[New Publication] Stories, journeys and smart maps: an approach to universal access [Open Access]

By Xi Wang, Danny Crookes, Sue‑Ann Harding, and David Johnston

Universal Access in the Information Society (2021)


This paper proposes a new approach to universal access based on the premise that humans have the universal capacity to engage emotionally with a story, whatever their ability. Our approach is to present the “story” of museum resources and knowledge as a journey, and then represent this journey physically as a smart map. The key research question is to assess the extent to which our “story” to journey to smart map’ (SJSM) approach provides emotional engagement as part of the museum experience. This approach is applied through the creation of a smart map for blind and partially sighted (BPS) visitors. Made in partnership with Titanic Belfast, a world-leading tourist attraction, the interactive map tells the story of Titanic’s maiden voyage. The smart map uses low-cost technologies such as laser-cut map features and software-controlled multi-function buttons for the audio description (AD). The AD is enhanced with background effects, dramatized personal stories and the ship’s last messages. The results of a reception study show that the approach enabled BPS participants to experience significant emotional engagement with museum resources. The smart model also gave BPS users a level of control over the AD which gave them a greater sense of empowerment and independence, which is particularly important for BPS visitors with varying sight conditions. We conclude that our SJSM approach has considerable potential as an approach to universal access, and to increase emotional engagement with museum collections. We also propose several developments which could further extend the approach and its implementation.