Making History Accessible Exhibition – Design

Accessibility design exhibit at the Intrepid Museum in New York City features a large archway which houses 5 panels with design prototypes.

Making History Accessible Exhibition


We invited the disability community to test accessibility design exhibition prototypes that will expand to historic sites and house museums across the United States.

The exhibit has been accessed over 2,600 times via the digital mobile guide our team built for accessibility.

→ Go to Exhibit Website


Lead accessibility designer and researcher—Bring Your Own Accessible Device (BYOAD)

Tactile graphics consultant and student mentor—Tactile Graphic of George Washington

A panel at the exhibit reads: "Making History Accessible. Historic sites and house museums connect communities with their pasts. They represent a wide range of historic time periods, people and events. Many are small, with limited professional staff, or are entirely volunteer run. Some have extremely small spaces, while others include vast landscapes, both of which can be challenging to navigate. Budgets are often tight and access to technology limited. Yet, all historic sites are responsible for preserving, uncovering and sharing complex stories in ways that are accessible to all. This project aims to develop tools to help sites and museums achieve this goal, no matter their size, space or resources. Too often, visitors—especially those with disabilities—encounter physical, communication or sensory barriers. We invite you to explore these five installations and tell us what you think. Your input will guide our next steps. Scan the QR code below to access exhibit information and a brief survey to gather your feedback. You can also record your responses on the digital kiosks located by the steam catapult or fill out a paper survey.



A 2021 museum accessibility class at NYU generated a series of final design projects from students that had not yet been tested with end users with disabilities.


We wanted to prepare for future work, in which we write a set of guidelines for accessible museum content presentation for museums in the U.S. by:

  1. Evaluating prototypes with visitors with disabilities
  2. Gathering feedback for 2022’s students to iterate on the prototypes
A kiosk at the Intrepid exhibit displays a smell box above a cross section of a tree, so visitors can smell the pine. Above, is a QR code for visitors to scan to get information on their smartphones
An exhibit panel featuring a QR code with traceable text reading, "SCAN" and a smell box with the traceable word "Smell" and a dial to rotate and open the box.
Taking a multisensory approach, exhibit panels included smell boxes featuring scents that illustrated exhibit content and QR codes which pulled up exhibit content on mobile devices

Design Process

  1. In the spring of 2020 and 2021 students in the museum accessibility class designed prototypes to make museums and historic sites more accessible to visitors. Two of the projects were the Bring Your Own Accessible Device (BYOAD) project and a tactile graphic of George Washington’s aging jowls
  2. We implemented the projects in a 2021 exhibition at the Intrepid Museum in New York City
  3. We invited community members with disabilities to test the prototypes, using informal observation
  4. We gathered feedback to inform 2022 students on how they could iterate on and improve the projects
A panel at the Intrepid Exhibit displays iterations and final prototypes of tactile graphics of George Washington's aging jowls

What We Learned

  • The topographic interpretation of George Washington’s aging jowls was confusing to some visitors
  • Blind and Low Vision visitors suggested audio description to accompany the tactile graphic
  • George’s facial features were tactually unclear and needed verbal description and landmarking to help explain
My hand touching a tactile graphic made by a student of an older George Washington that depicts his aging, softening jowls. For comparison, a tactile graphic of a younger George Washington is located to the left with a rounder, more youthful face.
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