All Museums for All People – The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum

Dan Cooper, Centre Screen Ltd, UK, Hayley Walsh, Centre Screen Ltd, UK

Abstract

"All sports for all people.“ - Pierre de Coubertin, Founder of the Modern Olympic Games The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum (USOPM) opened in Colorado Springs, CO, on July 31, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, with the goal of becoming one of the most accessible museums in the world. With full parity for individuals with and without disabilities established right upfront in the museum’s name, it was imperative that the exhibition content and design was inclusive in all aspects. Please join us for a discussion with Centre Screen’s Head of Interactive Dan Cooper as he describes their company’s role in bringing this gold-medal promise of inclusion to reality through exciting and innovative digital interactives and other media at the USOPM. Since 1986, Centre Screen has worked throughout the world with visitor attractions, theme parks, major museums, and heritage sites to create digital content that inspires, educates and entertains. Skilled in communicating a variety of subject matter from social history and sport science to contemporary art and natural history, their focus is always on captivating and compelling storytelling for every visitor.  Speaker: Dan Cooper | Head of Interactive Dan has 20 years' experience leading exciting digital projects for screens and audiences of all shapes and sizes. A specialist in digital strategy, Dan has led major projects in Sport, News, Learning/Education and Accessibility/Inclusive design - leading to teams to discover and deliver market-leading solutions.

Keywords: Inclusive design, interactive design, museum design, exhibition design, user-centred design, inclusive digital interactives

About the Authors 

Centre Screen​ is an audio visual and interactive media production company that is currently working with the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum (USOPM) to produce a diverse suite of on-gallery AV and interactive software exhibits across the museum’s themed gallery spaces. Since 1986, Centre Screen has worked throughout the world with visitor attractions, theme parks, major museums and heritage sites to create digital content that inspires, educates and entertains.

The United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum

“All sports for all people.” Pierre de Coubertin, Founder of the Modern Olympic Games

The USA is a dominant force within the Olympic and Paralympic movements and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), the non-governmental body responsible for overseeing, supporting, and entering teams in both Games, has been working hard to invest in and help advance Paralympic athletes and sports.

It is against this backdrop that Spring 2020 will see the opening of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum (USOPM), where equivalence of status is foundational to the very title of the institution.

USOPM is situated in Colorado Springs, Colorado, already home to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center. Covering some 60,000 square feet, the museum will house the United States Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame, in addition to 450 historic artifacts and documents and over forty film and digital interactive installations celebrating Olympic and Paralympic athletes and their place within the inspiring histories of the Olympic and Paralympic movements.

As a member of the Olympic Museums Network, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum has held true – from concept to build – to its promotion of the values of sport, Olympism and Paralympism. Woven throughout the narrative of its 13 themed gallery areas, and core to its target learning and emotional outcomes, is the belief that the practice of sport is a human right to which everyone should have access, in the spirit of the movements to which it belongs, “without discrimination of any kind, with mutual understanding, friendship, solidarity, and fair play.” (Olympic Charter, 2019)

“With the goal to be the most accessible museum in the world, the USOPM is working diligently with exhibit fabrication partner, CRĒO Industrial Arts, and interactive media partners, Kiss the Frog and Centre Screen, to construct a space that offers a world-class experience regardless of physical ability or cognitive impairment.” (United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum, 2020)

In an interview with a local NPR station (Brownell, 2019), CEO of the museum, Chris Liedel describes the building as a place to inspire “Olympic-sized” aspirations. Centre Screen’s job as digital content creators has been to help serve that ambition, and stated goal of becoming one of the most accessible museums in the world.

A Shared Inclusive Ambition

It is from these roots that the museum’s ambition grew beyond achieving the “gold standard” of accessibility to that of achieving a visitor experience shaped around truly inclusive design.

With Paralympians and Olympians sharing equal billing, the museum was an opportunity to create something genuinely inclusive, through its approach to content and design; its heroes and visitors, its architecture and, of course, its interactives.

Exactly how the team would achieve inclusivity in the field of AV and interactives, Centre Screen’s area of expertise, is the question that has dominated our thinking throughout the entire project: a question that carries its own idiosyncratic challenges, characterized by the absence of mandated industry regulations.

