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By Fiona Slater on

Audio Eyes

As Audio Eyes gets a major update, we share the story behind this audio descriptive app for blind and partially sighted visitors

Audio Eyes is an Audio Descriptive app designed with and for blind and partially sighted visitors, which can be downloaded to iOS devices and is available on a bespoke handset at the Science Museum.

The app contains over 100 audio descriptions from six of the museum’s major galleries, describing the environment, key objects and tactile displays.

The app does not give a step-by-step route but instead responds to your movements in the gallery supporting independent discovery across the five vast spaces in Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries and in the Information Age gallery.

Ahead of International Day for Disabled People on 3 December, we caught up with freelance Access Consultant Katie Gonzalez-Bell, who led the development of this app with teams across the museum to find out more.

A participant from the Audio Eyes Advisory Group using the updated App.
A participant from the Audio Eyes Advisory Group using the updated App in front of a tactile model in the Information Age gallery.

What was the impetus behind creating the app?

In recognition of the visual focus of museums, and how this can exclude blind and partially sighted visitors, the Science Museum set up a panel of blind and partially sighted visitors in 2011.

This panel worked alongside teams at the museum to develop a strategy for increasing access within the Information Age Gallery. The panel developed a multi-sensory approach, including authentic tactile objects, large print and Braille with a major focus on the inclusion of audio description.

The panel highlighted the need for an audio resource that provided an equalising experience, providing the user with autonomy to explore the galleries and gain access to content that interested them. They described the basic desire to independently explore museums and access content ‘as a sighted person would’.

The panel specified that they wanted detailed layered audio content that they could explore based on where they were located in the gallery, to mirror the experience of ‘looking around you’. Investigations with the panel found that there was no resource meeting these criteria in existence.

Therefore, the decision was taken to partner with a technology company (Conjure) to develop a bespoke resource in collaboration with the panel.

A participant from the Audio Eyes Advisory Group using the updated App.
A participant from the Audio Eyes Advisory Group using the updated App.

Can you give us a very brief overview of how it works?

Audio Eyes is a fully audio resource, delivered on a device with a tactile case, that can be borrowed from the museum or it can be downloaded as an app.

Using beacon technology that can pinpoint the user’s location, it alerts the listener to audio descriptions related to what’s around them. The listener can then choose whether to listen to this content or explore further by moving around and discovering additional audio. This provides the user with complete autonomy to select content that interests them and means each experience is completely unique.

The audio described content is layered, meaning you are first introduced to the whole gallery and its themes, then to the topics of the zones and finally to the objects. Each layer contains detailed information about the content together with visual descriptions.

A visitor reads a braille object label
A visitor reads a braille object label in the Information Age gallery.

The app was designed in collaboration with blind and partially sighted visitors. What were some of the key aspects they influenced and what has the feedback been to the final product?

As this was a new and innovative concept, it was essential to work with blind and partially sighted visitors throughout the development process and ensure they were involved in all decision-making. This resulted in the panel attended more than 25 sessions at the Science Museum.

Their role included: detailing the concept, including the essential access requirements; selecting the technology partners; reviewing each stage of design and development, including testing prototypes; selecting and prioritising the audio described content; deciding upon appropriate recording voices for the audio descriptions; designing a bespoke case for the device.

When Audio Eyes was expanded to include Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries in 2021, the original panel were once again consulted, together with blind/partially sighted member of the Medicine Access Panel. As a result of improvements suggested by the panel, the original format was updated and has now been published.