Project Proposal:

I am proposing an exhibition that emphasizes technologies modified or reimagined to better suit the needs of sight and hearing impaired communities. Mainstream technology is slowly providing better experiences for impaired people, with things like dictation apps and braille covers for keyboards. However, several small companies through outsource initiatives have been introducing more specialized technologies for this community that will give them greater independence and freedom in their daily routines. I am choosing to focus this exhibition on these specialized technologies to make visitors more aware of the innovations taking place in this field and to further support the awareness of normalizing visual and hearing impairments. This exhibition will be a re-visit to the Cooper Hewitt 2017-2018, Access +Ability, but with a more in depth timeline and more personal view into the technologies and voices from the represented communities.

This exhibition proposal was originally inspired by Haben Girma, a deaf/blind woman who graduated from Harvard Law and is a disabilities rights lawyer and activist. She designed a bluetooth keyboard system that allows her to speak to people through touch. She states in an interview with the Guardian, “We can learn to develop technology and set up structures to ensure that everyone has access [to be able to fully engage in society].” While large companies like Apple and Microsoft are making steps forward in accessibility, these technologies are still inaccessible to many disabled users like Girma. The technologies made for the impaired by the smaller specialized companies are directly intended to be for, and used by, these communities. They learn and listen to the needs of the impaired and work towards finding solutions to their problems. Haben Girma states in response to her keyboard, “Stories influence the organisations we design, the products we build, the futures we imagine for ourselves.” My proposed exhibition wishes to shine light on the needs and innovations coming out of, and for these communities. 

The Cooper Hewitt as a design museum is the perfect space to exhibit a show on accessibility technology design. Their current collection has several objects across a range of departments that lend itself to the topic of accessibility. Some objects within the museums collection that I think will be well suited for this show include Ultrahaptics Sensory Interface, 2018, Jacket, Levi’s® Commuter™ Trucker Jacket with Jacquard™ by Google, 2017, Bracelet, Maptic (Tactile Navigation System), Wayband, 2017, SoundShirt, 2015–16, and etc. I also wish to include more dated objects to show the history of tools that were used by deaf and or blind communities as well as technologies that aided in the evolution of these specialized technologies. This could include such objects as the Tellatouch Braille Writer (USA), Designed ca. 1945 and manufactured ca. 1952 or Edison Voicewriter Dictaphone, 1953. I believe it is important in this show to incorporate unique points of views and objects from within the blind and deaf communities so stories like Girma’s are heard and objects like her keyboard are seen.  

As the common sense between all the different levels of accessibility is touch, the exhibition will be heavy in touch intractability. As the majority of the incoming audience at the Cooper Hewitt are neither deaf or blind, this exhibition focuses on the educational opportunities allotted through the capabilities of interactive displays and technologies. Some of the possible interactive programs we could have in this exhibit could be learning braille through braille keyboard set-ups and communicative activities. We could also create a space based around the bluetooth pairing devices that will direct visitors wearing the devices through vibration, allowing them to test their ability to be guided by vibration. One other idea for interactives for this exhibition could be through memory touch command software or through some kind of sound textile touch experience. The options for intractability are limitless as the commonality between all of the different types of users is touch.

This exhibition will help visitors without seeing and hearing impairments to understand further the technologies that are being developed and used by this community, while also giving these disabled communities greater visibility in the design, technology, social lens. Trail blazers like Haben Girma have given greater visibility to her community through her great accomplishments and unique point of view and the exhibition will further highlight voices and inventions like hers. This exhibition will further push the Cooper Hewitt’s mission for inclusivity and access in the museums and in design.


Object Study:


For my object study I am focusing on the DeafSpace Sensory Design Guideline from 2015. This was created by Hans Baumann for Gallaudet University, a deaf and hearing impaired university in Washington, DC and is an innovative example of the rise in deaf architecture. Deaf architecture is spatial and structural design with the needs of the hearing impared and deaf as the main focus. This can include wider walkways, automatic doors, open space, diffused lighting, transparent walls, and non-patterned blue or green walls and furniture. The illustration mock-up the Cooper Hewitt has is designed for a classroom, there are 4 floor to ceiling digital screens. This type of technology will allow for greater visual stimulation, intractability, communication and sensory experience.

This type of education immersive screen further pursues the needs of the deaf community, especially the focus on sensory and tactile learning and communication. One of the major focuses in deaf architecture and design is color and light. Since deaf and hearing impaired individuals speak with their hands they have a tendency to strain their eyes when put against patterned backgrounds or neutral flesh tones. The screens will allow students to learn without such focus on the hands and expands the visual pallet.

This type of educational design could be beneficial to educational institutions and in general interactive educational and collaborative spaces. This design is more inclusive and opens the door to more visual stimulation and capabilities. 

While this expands on the connection between man and computer, it doesn’t isolate man from man like Jean Baudrillard spoke about in Xerox to Infinity, which was about the relationship between man and computers. “Now man is plunged into homeostasis by machines,” rather with DeafSpace, it is more of a tool to connect mankind with each other through the tool of machine. Through its immersive capabilities because of size, the screens have the capabilities of being isolating but if used in the intended way, with a group or for teaching, it strays away from the individual experience. A desktop computer or laptop is made to be a individual user device while this is meant to be seen and used by many at once.

The screens can be shown as an interactive experience to display information about other objects in the exhibit and provide interactive games and trials of softwares and device functions. This type of technology in an education space will enhance the capabilities of teachers to teach and learners to comprehend information visually. In The Digital Museum: A Think Guide by Herminia Din and Phyllis Hecht they discuss fixed-position gallery interactives and through studies done have found that these types of interactive create greater engagement between visitors and the exhibit and information. Users tend to stay longer, have a greater sense of direction going through the space and they are more likely to revisit objects.