Web accessibility has been moderated, and even regulated to some degree, under the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/). Experience has been pooled and codified, rules have been laid out; developers can utilize Web Accessibility Evaluation software and, although they are always subject to improvement, there are clear guidelines.  Contrast this with museum accessibility; although regulations exist for facilities such as toilets, signage, and announcements, there are no compulsory guidelines, no statutes, and no universal industry standards for interactive accessibility. This can create both positive consequences and potential challenges. The key positive consequence is that creators are given the opportunity to develop ground-breaking standards. However, the limitedness of legal necessity beyond ADA compliance can create conflicting budgetary imperatives and differences of opinion over the prioritization of accessibility.

For inspiration and counsel, the team looked to the Olympic and Paralympic values that underpin the museum and all it celebrates, paying particular attention to the adoption of adaptive technology in Paralympism.

Olympic and Paralympic Values 

When combined, Olympism and Paralympism have a total of seven core values; Excellence, Friendship, Respect, Determination, Courage, Equality and Inspiration. In his Fundamental Principles of Olympism, outlined within the Olympic Charter, Pierre de Coubertin – the father of the modern Olympic Games – described the Olympic values as cultivating “a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of a good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.” (Olympic Charter, 2019)

As the Olympic Movement uses sport to further human interaction and cooperation, so the Paralympic Movement uses sport as a vehicle for wider disability rights and social inclusion. As part of this agenda, it has always championed the sporting use of adaptive and innovative technology capable of combining with humans to startling results.

In our own way, the team has tried to mirror this approach: innovating the technology needed to make the USOPM AV sequences and interactives as inclusive as possible. In collaboration with CRĒO Exhibits and USOPM leadership, we have undertaken regular, rigorous user-testing and applied a collaborative approach to developing and deploying genuinely inclusive experiences.

Our Approach to Inclusive Design 

Below, we will examine in detail how the team has used the positive and negative implications of unregulated museum interactivity inclusivity in the real world. We will highlight our user-testing process, our close working relationship with Paralympians, and the vital necessity of these collaborations to the success of the project. We will also discuss technology and its impact on inclusivity and participation in both sports and visitor experiences. Finally, we will consider the best way for the industry to move forward, building on previous experience and using resources such as this forum to create genuinely inclusive visitor experiences.

Inspired by the work and determination of museums and institutions which have navigated this path before them – such as the Smithsonian and the Institute for Human Centered Design – the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum and its project partners aspire to create a meaningful experience for all who pass through its doors, not just budding athletes. Inspiring visitors of all backgrounds and abilities through fully inclusive means, just as it is, without added tools or special additions.

Universal Design, the architectural practice that underpins much of inclusivity, could be described as a “helpfully unstable theory” – not dogmatic, not set in stone, but open to change and improvement. This living forum will, with the contributions of its members, continue to grow that improvement, providing a place where developers, contractors and designers can publish and share their experiences of creating genuinely accessible visitor experiences – online and physical – learning from each other and progressing towards true inclusivity.

Realizing the Vision 

Whilst our interactive experiences are a final touch-point for visitors, the accessibility considerations start well before our involvement. Centre Screen were fortunate to join the project at a point where many of the accessibility foundations were already in place.

The foundations of this multidisciplinary approach included expertise from ​architects​ Diller Scofidio + Renfro, exhibition designers Gallagher & Associates​, strategic museum consultant Gallagher Museum Services, custom ​fabricators​ CRĒO Exhibits, ​content partners Barrie Projects​, ​hardware engineers BBI Engineering, RFID integrator Stark RFID,​ and the Olympic & Paralympic Museum team to pull all of this together – with a shared vision on inclusivity and the museum’s ambition to bring ​equality of experience​ to all.

Centre Screen collaborated closely with a number of consultants and user-testing groups throughout production. Most notably, Jan Majewski and Anoopa Sundararajan at the ​Institute for Human Centred Design​ were an invaluable source of knowledge and experience that we were able to call upon at all key stages throughout production.

Alongside these core collaborations we were fortunate enough to work locally (the Centre Screen production team is based in the UK) with a number of user testing groups that helped us better understand how to ensure our media was, for example, sensory friendly, or accessible to visitors with vision loss. Additionally, we worked with local school groups that have a wide diversity of children, of various ages and backgrounds, with a variety of access needs.

Centre Screen team members present an interactive screen design to a local school group of children.
Figure 1: Centre Screen co-design session for the USOPM Winter Interactive Wall. (Credit: Centre Screen Ltd/Lancasterian School)

These groups helped us to co-design and shape the usability of all of our products. Our process varied from the scripted usability sessions, to free-play sandbox testing as well as tackling particular creative challenges together.

For example, one exhibit spans nine 55-inch screens, creating a huge interactive video wall with a map of the USA. The software then powers an exploratory experience based on a rich data-set of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes, visualizing their geography and sporting achievements. However, there is no straightforward, audio-led equivalent to this.

