5 Museums Doing Captioning Right

February 5, 2018 BY SOFIA ENAMORADO
Updated: June 3, 2019

Museums are magical places. Sure, as a kid, going to an art museum was probably the dullest thing in the world, but as an adult, nothing compares to that feeling you get when you finally stare into Mona Lisa’s smile.

Accessibility Laws for Museums

Museums are there to educate the public and therefore should strive to make their offerings as accessible as possible.

Making your content accessible not only benefits people with disabilities, it can also help reach a wider audience.

When it comes to captioning, these are the laws to know as a museum: the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and state and local accessibility laws.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 If a museum receives federal funding, this act prohibits them from discriminating against people with disabilities. The act has several sections. Section 504 is the most relevant to museums. Section 504 mandates access for people with disabilities to federally assisted programs and services.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created to ensure equal opportunity for people with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation. The ADA was intended to apply to physical structures, but through legal action, it has been extended to online content.

State and local accessibility laws Many states have enacted their own accessibility laws. Museums should contact their local governments to familiarize themselves with the applicable laws. It’s important to note that many states have adopted their own “mini 508s,” and therefore some museums may need to comply with the 508 Refresh requirements.

As our world continues to become more connected through the internet, museums should also consider adopting WCAG 2.0 guidelines.

5 Museums Doing Captioning Right

When it comes to creating a completely accessible experience, these five museums have got it down.

The Computer History Museum

retro mac computer commercial. we see the mac with hello on the screen, then it fades to a screen reading macintosh

Did you know? The first computer mouse ever made was made of wood. Wood you buy one today?

The Computer History Museum houses the largest collection of computing artifacts in the world, dating back 2,000 years.

head of steve jobs

The museum was established in 1996 in Mountain View, California. Their mission is to “preserve and present for posterity the artifacts and stories of the Information Age.”

Obviously, because it is a computer museum, video plays an important role in their everyday operations. From audio to video recordings, the museum has an expansive list of digital recordings that tell the stories of computer and technology pioneers.

And with so much digital content, the museum has placed a priority on making sure their content is captioned. Not only have they made their content more accessible, they have also made it searchable and improved the user experience by integrating the interactive transcripts into their exhibits.

The Smithsonian

man pulls out a bug, then looks at camera in disgust

Did you know? There were more than 30 million visits to the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo in 2017.

The Smithsonian is like an encyclopedia in physical form. It’s composed of 19 museums, each bringing to life the history and artifacts of our world’s history. Whether you want to see the original 1903 Wright Flyer or take a glimpse at Julia Child’s kitchen, there’s a museum to satisfy any curiosity.

With so much knowledge waiting to be observed, one of the museum’s main priorities is to make sure all individuals have equal access to their information.

Not only do they ensure all museums are fully accessible and compliant with the ADA, they clearly extended that commitment into the digital realm.

Exhibits are captioned and even audio described. IMAX movies have assistive listening devices, audio descriptions, and rear-window captioning.

Online, videos are also captioned, no matter how far back it was posted.

In addition, they have their own public guidelines for accessible museum exhibition design, which is worth checking out.

This renowned museum conglomerate truly does what it can to celebrate and welcome all curious minds.

American Museum of Natural History

robbie williams in night at the museum dressed like an explorer. he says it's time for your next adventure

(Here’s for Friends trivia night) Did you know? On early seasons of Friends, Ross Geller works at the American Museum of Natural History.

You’ve seen it in the movies, perhaps heard about the galas.

Located in the heart of New York City, the American Museum of Natural History is like a whole new world for the explorer in you to get lost in (seriously, this place is so big, it should be its own city).

The museum is one of the largest in the world with an expansive collection of over 33 million specimen of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, human remains, and human cultural artifacts.

Naturally, ensuring accessibility is a big part of the museum’s operations. They caption videos, provide listening devices, and have rear window captioning available at their LeFrak theater. In addition, transcripts are also available online for the Space Show, Earthflight, and Big Bang presentations.

Online, they are just as impressive. Their whole website is WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliant.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

inside the holocaust museum at a hallway covered in glass. the glass has names of those killed in the holocaust

Did you know? The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is staffed by 91 holocaust survivors.

There are no words to describe the powerful impact the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has on a visitor.

The museum is a “living memorial to the Holocaust” providing a “powerful lesson in the fragility of freedom, myth of progress, and the need for vigilance in preserving democratic values.”

The experience of this museum is truly an aspect that makes it so unique and powerful. For this reason, the museum has actively worked to create an environment that is accessible to all.

And when it comes to captioning, the museum is by far one of the most proactive. All multimedia in exhibits is captioned, as well as first-person programs.

Beyond its physical walls, the museum has a large presence online. For this reason, their accessibility initiative extends to the online world. The museum’s website is compliant with Section 508 and W3C accessibility guidelines and all their recorded programs are available online and captioned.

But beyond captioning, it’s worth mentioning their other accessibility measures. For visitors who are blind or low vision, they offer self-guided audio description tours, as well as guided description tours with touchable objects (must provide two weeks notice).

If you are ever in the DC area, you need really need to visit here.

The Museum of Pop Culture

Did you know? The Museum of Pop Culture was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2000.

Take a moment to admire this world wonder. What do you see?

aerial view of the museum of pop culture
Image credit: EMP|SFM

The Museum of Pop Culture, also known as “The Hemorrhoids,” is not only one of the world’s ugliest museums, it might be one of the world’s greatest museums.

Here you will find the “world’s largest collection of Jimi Hendix memorabilia.” You’ll also find Captain Kirk’s command chair from “Star Trek”, a prop egg from Alien, and the Periodic Table of Magic (among other amazing cultural gems).

And you want to know what else makes this museum even greater? How accessible it is.

Assisted listening systems and rear window captioning are available for the hearing impaired. Sub-woofers in the floor allow museum-goers to feel the music. And all exhibits and events have a complete audio narration for the vision-impaired.

Also worth noting, their interactive activities, the “Sound Lab” and “On Stage,” are fully accessible, so anyone can rock out to a virtual audience.

The Museum of Pop Culture’s proactive approach to accessibility ensures that all visitors can enjoy what the museum has to offer without worrying about accommodations.


Get started with captioning today!

Pig View Pricing CTA

3play media logo in blue

Subscribe to the Blog Digest

Sign up to receive our blog digest and other information on this topic. You can unsubscribe anytime.



By subscribing you agree to our privacy policy.