on-site volunteers who were visually impaired and individuals fluent in American Sign Language to help with testing and quality assurance for both tours.  Their feedback, especially about navigating the space, was a crucial part of creating the tours.  
Outcome
In 2014 Antenna was awarded a Silver MUSE Award for the USS Midway Access Tour by the American Alliance of Museums’ Media and Technology Professional Network.  The MUSE award is one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon the museum technology community.
Antenna's winning tour was selected for its distinct approach to content for visitors with disabilities. Jurors said: “The Midway Museum really listened to what their audience needs with these very targeted sight- and hearing-impaired tours. These tours set the standard for accessibility.”


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