Photograph of Penfriends


Generally, awareness of technical accessibility is improving all the time, and access standards and guidelines are now part of most project briefs. Many UK venues are aware of the need to meet UK government accessibility requirements, that digital services must meet AA level of WCAG Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0)

More specifically, every user and every access need is different. With access tools increasingly available on various devices, everyone can make adjustments to suit their own needs and users have increasing expectations that technology should work for them. Although not always aimed at blind and partially sighted visitors, the following approaches can be used creatively to increase access for a range of visitors, and offer multi-sensory interpretation:

  • Touch tables;
  • Audio guides and podcasts;
  • Video;
  • Sound posts;
  • PenFriends;
  • Gaming and virtual/augmented reality;
  • 3D printing;
  • iBeacons and apps.


3D printer Portsmouth Conan Doyle’s head. Photograph showing a 3D-printed head coming off the printer.]

3D-printed head coming off the printer.

Top Tips

Apps and iBeacons

  • Ensure developers understand what you mean by ‘accessibility’, and ask for evidence/previous examples of their work.
  • Start with a focus group – ask blind and partially sighted users what they like/dislike and what they want. During user testing of the app before release, you can check how far you have addressed these issues.
  • Build in even more testing time as well as time to implement user feedback.
  • Review the app development milestones – and tie in payment so developers must implement feedback from user testing during development.
  • Work on how to build user trust in technology, as some may have had disappointing/bad experiences that have put them off trying.
  • How will you market and publicise the app?
  • Include ‘help’ information at the start – set the scene and give reassurance, for example how long the trail is and what the terrain is like.
  • Ensure all the text can be re-sized to any user’s preference.


Images, audio and video

  • Add captions to audio and video – ensure these can be turned on and off.
  • Include at least a ‘welcome’ video on landing page.
  • Ensure all images are zoomable.
  • Add descriptions to all photos or images.
  • Add photos of each trail stop beside the Play button.



  • Summarise the access tools within the app, with instructions on how to enlarge fonts, change contrast etc, so users know what adjustments they can make.
  • Make the user interface easy to understand and use. A back button is always useful.
  • Test it works on a range of devices, including smart phones and tablets.
  • Limit the number of buttons on the screen.
  • Make buttons large and separated so they’re easier to select.
  • Don’t rely on colour (or on sound or visuals) alone.
  • Ensure sufficient contrast between text and background.
  • Add a clear ‘contact us’ link for enquiries or just reassurance.



  • Make menu items as consistent and simple as possible.
  • Give instructions for starting off as clear as possible, so users can get started easily.
  • Ensure buttons have large ‘hit areas’.
  • Trail stops should have one-line summary and number.
  • Avoid a sense of anti-climax at the end: suggest a new walk nearby or the option to go back to start.


Lewes app on phone. Screenshot of the app on someone’s mobile phone. The features visible on the phone are: “Play introduction” and “Start tour” for the Museum. The app gives further instructions on where the visitor needs to position him/herself to start the tour.

Lewes app on phone


Both Lewes Castle and the Beaney in Canterbury decided to create app trails aimed at blind and partially sighted visitors, using iBeacon technology to send an alert to visitors when they are near a key object or point of interest, to prompt them to explore detailed info on their devices. The trails contain a limited number of stops – user testing showed us that on average visitors wanted to spend about an hour exploring in this way. Content was chosen that combined text, audio, video and images, ideally with handling objects nearby – user testing highlighted participants wanted layers of options to choose from.


Your Turn

Imagine that you are going to create an app-based trail at your venue. You are the expert in your content, so before you begin to engage app developers, you’ll need to come up with a clear plan of content and ideas for increasing access.

  1. Consider different trail themes, and which objects in your gallery or stops around your venue you’d choose to include in the trail:
  1. In testing, blind and partially sighted users wanted an app with layers of content to suit different levels of vision and interest – list different types of content that could bring your trail objects or stops to life, e.g. photos, audio description, sound effects, a character-led commentary, video, text. Make a list of different layers of content for each object:
  1. Think about how to make this content accessible for blind and visually impaired visitors. How will you make visual info accessible? Finally, what ideas would you like to explore and what questions would you like to ask during user testing? If you’re not sure about what blind and partially sighted users might want, ask!


Credit: Shelley Boden

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