Instead, we worked with a local group to understand, how – for those unable to see or comprehend the visual approach – might we convey the same learning outcomes? Working together with a group to tailor that experience, based on what is achievable technically and what a visitor might need, resulted in an experience design steadfastly led by the requirements of end users.

Utilizing RFID to Enable a Personalized Museum Experience 

The process for media delivery for large-scale museum media projects tends to start long before AV and interactive designers receive briefs; the exhibition design team and content design teams will have worked with other contributing parties to establish concepts for all media experiences. In many cases, this includes defining much of the hardware and many of the intricacies of the content experience. Our task is to collaborate with project partners to move these concepts into a delivery phase.

For the USOPM, our challenge at this stage fell into two clear areas:

  1. The ​strategic visitor journey​ – how might the team map out intuitive, independent routes throughout the museum that allow all visitors to enjoy, learn and participate equally?
  2. Inclusive media interpretation​ – how do we design and calibrate each digital media experience to facilitate the global solutions mapped out above?

We shaped our strategy in two ways:

  • Firstly, ​we design inclusively​. Broadly, this was ​defined​ by Ron Mace, founder and program director of The Center for Universal Design, as “…the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” (The Center for Universal Design, 2008) In this instance, it means designing all media elements, from scripts and shoots, to interfaces and set-works, so that all visitors can participate.
  • Secondly, ​we facilitate​ ​seamless personalization​. Where accessible versions or settings may cause a jarring experience for the many, we populate them in real-time for those that require them. We ask visitors once, up-front, to determine the services that they will find most useful throughout the museum journey. Those settings become their digital fingerprint throughout the museum experience, carried on their personal RFID profile and recognized instantly – from a distance – on any media interface visitors encounter.

To enable this, Centre Screen worked with ​Stark RFID​ on the infrastructure and with ​Kiss the Frog​ on the software delivery. RFID​ is a simple enabling technology that allows light-touch data to travel from one source to another, wirelessly. For a museum like the USOPM, RFID technology turns a traditional ticketing experience into a more sophisticated onboarding process, designed to help museum visitors understand services available and then make their experience as seamless and fulfilling as possible.

After purchasing their ticket, visitors are given a lanyard, shaped like an access-all-areas credential from the Olympic or Paralympic Games. Their pass is then personalized at a log-in station, via a short onboarding process. At the time of writing, Centre Screen is also working with project partners to facilitate visitor registration via mobile devices.

Visitors select additional audio and visual services ensuring that, from this screen onwards, their journey can be independent. Additionally, the team encourages visitors to identify up to five sports that they enjoy, to allow us to tailor their content journey too. This does not mean that the museum only shows basketball if a visitor only selects basketball; the assumption is made that they like the action of a ball, a net, and a small field of play. Perhaps, therefore, the visitor will be interested in sideways editorial journeys into sports like Handball, Goalball and Water Polo.

A Centre Screen team member presents an interactive software prototype to a Paralympian athlete using a wheelchair and an Olympian athlete who interacts with the screen.
Figure 2: User-testing an alpha version of our RFID registration with Olympic and Paralympic athletes. (Credit: Kiss the Frog)

Along the way to translating the theoretical into something deliverable, the team encountered some interesting challenges.

We used story-mapping techniques to help the team consider the onboarding process. For example:

  • How might a blind/low vision visitor independently associate their physical pass with the software to onboard?
  • How might a family or a school group complete the onboarding process without having to re-enter data numerous times?
  • How might we order questions about accessibility services in a way that enables visitors to complete the onboarding process by, for example, triggering a screen reader?

Of course, these challenges do not exist in isolation and need to be balanced against the museum’s business, marketing, and operational needs: for example, the collection of email and zip code data.

At the time of writing, we have established a tested and finessed Version One for opening. No doubt, the practical challenges inherent with opening and running a popular museum will present new scenarios and from here, we will work with the museum’s operational team to ensure that staff and visitors are able to use their real-world experience to influence future iterations of this onboarding process. Ultimately, the goal will be the perfect balance between seamless throughput and independence for all.

A Journey to Creating Inclusive Interactives 

Our first task in creating interactive experiences was to find consistent solutions across the wide range required throughout the museum. While the team wanted to create consistent user interfaces, the visitor interaction points around the museum differ from gallery to gallery. Centre Screen used a range of sources and created design guidelines for the museum that included best practice digital design advice from ​gov.uk (https://www.gov.uk/)​, Microsoft’s ​inclusive design resources (https://www.microsoft.com/design/inclusive/) and Smithsonian’s guidelines on ​inclusive museum experiences (https://www.si.edu/access).

