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A lady is standing in front of a big paiting and her guide dog is sitting next to her.

Museum Accessibility

An Independent and Interactive Museum Experience for Blind People 

Role: Principal UX Researcher 

Project Type: Multi-phased Qual Research

Timeline: Jan 2018 - Apr 2018 

Client: IBM, CMU & The Andy Warhol Museum



This is an academic research project at Carnegie Mellon University in collaboration with IBM Research (Japan) and The Andy Warhol Museum. It was also my first project as a UX researcher. I was also a project lead in this project and in charge of leading communication in the cross-functional team.  


Museums are gradually becoming more accessible to blind people, who have shown interest in visiting museums and in appreciating visual art. Yet, their ability to visit museums is still dependent on the assistance they get from their family and friends or from the museum personnel.


  • Saki Asakawa (CMU / Principal UX Reseacher)

  • João Guerreiro (CMU / Researhcer)

  • Dragan Ahmetovic (CMU / Researcher)

  • Kris Kitani (CMU / Supervisor)

  • Daisuke Sato (IBM / Engineer)

  • Hironobu Takagi (IBM / Supervisor)

  • Desi Gonzalez (THe Andy Warhol Museum / Collaborator)

  • Chieko Asakawa (IBM + CMU / Project Manager)


  • Literature Review

  • Competitive Analysis

  • On-site Interview 

  • System Prototyping 

  • On-site Usability Testing

  • Quant & Qual Data Analysis

Published Papers

- Generative Research

- Prototyping + Evaluative Research 


How might technology help people with visual impairments enjoy visiting museums more independently and interactively? 


1. Secondary Research​

Understood what has been done and not in the area through literature review and competitive analysis, especially focusing on the current efforts of museums.

3. Prototyping & Installing

Developed an iOS application based on interview results, and installed at The Andy Warhol Museum.

2. User Interview

Got in-depth insights from blind people. Recruited participants on-site during CSUN (industry-focused accessibility conference). Then, published a paper about interview findings at ASSETS'18.

4. Usability Testing

Evaluated the system in the real environment (museum). Then, published a paper about the system and testing at W4A’19.



Generative Research

  • Understand the previous experiences, motivations, and accessibility challenges of visiting museums

  • Get the insight into system requirements to support their experience

Evaluative Research

  • Evaluate if a user can enjoy museums and appreciate artworks more independently with the system

  • Validate if the system is easy to use, especially switching between Navigation mode and Art Appreciation mode

  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the system to motivate users to visit museums more often by themselves



Seamless Interaction between Navigation Mode and Art Appreciation Mode

We adopted an open-source smartphone-based navigation app, NavCog, which uses Bluetooth Low Energy beacons and a smartphone's built-in accelerometer and gyroscope.


User Interface

A girl is walking in a museum and receiving turn-by-turn navigation from an app.

Navigation Mode

Users receive turn-by-turn instructions to explore museums while getting notifications when it's close to artworks.

A girl is standing in front of a paiting and listening to an audio desction on her app.

Art Appreciation Mode

It is activated when the users are next to the artwork and turn their bodies to face it. Navigation Mode is resumed after turning their body to the previous orientation.

User Interface


Huda and Ken are both eager to have a way to visit and enjoy museums more independently without asking for help.

Huda is wearing a yellow scarf.


Huda loves artworks and likes to learn about the stories and histories behind them. She is now totally blind but enjoys visiting museums to feel the atmosphere and hear echoes at museums. She appreciates tactile tours or specialized tours for blind people guided by museum docents, but she is eager to have a way to enjoy visiting museums by herself without making a reservation or negotiation.

Ken has black and short curly hair and is wearing a blue hoodie.


Ken used to go to museums a lot before he lost his vision. He cannot follow his interest at the museum because he needs to rely on his companion. Also, a device for audio description is not often accessible and he needs to ask someone to input a corresponding number on a device every time. Because of inaccessible artwork and the inability to explore freely, he stopped going to museums.


Key Insights


Participants showed interest in visiting museums because they want to gain knowledge and learn about artworks and histories on-site by feeling the atmosphere. However, 74% of them have never visited museums by themselves because of mobility issues and inaccessible contents/artworks. Even though they are with other people, their experience depends on how companions describe exhibitions to them.

If [I] go to a museum, it’s because I wanna learn what’s there and I want a firsthand experience on site. I don’t wanna dry reading a book.

Usability Testing

Participants showed high satisfaction and are motivated to use the system when visiting museums. The ability to explore independently and be in front of artwork when listening to audio description is a huge benefit.

It’s good because I never experienced something like this. I never had this level of accessibility. So that’s why I think it is amazing and great!

Key Insights

Research Impacts

Stakeholders Impact​

  • People with visual impairments want to get audio descriptions in front of the artwork and enjoy feeling the atmosphere in museums.

  • Offering specialized tours is super helpful, but they want to have a way to enjoy museums without limitations such as following predetermined paths, making reservations in advance, finding companions, and asking for help.

Technology Impact​

  • It is effective to combine an indoor navigation system with an audio description so users can appreciate the artwork in front of artwork.

  • Using gyroscope and accelerometer (built-in sensors in iOS) enable users to interact with two nodes seamlessly, which results in more natural museum exploration.


My Learnings

  • This project helped me build my foundation as a UX researcher and I refer to this research process a lot. 

  • Usability testing would not go as planned.

  • Ensure the accessibility of the research itself.

  • Each user is different.

My Learnings
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