Ryhope Steam Pumping Station is a Grade II listed building that is leased to part-time volunteers. While some improvements could be made, it was never going to be practical to give full ambulatory access to all areas. Info-Point enabled a 'maximum substitution' answer with a mainstream virtual tour and six live webcams so that you can follow your party through the inaccessible areas.
New ways to overcome your accessibility challenges
If your venue faces difficult accessibility issues then we have a proposal for you. Imagine arriving at such a venue with your wheelchair-bound family member and finding that, despite the lack of full ambulatory access, not only can they see all the interpretation as a virtual experience on their phone, but that they can follow the rest of the family around the inaccessible parts via webcam and so share the experience of the visit. This 'maximum substitution' approach being taken by Info-Point customers, even in small volunteer-run heritage sites.
Providing a virtual tour is an obvious advantage, but it should be a mainstream option for everyone, rather than 'for the disabled'. While doing this, adding captions and perhaps a sign-language version of a recorded tour would be a good option for the hearing impaired. For the visually impaired, using their own device means that they have their normal screen reader app available. For the increasingly small number who don't have a smartphone, low-cost tablets can be made available for loan, or fixed to walls or plinths to complete the accessibility package as touch-screen kiosks driven by your Info-Point.
Avoid creating technology accessibility issues
Many heritage organisation are unintentionally creating accessibility issues through their choice of technology. The popularity of mobile apps is leading some museums and heritage venues into commissioning 'native' apps that only work on specific makes of device, rather than 'web' apps that will work on any web-browsing device. This goes against the principles of inclusiveness, and sometimes is for no real reason, other than not understanding the options.
Info-Point Technical Director Paul Palmer explains, "You have two types of 'app', those that have to be installed on the user's device, known as 'native' apps, and those that the user can access using their browser, know as 'web' apps. Both are great in the right context. Web apps are fundamentally more accessible and more appropriate for a venue-centred app as, in principle, anyone with a Web browser can casually use a web app. Native apps are more user-centric, and are best for functions that the user needs frequently over time, so they are prepared to download, install and maintain it. Web apps and info-Point are also to a large extent future-proofed by the open and popular standards involved. Native apps need continuous updating as new versions of phones and operating systems emerge."
So why are some tech suppliers promoting native apps? Paul offers an explanation: "Web apps require reliable bandwidth, which we are able to provide with info-Point, but is not necessarily available with connections that access the public Internet. Native apps can be self-sufficient, so they can work when you are not connected, although that does not hold true if they use big media files, such that the phone cannot pre-download and store it all. Another perceived advantage of native apps is that you can potentially do more complex and cool things with a native app, although that difference has now been eroded by web and browser developments. You really have to ask yourself do I actually need a native app for what I want to achieve?"
More than 70% of the population own mobile devices and most browsing is now done via the small screen. Info-Point has an 'adaptive' Content Management System that dynamically adjusts the layout and text to optimise if for the user's device.
Disabled visitors want as normal a visit as possible - not to be sidelined as different.