We focused our design thinking on:

  • Consistent UI​ – Whatever the visitor’s method of interaction, how might we create a consistent language, both visually and semantically?
  • Universal keypad control ​- For visitors who cannot control a touchscreen, how do we offer consistent and intuitive ways to navigate content?
  • Sensory needs ​- When a visitor enters the museum with a need for a lower-sensory experience, how might we inclusively avoid sensory overload and offer toned-down content where required?
  • Blind and low vision visitors ​- If a visitor can’t navigate their way around an experience visually, how might we offer an equivalent experience via sound? This area also includes a variety of visual considerations from color contrast to color blindness.
  • Deaf and hard of hearing visitors – ​For visitors who cannot hear content, how might we design understandable rich media experiences?
  • Universal reach and sight lines​ – Where screens are a variety of shapes and sizes, hung at various heights, how do we ensure that the user interface is always accessible for all?

 

Positioning of Interactive and Visual Elements

Our early design work attempted to gather many of these challenges into wireframe layouts that would determine our content and interaction design.

 

A technical drawing demonstrating the positioning of a wall-mounted screen and the recommended area of interactivity in relation to a wheelchair user and two standing people
Figure 3: Early wireframing of a portrait screen. Knowing the parameters we had to work with, we were able to shape the media design to ensure that any interaction takes place in the small dashed area towards the lower end of the screen, accessible by all. (Credit: Centre Screen Ltd.)

 

 Alt image text: A technical drawing demonstrating the positioning of ASL and captions within a large-scale projected composition, in relation to a wheelchair user and two standing people.
Figure 4: Early wireframing of an immersive screen. (Credit: Centre Screen Ltd.)

 

 Alt image text: A technical drawing demonstrating the positioning of ASL and captions within a large-scale projected composition, in relation to a wheelchair user and two standing people.
Figure 5: Early wireframing of a video projection playback area. Facets are used to break vertical and horizontal line work. (Credit: Centre Screen Ltd.)

 

With the architecture and user-journey of our interfaces tested through wireframes and flows, we set about adding the aesthetic front-end layer. We use the exhibition design guidelines and building architecture as our reference points, and ensuring a visual balance between interactive screen design and objects, AV, and graphic panels in each gallery.

No matter how well-informed the starting point, the design will always evolve as we begin testing, reflecting any changes to content and incorporating feedback from our thorough and diverse using testing.

By way of example, Figures 6-9 shows the Winter Interactive Wall; a 4-screen interactive display made up for four 55″ monitors with a touch overlay and thin bezel between each.

Between Version One and Version Four, a few of the design changes included:

  • Improved readability – the legibility of written copy (the main focus on this interactive) was stronger with white copy on a solid grey background, rather than varying shades of blue used initially.
  • Flatter user-journey for visitors using the universal keypad – by removing layers of navigation, the pogoing up and down between menus and content, we found that visitors were able to more easily access their favorite content.
  • Better match to the architecture of the gallery – a move away from facets and straight lines better matched the curvilinear features of the gallery.
  • Vertical scrolling main menu – this allows visitors to carousel through content easily, regardless of their height. Visitors can scroll up and down from any point on the carousel, rotating like a rolodex, or simply select a sport from the top, middle, or bottom. This meant that we wouldn’t have to rely on all users accessing a menu relatively low down the frame.
  • Combining Olympic and Paralympic sports – where Olympic and Paralympic sports share enough commonalities, for example the rules, field and number of players, we made an editorial choice to tell a combined story. This means that visitors who like Snowboarding, but may not have encountered Para Snowboarding, will do so.

 

An interactive screen design, composited across four portrait screen areas, displaying the user interface for exploration of Olympic and Paralympic content.
Figure 6: Version One of the USOPM Interactive Winter Wall. (Credit: Centre Screen Ltd.)

 

An interactive screen design, composited across four portrait screen areas, displaying the user interface for exploration of Olympic and Paralympic content.
Figure 7: Version Two of the USOPM Interactive Winter Wall. This still frame shows how the wall will appear when two of the four screens are in active use (screens two and four), with an attractor screen loop playing out ambiently on the first and third screens. (Credit: Centre Screen Ltd.)

