MuseumWeek promotes better accessibility for the blind and visually impaired

In France, despite a 2005 law, only 3-4% of sites are actually accessible to people who are blind or partially sighted. Culture is no exception, despite the very important investments made during the lockdowns. East dramatic report was established by an official of the Valentín Haüy association who recently published an allegation on this subject.

the museum week also happened proxy of this subject of society for its 9th edition. In partnership with Twitter, it highlighted the ALT field and from its first day a hashtag #accessibilityMW. This world event, in collaboration with UNESCO, mobilizes at least 6,000 cultural institutions: museums, but also galleries, libraries, archives, science and music centers, not now forgetting the artists and digital creators themselves.

Interview with Benjamín Benita, president of the Culture with Causes Network (CFCN), which leads and coordinates MuseumWeek from France.

For the first time this year, it is highlighting accessibility to digital cultural content. Why and why so late?

This theme of accessibility was part of the first day of Museum Week, dedicated to innovation for culture and social impact. Admittedly, it is perhaps unfortunate to put accessibility under the hat of innovation. However, very little is done in the world to make cultural content accessible. And in France, a law of February 2005 imposes this accessibility to cultural institutions.

Very little content is accessible today and then it was about waving a flag saying let’s do more. Let us not settle for what has already been done. Digital is becoming more and more important and it will not stop there, we have to do more.

How can this accessibility be specifically improved?

Symbolically passed on Monday by the hashtag #accessibilityMW. This corresponds to an invitation for museums like the Cité des Sciences, the Palais de la Découverte and others to fill in the ALT field, by alternative, which allows people who cannot show an image to guess the content if they could see it on Twitter. It is a symbolic operation to encourage to do more. It means going beyond systematically, or maybe much more frequently, filling in that field on Twitter and getting people to adopt that technique. This allows the people who have the right to enjoy it to see the content you have published and expand your audience.

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We also want to encourage museums to make their websites accessible. There are labels for the images to fill in. There are accessibility standards to implement so that blind or visually impaired people benefit, in particular, from the practical information reserved for them. The standards related to computer language allow pages to be encoded and ensure that they can be read by suitable devices.

What do the museums tell you?

It is not a cost problem in the financial sense of the term. It is a cost problem in terms of time because it takes time. And many times establishments suffer from a congestion problem at the level of social networks. We see that everything flows towards the teams in charge of social networks, where in the end everything is important. And this is a case in which everyone is right, because obviously all the activities that the establishment carries out are important. It’s kind of a bandwidth issue, not a willpower issue.

And abroad, where is accessibility the norm or more developed for cultural content?

I don’t know if this is really the norm in the United States and Canada, but I have seen a more recurrent practice from the point of view of digital accessibility. It seems a bit more grounded in practice, a bit more obvious. Inclusion is in full swing there more easily.

Better late than never, but Museum Week kicked off in 2014 and it’s the first time it’s committed to accessibility.

It’s true, it’s a first time. We covered a lot of topics, topics that were also important. For three years we took care of the place of women in culture, yesterday, today, tomorrow. We question the role of artists in society. Last year, with UNESCO, we embarked on much broader and more important issues: tolerance, coexistence. And yes, for accessibility, this is a first, but there is a commitment on our part to keep it a recurring theme.

We are an association law 1901 so we have no means, we are volunteers. We hold on because we think we have to send a signal. But we are not in the moralizing judgment. Who are we to be able to point fingers at anyone? We serve causes, social issues that seem important to us. This issue, perhaps belatedly, seems important to us to point it out. We need to build resilient and inclusive societies and that means the need to involve all audiences. There is a moral, even ethical, social duty to make digital content presented online accessible, even across cultures. What would it mean to build, to think about tomorrow’s society without people with visual disabilities?

Beyond this week, what is your goal in this regard?

We are going to try to do more, organize other communication and awareness operations on this issue, in other parts of the world, thanks to our 25 ambassadors in the world and mainly in North and South America. Even if things are advanced in North America, there is still much to be done, and ultimately this is not a useless reminder.

And in France, do you want this to be permanent for certain establishments? So that it’s not just a one-week affair.

The best is the enemy of good. Regular practices should already be in place. If we enter into a systematism, we give ourselves a mission that sometimes makes things impossible. On the other hand, being able to measure what we have already achieved and tell ourselves that next year we have set ourselves the objective of going a little further in terms of accessibility, seems to me an interesting objective.

Benjamin Benita, coordinator of the Museum Week, at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, June 10, 2022.
Benjamin Benita, coordinator of the Museum Week, at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, June 10, 2022.

© Radio France
-Eric Chaverou

This year, the museum week also prominently addresses the sensitive issue of sexuality.

Yes, and when we pose as subjects sexuality, the environment, freedom, and it is an opportunity to express ourselves, we play a role in the social. Museum Week is there to expose as many people as possible to culture in general, to art in general, but also to social problems in order to invite them to rethink them. This development took place in 2016 with the support of Unesco and its director at that time Irina Bokova in an operation launched by Twitter but extended to other platforms.

What would a digital world be without art, without culture? It would be terrible. If we take the issue of sexuality, do we really want a world where younger generations see their world-building manufactured by a certain industry? On this subject, we would like to see content produced by painters, by historians. This is the case this week of an art historian who spoke to us about the history of the nude.

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How are you organizing this week? How do you determine hashtags, topics?

It is a headache because there are many important issues to deal with. The themes must be broad enough, polysemous, so that a science center, a music center, a gallery, an artist, can grasp the theme and have things to say. The issue need not necessarily pose a problem in certain regions of the world. I admit that today we can approach sexuality, we are happy about it, but it has not always been possible.

We have a network of people around the world with whom we discuss these issues. There is no vote. The final decision is up to the association but we discuss things in good terms. Is the term appropriate? Does the topic make sense? Is it deep enough, important enough in society, to invest it? Then we add the dates and calendars component with all the international days, the organized events, and it takes several months of work to get these keywords in place.

And how do citizens receive Museum Week? Who is your audience?

We recently discovered through computer analysis tools that we are far from ourselves. Museums don’t argue with each other. During confinement we managed to gather 60,000 people, more than double the last edition outside of confinement. And we know that these people are young, 80% are under 34 and 30% are under 24. And it’s primarily an established audience in the Northern Hemisphere, Europe, North America. We also have a lot of relays in Australia. In Africa, it has been nascent for several years.

And for museums, Museum Week provides yet another opportunity to talk with each other internally and discuss during an event that has media coverage. Today, it is true that it is a slightly less unique event since there are many other digital events. But it’s still a spur, a groundbreaking meeting that built momentum. This made it possible to show that a museum was not only a relationship with the public that occurred in space and time, open from such a day to such a day, at such a time and in such a place. We support this digital transformation. Beyond its educational reason for being, a museum must influence, play a role in communities, in society, be inclusive, do things for communities that need it. It is also a social space. This role of society extends to dematerialized networks and I think it will also extend to Web 3.0.

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