Establishing Guidelines for Accessible Exhibition Design
While working at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I spearheaded a project to establish new guidelines for accessible casework design.
Timeline January - May 2020
Teams Accessibility, Exhibition Design
Location New York City, NY
During my 12-month internship with the Accessibility team at The Met, I took on a project to establish new guidelines for accessible casework design at the The Met. The project was inspired by the lack of guidance for designing casework with seated viewers in mind that existed within the museum's exhibition design department. As a wheelchair user myself, I took a particular interest in this leading this project—and though designing a seated viewing experience was the initial focus and priority, as we worked to establish these new comprehensive guidelines for casework, our focus extended to a broader range of visitors.
What is 'Casework'?
Casework refers to the cabinetry and display cases used to display objects in exhibition design. For this project, that included: wall-mounted cases and niche wall cases, free-standing cases with surrounding glass bonnets, and free-standing platforms without glass.
04—Presentation & Handoff
To begin, my team and I compiled existing guidelines on accessible exhibition design to assess what information already existed on this topic, and what was missing. We found that many other institutions relied on a standardized set of guidelines, outlined below.
The Smithsonian Guidelines
The Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibition Design are a widely used set of guidelines. We reviewed the measurements included in this documentation as a jumping off point, and to cross reference with our own, but ultimately collected all of our own measurements for consistency and precision.
We also expanded on the scenarios and considerations included in this this set of guidelines, as we felt there were many situations within The Met's exhibitions for which guidelines did not exist.
We also discovered the research on anthropometry carried out by the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo.
Over the course of several months, various members of the Access team and the Exhibition Design team joined me on walkthroughs of the existing casework in the galleries. We took measurements, and inventoried the various instances that required our attention.
Intended Viewing Angle
For example, we evaluated how the intended viewing angle plays a role in the required height and angle an object must be displayed at. The dishes on the right met the standard height requirement, but could not be viewed during my walkthrough as a seated visitor.
Placement of Lighting
Another issue that arose during the evaluation was the placement of lighting, which was notably an issue when bright lighting was placed directly above objects that a viewer must look up to see. In the image on the left, glass objects are displayed on two shelves—the upper shelf made of clear glass. When a seated viewer raises their gaze, their vision may become impaired by the lights overhead.
Instances We Considered
1. Wall-Mounted Cases with Objects on Deck
2. Wall-Mounted Cases with Vertical Objects
3. Free-Standing Cases
4. Niche Wall Cases
5. Books, Manuscripts and Flat Objects
6. Hollow Objects
7. Circulation Between Cases
8. Platforms (no bonnet)
I want to thank Anna McCormick, who spent many hours collecting measurements and evaluating casework with me in the galleries, and produced the sketches for our final guidelines. I also want to thank Zoe Florence, Rebecca McGinnis, and Marie Clapot for their continuous support of the project.