 

An interactive screen design, composited across four portrait screen areas, displaying the user interface for exploration of Olympic and Paralympic content.
Figure 8: Version Three of the USOPM Interactive Winter Wall. Here we introduced the vertical menu for the first time, meaning that we could remove the need for visitors to hierarchically navigate up and down through layers of menu to find content. (Credit: Centre Screen Ltd.)

 

An interactive screen design, composited across four portrait screen areas, displaying the user interface for exploration of Olympic and Paralympic content.
Figure 9: Version Four of the USOPM Interactive Winter Wall. This version tested best with audiences. (Credit: Centre Screen Ltd.)

 

Design Process Example: Gallery 4 

Gallery 4 at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum is focused on training and provides a useful case study in which to articulate some of our inclusive design thinking.

At this point in the museum, the journey has already taken visitors through the purpose and history of the Games and shown the digital footprint of Team USA’s paths to success. We would also expect visitors to be comfortable with the RFID-led personalization by this stage.

In Gallery 4, the visitor gets the chance to understand what it takes to be an elite athlete – with a focus on training. We begin with a brief introductory film. Then comes the visitor’s opportunity to participate at one of six interactive exhibits focused on training. At each exhibit, visitors get the chance to learn about a particular skill important to a wide number of Olympic and Paralympic sports – then have the opportunity to put that skill into practice, for a particular sport, via a short training exercise.

Selecting Inclusive Sports 

How do we create interactive challenges that blend the digital and the physical, challenge the elite as well as novices, and ultimately allow all visitors to participate and learn through play in a safe and engaging museum environment?

In collaboration with U.S. Olympians and Paralympians, custom fabricators CRĒO Exhibits and hardware integrators BBI Engineering, and full consultation with IHCD, Centre Screen started by analyzing the skills prominent in each Olympic and Paralympic sport, then focused on how the museum’s set-works could be used to create practical training exercises that allow for learning as well as fun, stimulating gameplay. Practicalities ruled out a number of initially exciting ideas; others were rejected as they simply could not be made to be inclusive.

The team drew up a shortlist and tested these ideas against potential user profiles. It was important to select a range of sports that would interest and inspire all visitors; create a balance of Summer and Winter, Olympic and Paralympic, for all genders, all ages and approachable by any visitor, designed inclusively and assisted by technical solutions that would facilitate participation for all.

While this was always intended to be a vibrant, active space where the visceral movement of elite sports is represented by visitor participation, we also knew that this wasn’t a gymnasium, and large swathes of the visitors wouldn’t desire (or wouldn’t be able) to break a sweat as part of their museum visit.

Case Study #1- Speed Training 

We began with speed training. Whilst this is the most active of all of the training stops in this gallery, it is also the most familiar sport to many. Although no visitors are likely to beat world records, everyone can move down a track in a manner that best suits them. We felt it important that visitors have the choice to race against someone like themselves, or simply someone they would like to race against: male, female, modern, historic, Olympic and Paralympic (including, wheelchair, blade, and blind sprinters).

The visitor journey begins at an introductory screen on which Olympic champion Carmelita Jeter talks them through the key elements of sprint training, supported by ASL and captions. A universal keypad and text-to-voice screen reader enables additional control for user-selection, settings amends and continue/return moments. Carmelita describes each visual we see on screen, so that the set-up can flow without the need for potentially overwhelming additional audio description.

 

Alt image text: Centre Screen team members present prototype software. A mockup running track is marked out with tape on the floor and a portrait wall-mounted monitor displays Carmelita Jeter.  A Paralympic athlete using a wheelchair is at the start of the track and standing athletes stand around him watching.
Fig 10: User-testing an early prototype of the Sprint game with U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes. (Credit: CRĒO Exhibits.)

 

Next, a call to action includes an overview of how to participate, with audio and visual design working together to signpost visitor progress during the race.

This additional audio gives visitors a sense of their relative position on the course via hidden sensors that track their movement. Crucially, we indicate when the visitor is reaching the final part of the track to ensure that any blind/low vision visitors are able to slow and stop before reaching the “crash mat” wall, something we found sighted visitors naturally did during testing.

Visitors are welcome to sprint, jog, walk, wheel, or travel down the track in whatever manner is most comfortable to them – with no judgement; even the fastest visitors will be left in the digital dust trails of the virtual athletes they are racing against!

During their race, a large projection shows the athlete the visitor has chosen to race against, as well as a particle cloud representing each visitor, that mirrors their movement along the track. All information visually portrayed on this projection is also conveyed with audio equivalence.

