Virtual Tours and the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)
There are almost 10 million disabled people in Great Britain, and legislation in the form of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) aims to ensure that all disabled people are given a fair deal in everyday life.
Much of the Disability Discrimination Act focuses on the duties of service providers (shops, museums, galleries, libraries, archives and so forth) to disabled users of their services. This is particularly relevant for museums and galleries, who must ‘make reasonable adjustments’ and provide ‘auxiliary aids and services’ to make virtual tours services more accessible and comply with the law. This can be an expensive and time-consuming process for organisations where there is often limited funding and manpower to manage the process.
However, a reasonable alternative is permissible in many instances where direct access isn’t possible, and a virtual tour is an excellent way of fulfilling this brief, giving users an alternative way of finding and manipulating information. High quality virtual tours can be shown at fullscreen and high-resolution, so that the viewer almost feels as if they are standing in the space itself. They can manipulate the virtual tour using a mouse, keyboard or touch-screen, giving the user control over their environment.
Many organisations are seeing the advantage of providing virtual tours which then ensure compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act.
The Canal Museum in Kings Cross, London have a Victorian Narrowboat as part of their collection. The limited space inside the boat meant that people with mobility issues were not able to see inside the boat. The boat itself as an item of historical interest could not be altered to meet these requirements, so in order to gain DDA compliance, The Canal Museum commissioned a kiosk virtual tour to run outside the boat. The virtual tours give disabled visitors the chance to thoroughly explore inside the boat.
A prominent aircraft museum needed a way to display the interior of a 1930’s British racing aircraft, the Percival Mew Gull, to disabled and non-disabled visitors to the museum. The craft itself is displayed hanging from the roof of the museum, so access to the single cockpit is not possible for visitors. The museum commissioned a 360 degree, interactive, high-definition virtual tour which was placed in a kiosk by the exhibit, thereby giving all visitors, both disabled and non-disabled, the opportunity to thoroughly explore the inside of the cockpit, and see for themselves what the original pilots would have seen.
Virtual tours (or ‘gallery interactives’) can help overcome a wide variety of accessibility obstacles. Some examples could be:
– The area is not accessible for people with mobility issues
– The area is too small to accommodate a wheelchair, a personal assistant (PA) or an assistance dog
– The area cannot be adapted due to historic buildings or health and safety regulations
– Large queues form at certain collections or attractions – in this instance a virtual tour can be used to provide the audience with entertainment while they wait, and heighten anticipation. The virtual tours can also be used to promote other attractions while people queue.
– The collection is not sited in an accessible area of the building
– High footfall volumes risk damaging the collection
A virtual tour running in a kiosk or on-screen nearby allows the visitor to explore a full 360 degrees around the area for themselves, providing an excellent solution – whatever the accessibility problem.
In many cases, an offsite resource can ensure compliance with the DDA, so a website which includes 360 degree virtual tours is a good access solution for many museums, galleries and other organisations.