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Museums without Walls: Access for All

Museums without Walls: Access for All


Outline, including interdisciplinary dimension

The focus of this project is on translation and interpreting as modes and processes central to socio-cultural inclusion. Malraux’s far-reaching concept of the new museum - the museum without walls - provides a potent analogy for the cultural spaces inhabited by translators. These spaces are no less than the "heritage of all of history” where the plenitude of the individual’s encounter with the arts has an intensely renewing effect. To be excluded from this through reasons of disability represents a significant infringement of human rights.

As reflected in legislation at international, EU and national level, there is an increasingly urgent demand to develop access provisions, especially for the blind and partially-sighted as well as the deaf and hard-of-hearing given the growing incidence of such disabilities in ageing populations. Recent technological advancements offer solutions responding to these demands, for instance mobile and sound technology.

This project will investigate pioneering access options using these technologies within diverse museum environments, focusing on the translation of sound in two access facilities: audio description (targeted primarily at the blind and partially-sighted) and subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (SDH). This will involve exploring various flexible platforms - haptic, visual and aural -that will enhance the transmission of information and enrich the quality of patron experience. It is anticipated that these platforms will draw on a range of mobile technologies, producing a number of apps and programmes that will be immediately transferable to museums nationally and internationally.

This project is inherently interdisciplinary combining research from Translation Studies, Information Technology, Disability Studies and Human Rights. Furthermore, the project will entail close collaboration with the Northern Ireland Museums Council in investigating and experimenting with pioneering technologies that optimise access to an enhanced experience of the living museum across all communities.

Key words/descriptors

accessibility, translation, technologies, socio-cultural inclusion, audio description, subtitles for deaf and hard-of-hearing

First supervisor

Dr Sarah Eardley-Weaver - School of Arts, English and Languages

Secondary supervisor from a complementary discipline

TBC - School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Supervisors’ track record of PhD completions, plus excellence and international standing in the project area

Sarah Eardley-Weaver is currently involved in 4 PhD supervisory teams as co-supervisor and all students are in their first year of study. Eardley-Weaver will be mentored by David Johnston in the supervision of this project. Translation and Interpreting staff undertake solely postgraduate/research duties. All doctoral supervision is undertaken by teams. Current levels of doctoral students are high, but clearly manageable within this context. David Johnston currently is involved in sixteen such teams, with different levels of input: first supervisor, Audio Description: A Cognitive Approach; co-, Through a child's eyes: investigating the effects of subtitle placement on children's reception of audiovisual content; co-, Demographics, Resources and Deficit of Opportunity: Deaf sign language users in Northern Ireland. Since 2010 nine of his supervisees have submitted within 4 years and 1 (funded simultaneously by Department of Education to work as an RA on the Northern Ireland Languages Strategy) outside 4 years.

Johnston's research focuses on translation for performance. He works generally on the relationship between theory and practice, with particular emphasis on translation considered as an ethical regime. For further information on his research profile, see: He acted as CI on the AHRC-funded Out of the Wings project, is a named CI on Queen's current OWRI application, and has worked as PI on local-government funded language initiatives linked to political recognition of indigenous sign languages. He is also Vice-Chair of the Northern Ireland Languages Council, established by the Minister of Education in 2014. Recent relevant publications include:

(On translation and ethics): 'Professing translation: the acts-in-between'. Target: Vol. 25, No. 3, 01.01.2013, p. 365-384.

(On languages and public policy): Languages for the Future. Northern Ireland Languages Strategy. Co-authored with Professor John Gillespie (Ulster). Department of Education for Northern Ireland, 2012.

(On techniques of performative translation): 'Metaphor and Metonymy: The Translator-Practitioner's Visibility'. Staging and Performing Translation: Text and Theatre Practice. Ed./ Roger Baines; Cristina Marinetti; Manuela Perteghella. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. p. 11-30.

(On translation, space and museological practices): 'Mapping the Geographies of Translation'. Betwixt and Between: Place and Cultural Translation. Ed./David Johnston; Stephen Kelly, Cambridge Scholars, 2008.

Sarah Eardley-Weaver’s research interests are audiovisual translation and media accessibility, especially subjects relating to arts and disability. Her work focuses on pioneering translation methods which are primarily targeted at the blind and partially-sighted as well as the deaf and hard-of-hearing with a view to improving access for all. These include audio description, touch tours, subtitles, captioning, and sign language interpreting amongst others. This work relates very closely to the research proposal which investigates new approaches to audio description and subtitling. Her research entails investigating the complexities of verbal and non-verbal communication between visual, audio, tactile and other sign systems at cognitive and neurological levels within a dynamic framework exploring the expanding, multisemiotic notion of translation and text. Therefore, the translation of sound for audiences (as mentioned in the proposal) with varying visual and hearing abilities is one of the key areas of her research and she will be able to direct supervisees to the latest developments and relevant scholarship.