A mockup running track is marked out with tape on the floor and gameplay content is projected on an adjacent wall. Two athletes participating in user testing crouch ready to sprint down the track.
Fig 11: A very early mockup of the track and project, not to scale. (Credit: CRĒO Exhibits.)

 

Upon completing the race, the visitor reaches a final screen on which they receive feedback from the athlete as well as race data, photography and video, which will be saved online via RFID to their “Digital Locker”. All of the accessibility services selected from the earlier screen will be present at this screen.

Case Study #2- Aim Training 

We considered several sports involving aim, including:

  • Shooting/Biathlon (the idea of visitors participating with guns in an open-carry state was something the museum were keen to avoid)
  • Basketball (perhaps a little too obvious, given the multitude of basketball games in arcades)
  • Boccia (hard to replicate accurately with digital technology, this is much more of an analog aiming game).

After much deliberation we settled on archery to explore further as an “aiming” sport. As with track, archery is a sport enjoyed in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

But unlike sprinting, archery is a sport that we cannot assume all visitors will have experienced. As such, we found through early user-testing observations that we needed to provide the visitor with both an overview of the sport and detailed information on how to engage with the physical bow in the museum context.

Initial testing, with the prototype bow and our early gameplay software, allowed us to design the bow inclusively. We wanted to retain authenticity, but make compromises where necessary. Rather than having a large and a small bow, we settled on a medium sized bow supported by architecture that allowed simple vertical movement to change the height and add some freedom to spin for the optimal standing or sitting position.

 

Two Paralympian athletes participate in the user testing of an archery game bow. One of the athletes is holding the bow and looking ahead at a target. One onlooker is making notes in a notebook and another takes a photograph.
Fig 12: User-testing an early prototype of the Archery game with Paralympian athletes. (Credit: CRĒO Exhibits.)

We worked with a number of Paralympians to test the prototype bow. Whilst sighted visitors would be able to see the target, calibrate and aim, we needed a solution for those who could not. One of our user-testers was a blind/low vision swimmer, who was able to work with us to co-design a solution for audio-led aim.

Our goal was to give enough clarity of information to visitors, without overwhelming, and be authentic to the skills of the sport. We wondered if sound design akin to the audible feed-back of a parking sensor might help to guide visitors to the target? Parking sensors are proximity sensors for road vehicles, designed to alert the driver of obstacles while parking via visual and audio feedback. We hoped that the same dynamic feedback could be achieved in sync with moving the bow.

We were introduced to Team USA’s blind/low vision shooting team, at the United States Olympic & Paralympic Training Center​. Whilst there are currently no Paralympic disciplines of this ilk, trials will take place at Tokyo 2020 with a view to introducing the sport at future Games.

An athlete steadies his elbow on a ledge and aims a sporting gun with mounted sensor technology. He is aiming at one target out of a range of targets on a wall in front of him.
Fig 13: Observing low vision shooters at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center.  (Image credit: Centre Screen Ltd.)

Working with these blind and partially sighted shooters was incredibly revealing, as we witnessed the high degree of accuracy they could achieve when aiming via a sound guide. Having experienced the audio guide at an elite level, we were able to find opportunities to simplify that system for museum visitors. For example, from our sound design and testing we found that the audio tone still worked with a subtler range of frequencies. There was no requirement to know the difference between up, down, left and right. Instead, this was simplified to: “As an audibly-led visitor, I need to know my relative position to the target”.

Whilst this audio approach doesn’t communicate every piece of data that we could offer to the visitor, during user testing we found that it provided enough information for user-testing participants to cognitively process, without overloading.

Throughout audio design we used The Sonification Handbook as a reference point. This summary from its section on Psychoacoustics captures the balance of audio information needed for visitors:

“In the context of auditory displays it is important to ensure that the fidelity of a display is well matched to the encoding capability of the human auditory system. The capacity of the auditory system to encode physical changes in a sound is an important input criterion in the design of an auditory display.” (Carlile, S. 2011. Hermann, T., Hunt, A., Neuhoff, J. G., editors, 2011)

User feedback made us seek to further enhance the user-experience. The same publication suggested a direction: “…the addition of reverberation to a display can substantially enhance the sense of ‘presence’ or the feeling of ‘being in’ a virtual soundscape.” (Carlile, S. 2011. Hermann, T., Hunt, A., Neuhoff, J. G., editors, 2011). As a gameplay mechanic, the addition of low-frequency tones via a subwoofer helped us to retain the visceral impact necessary to cue reaction points.

