Museums are cultural, learning and social environments with a multidimensional role educational and social role for all social strata and people. Museums have to respond to the social demands for equal access to cultural goods for all as well as to the new social changes and challenges. Among these challenges is the development of new technologies which have an important impact in daily life and affects every social sector including cultural institutions and education – formal and informal. New technologies have changed the very concept of participation as well as the audience demands and the ways that museum experience can be enriched (e.g. access to online information and cultural goods, social media, virtual tours, accessible multimedia means, quick response codes, digital games, digital storytelling, videos, interactive exhibits, on line educational material, augmented reality). Thus, museums need to address these challenges, create new opportunities and promote new ways of visitors’ engagement and participation at different levels such as physical, internet and mobile (Black, 2012). This is of particular importance for people with disabilities since new technologies create new possibilities for access and inclusion and in the same time new barriers of access must be overcome (Weisen, 2008).
Over the past decades it is true that museums have made efforts to be accessible and inclusive for all including people with disabilities through a range of facilitations and provisions. However, there are many differences among museums regarding the level of access for individuals with different disabilities. Individuals with sensory disabilities (i.e. vision impairment (VI) and deaf or hard-of hearing individuals (DHH) are a heterogeneous population not only due to different sensory disability but also within each population (e.g. blind or with low vision individuals, age of visual loss, different educational, developmental, and physical abilities, etc. or in case of DHH individuals diverse language styles and communicational needs, cultural identities, cognitive skills). Individuals with sensory disabilities face different barriers to the museum due to the structure of museums and the availability of appropriate facilitations, methods and means, activities and events. The ways that museums can address visitors with sensory disabilities as independent visitors as well as within groups with mixed abilities and needs (with and without disabilities) is a challenge which reflects the social reality and inclusive education. In this framework new technologies can contribute to the access and quality of museum learning and experience.
The current project concerns issues of access to museums for individuals with sensory disabilities based on the principles of Universal Design and Universal Design of Learning and the values of the inclusive education and the fundamental right of all people for access to cultural heritage. The need for cross disciplinary work and interagency partnerships is the basis of the proposed project, which aims to promote a multisensory and inclusive museum for individuals with sensory isabilities.
Hence, ToMiMEUs project aims to address the following objectives:
• To enable museum staff become aware and update their knowledge about the barriers in museums for individuals with sensory disabilities and the techniques including new technologies that can enhance their access and inclusion to museums.
• To create learning, cultural and social opportunities for individuals with sensory disabilities as well as within groups with and without disabilities in museums.
• To promote the collaboration between museums and universities.
• To point out the best practices and guidelines for the development of an accessible, multisensory and inclusive museum for visitors with sensory disabilities The above objectives were identified though a up-to-date literature review. Nine organizations included in ToMiMEUs project (universities, museums, and a European museum association) will share their knowledge and experience to address the above objectives towards a multisensory and inclusive museum for individuals with sensory disabilities and for all.
The project partners consists of an outstanding collaboration of researchers and practitioners who have a unique mix of skills and experience both inside and outside academia regarding people with sensory disabilities and/or museums. Ten formal partners constitute the consortium of this project: 4 formal partners are universities, 4 are museums, 1 IT company and 1 independent network of national museum organizations in Europe (Association Balkan Museum Network ABMN).
The innovation of the present project lies in its synthetic character which combines the contemporary role of the museums, the socio-anthropological paradigm for disability and the conventions for the rights of people with disabilities and human rights.