Eardley-Weaver has led pioneering opera accessibility audience reception projects and collaborated with expert practitioners in the field, including those at the RNIB, ITV, and the Royal Opera House. She is currently working on projects investigating innovative translation methods targeted primarily at the blind and partially-sighted as well as the deaf and hard-of-hearing within the arts, education and health sectors, promoting recognition of accessibility as a human right. Her expertise in this specific area of research will allow her to guide the students providing unique insights into the expectations and needs of the target audience to be investigated in the proposed collaborative PhDs. Furthermore, through her network of contacts in the field she will be able to provide the students with opportunities for international research and research impact.

In April 2015 Eardley-Weaver presented a policy briefing concerning arts accessibility to the Northern Ireland Assembly and gave a press interview on her research. She is also leading a project funded by Queen's University of Belfast Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities entitled 'Access for All' in collaboration with various partners across the UK including Northern Ireland Museums Council and leading institutions in the field such as Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB) and the University of Antwerp. This work which forms part of a larger EU KA2 project 'Access to Culture and Training' involves experimenting with new technological solutions to inclusivity, researching into the training and responsibilities of access providers, gauging user needs, and showcasing access facilities to venue managers, government representatives and non-profit organisations. Eardley-Weaver has also been invited to participate in a collaborative project with UAB which focuses on new approaches to accessibility and hybrid modalities of audio description. Therefore, she is well placed to supervise a collaborative project within the field.

Eardley-Weaver’s recent publications in the field of media accessibility include the following: 1) 'Opening eyes to opera: the process of translation for blind and partially-sighted audiences' (2015) in Ehrensberger-Bow, M., Englund Dimitrova, B., Hubscher-Davidson, . S. & Norberg, U. (eds.) Describing Cognitive Processes in Translation: Acts and Events, John Benjamins, pp. 125-145; 2) 'Opera Surtitles for the Deaf and the Hard-of-Hearing' (2015) in Diaz Cintas , J. & Neves, J. (eds.) Audiovisual Translation: Taking Stock, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 261-272; 3) 'Opening Doors to Opera: the Strategies, Challenges and General Role of the Translator' (2010) InTRAlinea 12. In addition, she has acted as a peer reviewer for several publications addressing media accessibility and given numerous presentations on this topic at international conferences and events both as a conference delegate and as an invited speaker (see Dr Sarah Eardley-Weaver).

Intersectoral exposure and/or international mobility

(e.g. secondments to/collaboration with partner organizations)


There are 2 proposed partners for this project: Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB) and Northern Ireland Museums Council (NIMC).

There is a long-standing collaboration between UAB and QUB and students from Translation and Interpreting regularly make research visits of varying lengths to UAB. Moreover, the existing collaborative projects between these universities, including EU KA2 ‘Access to Culture and Training’ (with UAB, University of Vienna, University of Antwerp) which is closely related to this proposal, will give the student(s) opportunity for further international engagement.

The collaboration with NIMC is fundamental at each of the research stages in terms of gathering sector-wide data, engaging with the community and stakeholders in diverse museum environments, and impacting on training and education standards across the board. Chris Bailey, Director of NIMC, has given his personal commitment to the project. His background is in arts management and arts provision (rather than, for example, Civil Service), leaving him perfectly placed to advise both on the logistical and the aesthetic dimensions of the evolving work of the project. For that reason, he has agreed to assume an active role in the project and supervision. This will not only ensure that the student(s) benefit from high-quality sector-centred advice, but also enjoy full and privileged access to all NIMC facilities across Northern Ireland. This is crucial, because the student(s) will require frequent access to such facilities. We anticipate that during the first stage of the project, the student(s) will make multiple visits to six representative facilities currently owned by or curated by NIMC. Such visits will continue at the same frequency during the early part of the second stage of the project as the students develop translational solutions tailored to different venues, before selecting the specific exhibitions and/or events to be used for proof of concept. This, of course, will require careful planning and can only be achieved through timely consultation with NIMC and its proposed timetable for future activities. Finally, the final proposed stage of research in the form of a reception study will require full cooperation from various departments with the NIMC as the students identify and work with their patron samples.

Describe briefly the international profile of the partner

UAB plays a leading role in scientific research in Spain and it was selected in the top 5 universities to reach the label of Campus of International Excellence from the Spanish government. UAB is participating in 233 international founded projects.141 in the 7PM: 67 in Cooperation (9 IPs, 30 Streps, 1 NoE, 7 CSA, 6 Eranet), 22 in Capacities, 7 in Ideas, 38 in People, and more from other pan-European programs (CIP, Interreg, Tenders, Eureka, Europe aid, etc.). UAB is acting as project coordinator in 16 from FP7 and in 21 outside FP7 which shows its experience and support capabilities.

