Opening Doors of Inclusion: Exploring Accessibility in Museums


Every Friday, we’ll be writing new and interesting blog posts! From museum theory, behind the scenes exclusive access to upcoming content, to posts from staff, and everything in between. Stay tuned for exciting content as we roll out an updated website!

To start us off, let’s look at museum theory. There are many concepts that guide museum theory, not just at Lac La Biche, but museums all across Canada. One of which is accessibility, one of the guiding core principles here at the Lac La Biche Museum. Let’s first delve into a bit of a history lesson.

In the past, museums faced numerous challenges when it came to providing access and inclusion for individuals with disabilities. Physical barriers, limited resources and a lack of general awareness hindered the ability of everyone to fully enjoy the museum experience. This all began to change by the second half of the 20th century as society started to recognize the importance of accessibility. During the 1960s, the disability rights movement that sprang up within North American began to emerge as a powerful force on the political stage. Their rallying cry, “one is not born disabled; one is made disabled by society”, boldly underscored the societal barriers and negative attitudes that perpetuated accessibility issues. This movement resonated deeply among legislators across Canada, at both a federal and provincial level. As a result of these protests and growing awareness, legislation was enacted and amendments made to the Canadian Human Rights Act, which made explicit mention of prohibiting discrimination based on disability. These legislations did not go unnoticed by museums across Canada and began to fundamentally shape guiding core principles and theories.

By the mid 1980s, the concept of visitor centered museums began to gain traction. What that means, is that museums started to recognize the importance of creating experiences that caters to a diverse interest, backgrounds and abilities of the visitor. Physical accessibility improvements, such as ramps, elevators, accessible washrooms and designated parking lots became common features in many museums. As the years turned and technology continued to advance, museums enthusiastically embraced innovative approaches to enhance accessibility. Museums began developing audio tours, multi-sensory exhibits, and immersive virtual reality experiences to engage visitors on multiple levels. More tactile elements began to be in incorporated into museum design, allowing for interactive and hand on exploration. This growing prevalence of digital accessibility empowered museums to create inclusive online programming, just like the website you’re currently exploring! Museums, like Lac La Biche, are committed to continuously improving accessibility and fostering a more inclusive environment. This means that museums are looking past physical accessibility alone. Museums are striving to address sensory, cognitive, social and emotional needs, which ensures that all visitors can fully participate and enjoy the exhibits and programs offered. Through these ongoing efforts, museums are transforming into vibrant and welcoming spaces that celebrate diversity and provide a welcoming experience for everyone.

ICOM (International Council of Museums) defines accessibility as: “the removal of barriers and the provision of inclusive opportunities, ensuring that all individuals, regardless of their background, abilities, or disabilities, can access, engage with, and benefit from museum experiences”. This definition impacts every level of museum work. From interpretive planning, visitor research, curation, design and construction. What does this all mean? Let’s break it down by the 6 ways in which accessibility can be measured in museums: physical, sensory, digital, interpretive, programmatic and attitudinal accessibility.  This all starts with creating physical accessibility. Museums and its facilities are designed and equipped to accommodate visitors with mobility needs. Whether this is through wide hallways, elevators, ramps, rest areas and accessible parking. Exhibits are also opened to sensory accessibility. What this means is that the museum provides braille labelling for artifacts, audio guides, tactile elements as well as visual aids within the exhibit spaces. Museums have also embraced the digital age! Most museums have a website that details their exhibits, programming, promotions, and offers alternative text for images, captioned videos and utilizes accessible website design practices. This is what we call digital accessibility. Museums have also taken a more interpretive approach to accessibility design. Within the exhibits, you’ll commonly find materials that are easily read and understood. Text is generally minimal, or short, and is often in two or more languages. Utilizing a more universal design practice within the exhibits, opens the interpretive materials to a wider audience. Designing tours and programming that are sensory friendly, utilizing sign language, when possible, are all aspects of great programmatic accessibility. Lastly, a guiding principle of creating a more inclusive museum is attitudinal accessibility. This means exactly how it sounds. Museums have made a push to promote a more welcoming and inclusive environment by training staff to be respectful and knowledgeable of visitors from a diverse background and abilities.

Lac La Biche Museum is continuously exploring ways in which we can better address systemic accessibility issues and is continuously improving. With your continued support, Lac La Biche Museum will continue to create content, exhibits and materials to better serve and engage our diverse community. We are committed to improving accessibility in all its forms. Your support enables us to design inclusive spaces, provide multi-sensory experiences, enhance our digital presence and develop programs that cater to the unique needs of our visitors. Together we can break down barriers and ensure that everyone, regardless of background can fully enjoy and benefit from the rich cultural and historical resources at Lac La Biche Museum.