Museums play a crucial role in society by educating the public and representing diverse aspects of culture through their exhibits. Therefore, it is imperative to render museums accessible to the largest audience and initiatives that reduce cultural exclusion of people living with disabilities are highly recommended and encouraged. Today, the utilisation of ICT, foster social inclusion and allow cultural heritage context to become more accessible physically and intellectually. In particular, the accessibility of museum collections by the visually impaired (VI) is a very active multidisciplinary research domain. Actually, haptic prohibition is one of the most common limitations when interacting with museum artefacts. This restriction aims quite logically at preventing damages while safeguarding the integrity of the cultural reserve, characterised by its uniqueness. Nevertheless, if museum visitors are visually impaired, the inability to touch the artefacts makes the whole experience incomplete as the haptic perception of an artefact’s morphology is the primary substitute of sight. ICT may play a significant role in providing assistive methods that enable individuals to access museums’ reserve through multimodal approaches that are not limited to the actual premises of a museum. The elimination of the ”Do not touch” ban in conjunction with on-demand narrative enrichment triggers the general interest and initiates a further involvement in comprehending the cultural and historical background encapsulated by exhibits.
In the paper “Composing smart museum exhibit specifications for the visually impaired” by P. Pistofidis et al., published on the Journal of Cultural Heritage, Vol. 52, 2021, Pages 1-10, doi.org/10.1016/j.culher.2021.08.013, the authors report part of the research developed in the APTOS project (aptos.athenarc.gr) that aims at implementing low-cost interactive systems focused on VI people built around the smart exhibit (SE) concept. The smart exhibit, as a result of 3D digitisation and 3D printing technologies, carries functionalities similar to those found in Internet-of-Things devices while allowing user-interaction through triggering-based narrative enrichment. The developed prototypes include: i) aptos.Exhibit, a multi-user smart exhibit based museum exhibition, ii) aptos.Map, a table-sized tactile map for understanding a museum’s layout and iii) aptos.myExhibit, a post-visit museum-kit that that enables cultural content exploration and dissemination after the completion of an actual museum visit.
The methodology involved also the collection and analysis of users’ requirements for the APTOS project prototype systems. To capture the appropriate information, an extensive questionnaire and a haptic performance assessment object was created. Each one aims at acquiring different while complementary feedback. The first allowed the examination of the visually impaired requirements, preferences and attitudes when it comes to museum visits along with their technological tools familiarity that enhances accessibility and their opinion on the primary aspects of the proposed smart exhibit functionality. The second attempts to objectively quantify the performance of VI and non-VI people on completing various haptic task and allowed to determine properties of the human haptic performance in relation to several 3D printing settings, morphological, topological and dimensional feature preferences and design elements.
The work reported in the paper aims at: i) translating the findings of a questionnaire into functional requirements of SE prototypes and ii) designing a 3D printed haptic assessment object that collects preferences, refines properties, identifies limitations and pinpoints good practises for 3D printing these prototypes. The questionnaire fuels the specifications with knowledge from experiences of VI and cultural heritage exhibits, while the assessment object provides insights on how to effectively measure haptic skills and couple them with 3D printed elements. The obtained results and indicators contributed in composing a set of requirements specifications and good practices that will enable the exploitation of the three implemented systems in the Epigraphic Museum (Athens,Greece).