UAB will participate in the project via TransMedia Catalonia Research Group. They work on multimedia content, accessibility and technology the common meeting point producing, among others, multiplatform interactive channels with advanced multilingual capabilities. TransMedia Catalonia has a fully equipped state-of-the-art recently established perception laboratory: It aims to understand and analyse human reaction through perception and cognition research. The TransMedia group is behing the MA programmes on Audiovisual Translation at the Faculty of Translation (UAB). This MA in Audiovisual Translation has two formats (online and face-to-face) and it also holds the title of European MA. Within this MA, accessibility modules are taught: audio description, subtitling, subtitling by respeaking, and subtitling for the deaf. This MA was pioneer in Europe, and enjoys EU recognition. TransMedia also hosts two international conferences on accessibility: audio description (2009, 2011, 2013, 2015) and videogames (2010, 2012, 2014) which have now become a world reference on accessibility.

Training that will be provided through the research project itself

The student(s) will have access to the usual QUB postgraduate training programme as well as specialised training in the use of technical equipment to be used in the research. This training will be provided by QUB, UAB and NIMC.

NIMC has committed to providing all necessary assistance to the students in recognition of the potentially far-reaching outcomes of the project. One of the initial supervision meetings with the supervisory team will serve as an induction to researching within the museum environment as well as working with patrons with sight or hearing loss. This will include discussion about the museum venues in which the research will be conducted and will lead to a tour of the spaces to be used.

Examples of additional training in non-research transferable skills

The students will also be given the opportunity to attend accessibility training via the NIMC who has a long-standing partnership with Access NI and other relevant associations. NIMC already has close contacts with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), which will be key in terms of enabling contact with blind and partially-sighted patrons who are able and willing to participate in both the first-stage scrutiny of existing experience and the third-stage reception study. Translation and Interpreting at Queen's already works closely with Action on Hearing Loss (AoHL), which will similarly enable contact with the deaf community and hard-of-hearing patrons.

Expected dissemination of results: peer-reviewed journals, seminars, workshop and conferences at European/international level

It is anticipated that the project findings will be disseminated via peer-reviewed journals such as Translation Studies, Journal of Specialised Translation, Target, as well as at international media accessibility conferences (such as the biennial Media for All conference, and the Advanced Research Seminar on Audio Description). It is likely that a public event will be organised to showcase the findings of the project to the wider community including the non-academic institutions and venues involved in the research.

Expected impact activities

(e.g. public talks, visits to schools, open days, QUB impact showcase)

This project offers wide-ranging impact on society, culture, and public policy due its focus on accessibility issues and within the context of larger-scale access projects currently undertaken by the supervisory team. For instance, Eardley-Weaver is PI on a KA2 project ‘Access to Culture and Training’ in collaboration with Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona and University of Antwerp bringing an international dimension to the research. She is also leading a project on arts accessibility in Northern Ireland and the UK and has presented her preliminary results to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The project proposed in this application responds to a need to improve and explore new access solutions in the museum environment. However, this project not only brings benefits for the NIMC and the museums it supports, but also has the potential for far-reaching impact on the museum sector in the UK and internationally given the investigation of innovative technological access solutions and the supervisory team's networks of international contacts.

The impact of this project is not only limited to the museum sector as the pioneering methods of translating sound in audio description and subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing could be used in other contexts within the media, arts and education. Indeed, the call for enhanced accessibility expressed by Chris Bailey in relation to the museum sector reflects an urgent demand across society for improved accessibility. In legislation, accessibility is increasingly acknowledged as a human right at international, European and national level (e.g. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948), The European Audiovisual Media Services Directive (European Parliament, 2010), The Disability Discrimination Act (2005)). Moreover, the UN requirement to monitor implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (United Nations 2008) has propelled the need for a continual process of systematic reappraisal of accessibility to the forefront of current political and social debate. This legislative demand to monitor accessibility implementation has led to policies such as the Northern Ireland Disability Strategy 'A strategy to improve the lives of people with disabilities: 2012 to 2015'. However, as a whole, society's response to accessibility implementation remains slow. This project could benefit policy-makers in Northern Ireland, the UK, and internationally through its investigation of methods that optimize access through innovative technology and accelerate the progress of implementing effective accessibility solutions.

The wider public will also benefit from this project as the work will contribute to the development of methods for improving accessibility for all to the arts, media and culture. The primary target audience of audio description and subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, people with sight and hearing loss, will be the immediate beneficiaries. As numbers of people with sight and hearing loss are rising in ageing populations in Europe and North America amongst others, the beneficiaries increase. The wider public will also benefit from this research as the new technology methods to be explored may appeal to sighted and hearing patrons, as well as opening up the doors to a new multimedia experience of the arts which can be shared by all. The promotion of social cohesion advocated by this inclusive approach to accessibility considering society as a cohesive whole whilst also acknowledging its diversity may impact on discussions and policy in other sectors to encourage full integration of inclusive accessibility into the health, cultural and educational agenda.