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Improving on-site museum and art gallery experiences for blind and partially sighted visitors.

   Faculty of Engineering, Computing and the Environment

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  Dr Makayla Lewis  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Museums and art galleries across the world are not only buildings that house specialised objects, artworks, research, they are a curation of earth history and the beings and nature that reside; thus, they play an important role in our society. In the UK, there are 2,500 museums and galleries, 1,500 are accredited [1], that amass millions of visitors each year. These non-profit institutions seek to offer enjoyment but also act as a space for education, inspiration, and skill exploration with an aim of continuing the spirit and enthusiasm of the eighteenth-century UK government goal to provide public learning equality and access [2]. These institutions seek to garner the attention and attainment of two types of visitors, physical (on-site, footfall) and digital (online through websites, apps, and social media) that are accessible to all, from children, older people, and those with disabilities and conditions [3]. Over the last two decades physical museum and gallery inclusivity has improved tremendously, especially with the rapid advance of textiles and digital technology (e.g. [4, 5, 6, and 7]), although, these experiences are often less equal for visitors who are blind or partially sighted, the design and execution of audio descriptions, tactile books and sensory artefacts and technology has greatly improved experiences (e.g. [8, 9, 10, and 11]), however, onsite museum and art gallery access, interaction, and knowledge exchange is far from addressed most notably the recent closures of sensory interaction points because of Covid-19 health measures [12]. There are two million people registered as blind and partially sighted in the UK [13], thus this research seeks to improve museum and gallery experience for a substantial number of individuals.

The aim of the project is to improve on-site museum and art gallery experiences for blind and partially sighted visitors. The successful completion of the project requires addressing the following scientific objectives:

(a) investigate with blind and partially sighted onsite museum visitors, using design thinking methodology, a low cost and efficient onsite digital solutions that consider wayfinding, through smartphone haptics and gestures, and physical object and artwork interaction through touch, taste, hear, and smell, with an aim of digitally creating a museum and gallery experience that are interactive, appropriate, and more equal to blind and partially sighted individuals;

(b)  assess the appropriateness of, and adapt/redesign, the widely used design thinking methodology [14], which often directed towards sighted individuals, to better involve those who are blind and partially sighted.

Applicants should have, at least, an Honours Degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent) in Human Computer Interaction or User Experience Design.


[1] Museum Association, 2020. FAQ. Last Accessed: 17 January 2022
[2] Wellcome Collection. 2021. The birth of the public museum. Last Accessed: 17 January 2022
[3] Davies, S., 2005. A sense of purpose: rethinking museum values and strategies. In Museum provision and professionalism (pp. 45-52). Routledge.
[4] Babu, R., Singh, R. and Ganesh, J., 2010. Understanding blind users’ Web accessibility and usability problems. AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction, 2(3), pp.73-94.
[5] Vaz, R., Freitas, D. and Coelho, A., 2020. Blind and Visually Impaired Visitors' Experiences in Museums: Increasing Accessibility through Assistive Technologies. International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, 13(2).
[6] Wilson, P.F., Griffiths, S., Williams, E., Smith, M.P. and Williams, M.A., 2020. Designing 3-D prints for blind and partially sighted audiences in museums: exploring the needs of those living with sight loss. Visitor Studies, 23(2), pp.120-140.
[7] Meliones, A. and Sampson, D., 2018. Blind MuseumTourer: A system for self-guided tours in museums and blind indoor navigation. Technologies, 6(1), p.4.
[8] Hayhoe, S., 2017. Blind visitor experiences at art museums. Rowman & Littlefield.
[9] Candlin, F., 2003. Blindness, art and exclusion in museums and galleries. International Journal of Art & Design Education, 22(1), pp.100-110.
[10] Arnheim, R., 1990. Perceptual aspects of art for the blind. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 24(3), pp.57-65.
[11] Davis, J., 2008. Are Museums Deliberately Blind to the Needs of the Blind?. Tahoma West Literary Arts Magazine, 12(1), pp.19-29.
[12] Internal Council of Museums. 2021. Museums and end of lockdown: Ensuring the safety of the public and staff. Last Accessed: 17 January 2022
[13] NHS. 2021. Blindness and vision loss. Last Accessed: 17 January 2022
[14] Blyth, S., Kimbell, L. and Haig, T., 2011. Design Thinking and the Big Society: From solving personal troubles to designing social problems. London: Actant and Taylor Haig.
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