 

A Paralympian athlete with a guide dog participates in the user testing of an archery game bow. The athlete is holding and interacting with the bow.
Fig 14: User-testing an early prototype of the Archery game with Team USA athletes. (Credit: CRĒO Exhibits.)

 

A Quick Tour Around the Rest of Gallery 4 

This pattern of inclusive thinking and design continued throughout Gallery 4. Other training activities include:

  • Balance​: Initially, this had been scoped as a dance-mat game, focused on gymnastics, but we needed a solution that would allow all to participate, and let us score their participation via the software. We settled on a Skeleton sled from the winter Games. Using an angled, upright sled, visitors can lean in to navigate a course by distributing their bodyweight at the right times, with appropriate force. For those who cannot use a huge amount of force, the game is still enjoyable and playable. With a simple and easy way of adjusting the height of the sled, the position and size of the projected display enabled all to participate. For those who cannot see the “balance-o-meter” visual to aid their movement, we added an audible equivalent, following similar principles to those used in the archery aim sound design. Again, at the time of writing, we’re currently testing this as an inclusive gameplay layer.
A Paralympian athlete, who is a wheelchair user, participates in the user testing of a Skeleton game sled. It is mounted almost vertically in front of him and he is holding handles at the side and interacting with prototype gameplay software displayed on a portrait wall-mounted screen in front of him.
Fig 15: User-testing an early prototype of the Skeleton game with Team USA athletes. (Credit: CRĒO Exhibits)
  • Strategy​: Conscious that all of the activities in this gallery so far involved some degree of physical exertion, we also wanted to ensure that the concept of training was not limited to the common clichés. Brains are as important to all Olympic and Paralympic sports, as brawn. Borrowing from game theory, the study of strategic interaction, we put the visitor in the position of the decision-maker, testing their action intelligence to make strategic decisions in the heat of the moment, with a clear mind to focus on the outcome.

“Game theory is the science of strategy. It attempts to determine mathematically and logically the actions that ‘players’ should take to secure the best outcomes for themselves in a wide array of ‘games'” (Dixit and Nalebuff, 1999)

We built a simple, accessible quiz format, using archive footage and giving visitors a series of options. None of the options are right, none are wrong, but some result in a higher chance of success for the team. We based the quiz on Sled Ice Hockey. Team USA describes the Paralympic sport as such:

“Just as in ice hockey, sled hockey is played with six players (including a goalie) at a time. Players propel themselves on their sledge by use of spikes on the ends of two three-foot-long sticks, enabling a player to push himself as well as shoot and pass ambidextrously.” (United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, 2020)

Following the design pattern of our other touchscreen interactive content, the additional challenge here was to ensure that visitors who could not see the action clips could fully understand from an inclusive, detailed audio description exactly what was happening and what their options would be, to inform their strategic decision making.

 

  • Memory​: Alpine skiing was the sport chosen to focus on another mental skill. Visitors put themselves in the position of an athlete who needs to visualize a sequence of events. As with the skeleton board, we prototyped the poles alongside an early iteration of the gameplay to ensure that they could be used by any visitor. We faced a challenge to ensure that the concept of memorization, often so reliant on visualization, was achievable for blind or low vision visitors. Working closely with Team USA Paralympic athletes and the National Governing Body (NGB), we were able to understand how blind and low vision skiers work with a guide in training and competition, then replicated this in a way that could be software-driven. We were fortunate to be able to work with Sarah Will, winner of 12 gold and one silver medal for Team USA at the Paralympics and a member of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame. Sarah was able to help create gameplay that would provide the optimal balance of difficulty, fun and accessibility for all.

 

  • Reaction​: The final game in this gallery is a reaction test, focused on Goalball, a sport in which players are blindfolded, relying on their hearing to monitor the movement of a ball with a bell inside. Conscious that a traditional Batak board would not be accessible for many, we replicated a software approximation of Goalball and used an Orbbec skeletal tracker. Visitors are asked to follow a simple onboarding tutorial sequence in which the software can understand their reach and speed of movement. Virtual goalballs appear on a large projection screen; the visitor’s role is to act as goalkeeper, virtually blocking the balls. We monitor their reaction time as a scoring mechanic. Our game uses spatial audio to replicate a ball coming from a variety of angles. For visitors unable to hear the detail, or those that would prefer a visual clue, we offer an additional visual layer to enable participation.

 

An athlete participates in the user testing of projected gameplay software. The projection displays colored areas with a numerical timer and gameplay score. The word ‘save’ is also displayed on the project. On the floor in front of her are two audio speakers and a motion-detecting camera.
Fig 16: User-testing an early prototype of the Goalball game with Olympic and Paralympic athletes. (Credit: CRĒO Exhibits.)