The interactive properties of the screens create a greater sense of discovery and intuitive learning. In Christian Heath and Dirk Vom Lehn’s Interactivity and Collaboration: new forms of participation in museums, galleries and science centres from Ross Parry’s Museum in a Digital Age, it takes a more questionably realistic view on interactives and states that they create more “dwell time” and they rarely produce the result the curators intended. This is true to many aspects of a museum, if you have children or less informed audiences coming to a space a percentage of error and misuse should be expected. But, with this type of experience intended for exploration and sensory stimulation a museum should not be making a rigid text based display. It should be open for error and open communication and collaboration.

The DeafSpace Sensory Design Guideline is just a mock-up but if accepted for display this would make a fantastic tool for intractability and inclusive tools. Deaf design should be incorporated more in institutional and exhibition design to make an already intimidating space a little more welcoming and open to exploration. 





Braille Display, HumanWare Brailliant BI 40, 2011

This is an example of a braille keyboard. There are many different iterations of a braille keyboard but this is a good standard to what one could expect a braille keyboard to look like and function like. The braille keyboard has allowed for greater communication opportunities for the blind. Also, through the creativity of the blind community there have also been many great adaptations and add ons to better the communication of the non-visual and visual.

Apple iPad, 2010

The iPad is an example of popular and mass produced tactile technology that can be a replacement for a keyboard dependent computer. This allows for the possibility of haptic feedback which can cause greater sensory experience. On this type of device a user can also turn on the built in dictation tool under accessibility in settings.

Ultrahaptics Sensory Interface, 2018

This sensory interface tool allows users to do programmed action on a connected device using hand motions. This was originally created to be paired with a trolley/bus that was created to be fully accessible to everyone. This tool was used to request stops and open doors. This type of tool I think could be used more broadly in other aspects of day to day life and broader forms of transportation in the future.

Jacket, Levi’s® Commuter™ Trucker Jacket with Jacquard™ by Google, 2017

This exclusive technological engineered jean jacket is a tactile way for a person to communicate to their everyday device, like their smartphone. Through touch a person can program settings and actions to happen to their smart device just from a simple hand motion. This would fit into the exhibition because it is another example of companies adding tactile motion demands for exterior devices.

Google Glass Explorer Edition XE-C 2.0 Optical Display Device, 2013

This “optical display device” is another tactile and visual way for people to interact with technology and possibly other people. There are newer versions of this device, but this is what was in the Cooper Hewitt collection. This can be used for hands free searching, collaborations, and actions. 

Edison Voicewriter Dictaphone, 1953

This voicewriter dictaphone device could be an early example of technological dictation. Dictation software and technology is an essential tool in accessibility technology because it allows blind users to have the capabilities to have text read out aloud to them. This would be a good fit for the exhibition because it represents the origins of dictation.

1301, DeafSpace Sensory Design Guidelines, 2015

This immersive screen experience is a way to visually stimulate deaf individuals. This is a design guideline but if these screens could actually be produced for the exhibition that would be ideal. This sensory work experience can be used to make deaf people feel more incorporated in a work and educational environment. 

PalmPilot, Palm Computing, 1996

This portable device is an early example of a tablet and personal digital planner. This device not having a keyboard and being hand/pen controlled creates a way for non-verbal and/or deaf people to write/ communicate. This fits into the show because this is an early example of a portable device that can be used to communicate and ease daily planning for hearing or verbal impaired people.

Tellatouch Braille Writer (USA), Designed ca. 1945 and manufactured ca. 1952

This is an early example of how blind people could have typed and recorded for themselves. This is portable and was a step towards inclusion of the disabled voice in print. This fits into the show because it demonstrates the beginning of innovation in accessibility technology and tools.

NVDA software, NV Access, 2019

This is a software created for and by non-visual individuals to allow greater and easier access to technology and Microsoft programs and browsers. This screen reader is free and has over 50 languages it can translate into. This an example of a software coming out of the impaired community and an example of a software really striving for inclusivity.

WP Accessibility Plug-in, Joel Dolson for WordPress, 2020 

This WordPress plug-in adds accessibility features in an easy and not overly technical way to themes that were not originally adapted for these features. This program allows developers and companies to customize their sites to be suitable and accessible to a wider range of possible users. This fits into the exhibition because it shows a tool from the behind-the-scenes point of view  and is a plug-in for a well known website making platform.

axe, Deque, 2019

This is a accessibility testing toolkit partnered with microsoft for websites, companies, and developers to check their sites accessibility capabilities and issues. This engine will scrub a site and breakdown what a site is doing right and wrong in terms of accessibility and give advice to improve on access.

Code Jumper, Humanware, APH, 2019

This is a tool geared toward blind children to help teach them basic programming and computer coding. These physical programming tools are a collection of tactile handheld knobs and buttons that create a more graspable way for non-visual children to get into an industry or profession that would be seemingly impossible to get into otherwise.

InsideOne, InsideVision, 2016

This tablet is a cross between a braille keyboard and an iPad. This tablet is partnered with Microsoft and is a part of Microsoft accessibility initiative. This provides a vision impaired person with more opportunities to collaborate and take greater initiative in projects and in day to day life.

EyeOn, EyeTech, 2012

This eye tracker tablet is a hands free device that is controlled by eye movements. Instead of having a mouse or keyboard, a user can move and use their device just using their eyes. This device is ideal for physically impaired and/or non-verbal individuals. This device has created new opportunities for communication.