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Making CERN's exhibitions more accessible

Microcosm is collaborating with the Swiss Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired to create better content for everybody

A cardboard box with a cutout on one side shows a representation of a radio-frequency cavity printed on tactile paper. A few people are visible out of focus in the background.
Testing ideas at the workshop (Image: Julien Ordan/Rachel Lavy/CERN)

Every year, thousands of visitors of every age, cultural background and geographical origin discover and appreciate CERN’s Microcosm exhibition. Very soon, its offer will be enlarged to welcome blind and visually impaired visitors.

“We have teamed up with the local Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired to understand their needs and together develop material,” explains Emma Sanders, Head of Microcosm. “It is an important step because we would like our exhibition to be open and accessible to everyone wanting to find out about CERN and perhaps to inspire them to pursue a career in science.”

Scientists, design experts, content developers and members of the association spent two days at IdeaSquare evaluating the accessibility of Microcosm, adapting the existing content, discussing issues related to developing new models and finding new solutions. “We set up four mixed teams that had to work on four different challenges,” describes Mélissa Samson, who is running the accessibility project in Microcosm. “With the help of the Ideasquare team, they followed the principles of “Design Thinking” methodology, which consists of getting to know your user community and moving quickly from ideas to developing actual prototypes.”

At the end of the two days, the four teams had each developed ideas, exchanged views, tested prototypes and received feedback from visually impaired users. “The workshop has changed how we think about exhibition content,” says Sanders. “From very practical aspects like fonts, contrast and lighting to using a combination of sound and other sensory techniques to introduce content in new ways. We have also clearly understood that by creating content for blind and visually impaired visitors, we enrich the exhibition for all categories of the public. The workshop was a source of inspiration in this regard.”

The accessibility project will continue to develop over the coming months and some new content should be made available quite rapidly, as areas have already been identified within the exhibition space. “The workshop has had a very positive impact and we’ll soon be able to see its effects materialised in new exhibits and perhaps also extended into future exhibition projects,” confirms Samson.

For tips on how to make your content accessible, please read “Communiquer pour tous, Guide pour une information accessible”.