Conclusion: A Shared Achievement

As a fundamental principle of Olympism, the official Olympic charter states that:

“The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” (Olympic Charter, 2019)

The exceptional opportunity to design interactive experiences that express the positive values of Olympism and Paralympism has allowed us to explore new ways of working guided by those very principles; a unique synergy of subject and process.

Beyond these values there are, of course, the wider, societal issues of true equality and the manner in which we should judge inclusive design. Since, after all, what is the opposite? We are now mindful to not use the word “inaccessible” to describe something that doesn’t work for able-bodied people. Instead, we endeavour to work to the principle that if any person finds they cannot engage or interact with what we are designing and producing, the correct word is “unusable”.

If we all start to apply that simple shift of perspective when asking: is this design usable? – then we move to a mode of working that really works for everyone – an approach that all should be eager to develop further, continue to apply universally to our work and share as a paradigm methodology.

The lack of compulsory industry regulations regarding inclusivity in the field of AV and interactives was initially a major challenge, now it feels like our greatest opportunity. The creativity and collaboration this necessitated has been our most rewarding and lasting outcome. When developers, contractors and designers share their experiences of creating genuinely accessible visitor experiences we all make progress towards true inclusivity.

We feel that the best way for the industry to move forward is to build upon this experience, draw upon resources such as this forum and continue to develop a strategic methodology that is in itself a collaborative and above all, inclusive process.

Acknowledgements

Centre Screen’s design and user-testing journey has been facilitated, supported and advised by the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, CRĒO Exhibits, Gallagher Museum Services and the Institute for Human Centered Design. We are endlessly grateful for the opportunity to participate in the delivery of this wonderful project.

We wholeheartedly thank our project leaders and partners from U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, Gallagher & Associates, Gallagher Museum Services, CRĒO Exhibits, Barrie Projects and Kiss the Frog, who have collaborated with us across the research and user-testing.

Our heartfelt gratitude also goes to the Olympic & Paralympic athletes of Team USA for their ongoing insightful input, advice and expertise and Sherry Von Riesen of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee for the invaluable coordination across the user-testing sessions.

We also thank Jan Majewski and Anoopa Sundararajan from the Institute for Human Centered Design for their continued guidance and expertise, which has greatly  improved our focus and design strategy throughout the project.

Any errors are our own and should not tarnish the reputations of these esteemed persons and the above-mentioned institutions.

References

Brownell, J. (2019). At U.S. Olympic Museum, Accessibility Is Paramount. [online] krcc.org. Available at: https://www.krcc.org/post/us-olympic-museum-accessibility-paramount [Accessed 7 Feb. 2020].

Carlile, S. (2011). Hermann, T., Hunt, A., Neuhoff, J. G., editors (2011). Psychoacoustics. The Sonification Handbook, Chapter 3. [ebook] Berlin: Logos Publishing House, p.42. Available at: https://sonification.de/handbook/download/TheSonificationHandbook-chapter3.pdf [Accessed 7 Feb. 2020].

Dixit, A. and Nalebuff, B. (1999). Game Theory – Econlib. [online] econlib.org. Available at: https://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/GameTheory.html [Accessed 7 Feb. 2020].

Olympic Charter. (2019). [ebook] Lausanne: International Olympic Committee, p.11. Available at: https://stillmed.olympic.org/media/Document%20Library/OlympicOrg/General/EN-Olympic-Charter.pdf#_ga=2.249902593.62711148.1581004655-56884707.1579866599 [Accessed 7 Feb. 2020].

United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee. (2020). U.S. Paralympics | Sled Hockey. [online] Available at: https://www.teamusa.org/US-Paralympics/Sports/Sled-Hockey [Accessed 7 Feb. 2020].

The Center for Universal Design. (2008). The Center for Universal Design. [online] Available at: https://projects.ncsu.edu/ncsu/design/cud/about_ud/about_ud.htm [Accessed 7 Feb. 2020].

United States Olympic & Paralympic Digital Museum. (2020). Follow Our Progress | United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum. [online] Available at: https://usopm.org/follow-our-progress/ [Accessed 7 Feb. 2020].

 

 

 


Cite as:
Cooper, Dan and Walsh, Hayley. "All Museums for All People – The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum." MW21: MW 2021. Published April 2, 2021. Consulted .
https://mw21.museweb.net/paper/all-museums-for-all-people-the-u-s-olympic-paralympic-museum/