Tips on Designing Inclusive Exhibitions

When I was working at Formula D Interactive, I created a template to assess an exhibition or museum project in regards to inclusive design, to analyse if the exhibition is accessible to people with disabilities. The entire spectrum of disabilities was considered. I used diverse resources to create the template but mostly the Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Design, which is a very helpful document when it comes to designing inclusive exhibitions. Unfortunately, I can’t share the template with you as it belongs to the company I produced it for. However, since then, I always have it in mind when visiting a museum exhibition. Recently, I visited one in Paris which I thought was badly designed and not inclusive at all. I thus thought it was important to discuss it.

Of course, inclusive design can be quite tricky and sometimes requires more skills and budget which are not always there. But there’s a lot of things that are very easy to put in place. Simple design tips can be applied which will make the exhibition more inclusive. Here is my list of 10 inclusive design tips that I think are crucial. (of course there’s a lot more…).

  • Contrasting colours must be used throughout the exhibition: text/background, item/background, caption/wall, wall/floor. It makes it easier for visitors to read and find their way through the space.
  • All text must be left ragged. It is important that the right margin of any text is left ragged when the left margin is justified. In this way, everybody has a clear sense of where each line starts and finishes: it is easier to read
  • The dimensions of a wheelchair must be kept in mind. The minimum clear floor space required by a wheelchair is 760 mm (30 in.) wide by 1220 mm (48 in.) long.
  • Places to sit are a must. This is something a lot of institutions do not think about but it is necessary to organize for places to sit throughout an exhibition. Visiting an exhibition requires to stand for a significant amount of time. Visitors need places to rest.
  • A clear circulation route must be indicated. It can be achieved with the lights, with some signs or any other clear method. Nobody should feel lost in the space.
  • The lighting level must be the same throughout the exhibition. Radical changes foster misunderstanding. Uniformity is important.
  • All content must be presented in print, in audio and in tactile (Braille). All audio narration needs to be provided in print format and all video needs subtitles when required. If the video does not carry any soundtrack, it needs to be stated on a label to assure deaf and hard-of-hearing people that they are not missing information. In reverse, any audiovisual medium and interactive that present information with images and prints are to be audio described.
  • All items in the exhibitions must be visually visible to all visitor. Meaning: it must be visible to a tall adult standing as well as to someone on a wheelchair. This applies for every items.
  • Following the precedent point, glare must be eliminated from the cases for the visitors seated as well as for the visitors standing.
  • People with disabilities must be included in exhibition topics, photographs and perspectives using their voice (they speak for themselves). Plus, the correct vocabulary must be used when speaking of, mentioning and referring to people with disabilities or discussing issues related to them.


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