As arts organizations focus on becoming more inclusive, many have found that technology is opening up new ways for guests to access the arts. In January a cohort of Chicago museums each released an app, powered by infiniteach, designed to make their museum more autism friendly. By design, museums are home to numerous informal learning opportunities, and a wealth of tactile experiences which make them frequent destinations for families with autistic members.
How Can a Museum App Support Families With Autistic Members?
Autism is a spectrum disorder, so those impacted may display a variety of different characteristics. Some of the most common are:
· Sensory processing challenges
· Delayed speech
· Difficulty noticing and interacting in the social world
The apps, focused on The Field Museum, The Shedd Aquarium, and the Chicago Children’s Museum, address these core areas in a variety of ways. First, they give parents a chance to preplan their visit in accordance with their child’s needs. Each level of the museum is mapped out, and marked with information such as where the calm areas are, the location of tactile interactions, and specific places that may be sensory triggers.
In order to serve nonverbal autistic guests, the app contains a selection of verbalization buttons. Within the communication tab are icons featuring essential comments, for example “I am nervous” and “where is the bathroom,” and location specific buttons for visit specific thoughts such as “let’s play dress up,” and “Check out the shark.” When these icons are pressed the phone articulates what is on the button. Additional buttons such as “Which one is your favorite?” enable nonverbal children to ask questions, thus aiding in social interaction development as well as helping with communication.
Research has shown that one very effective tool for helping autistic individuals manage their day is the use of a visual schedule. The museums have incorporated this idea into the app as well. Each app has a schedule tab which lays out a typical agenda for a visit. As guests work their way through their museum experience, they can check off each item as they complete them. Caregivers can edit the schedule as they see fit to customize the experience for the autistic guest.
The apps produced for Chicago’s Children’s Museum, The Shedd Aquarium, and The Field Museum are wonderful, user friendly examples of how tech can allow museums to be more inclusive. The apps are intuitive, user friendly, simple enough for young guests, and free. The platform helps museums be places of learning for guests of all abilities.