Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa 15 NZSL Mobile Guide

  • Pou Auaha / Creative Directors
    Amos Mann, Theresa Cooper
  • Ringatoi Matua / Design Director
    Bastiaan van Druten
  • Ngā Kaimahi / Team Members
    Daniel Nash, Victoria Cleal, Rainer Spittel, Karen Tribbe, Tom Moynihan, Antonia Bale, Ranea Aperahama
  • Kaitautoko / Contributors
    Deaf Aotearoa | Tāngata Turi, Deafradio, Arts Access Aotearoa | Putanga Toi ki Aotearoa

Our museum has taken a big step in making New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) more accessible to our Deaf audiences, and more visible to the wider public. The NZSL Mobile Guide is a BYOD experience, developed with the Deaf community, for the Deaf community. The guide makes exhibition content and other museum information accessible in NZSL, from a Deaf worldview. Deaf visitors can have a shared experience, and feel part of the museum.

OPPORTUNITY: NZSL is one of New Zealand’s three official languages. As the NZSL Act reflects, it’s a distinct language, with its own grammar, not a signed version of a spoken language – English, in fact, is a second language for many Deaf people. Yet NZSL has been largely invisible in our cultural landscape.

The idea for the project came from the Deaf community – Theresa Cooper, a museums and heritage professional. It was funded by the NZSL Fund (Ministry for Social Development) and was supported by Deaf Aotearoa and Arts Access Aotearoa.

APPROACH: We kicked off the project with a co-design workshop, run with representatives of Deaf organisations, members of the Deaf community, and internal staff. Through activities like journey mapping, we learned what it’s like to visit the museum as a Deaf person, and what the community wanted the project goals to be.

To create the mobile guide, our in-house team collaborated closely with the Deaf community throughout – Theresa Cooper (NZSL consultant), Deaf-owned and run businesses, including Deafradio, and diverse Deaf presenters.

We based the experience on a standard visitor journey. Most visitors want to know: What’s at the museum? Therefore, in NZSL, we provide an overview, as well as introductions to major permanent exhibitions. Some visitors want to know about top attractions. Therefore, we developed a highlights tour, basing it on existing, hosted tours for hearing visitors.

Simultaneously, we kept the content structure versatile – able to be accessed by visitors at any point on their journey. The experience includes online orientation videos and other pre-visit information, videos visible to all on entry, and physical signage, with connections to online content via QR codes and URLs.

OUTCOMES: Evaluation and unsolicited feedback indicate that the mobile guide is resulting in positive change across all our goals.

Deaf visitors have the information they need, and feel a sense of ownership, pride, and empowerment – ‘LOVE it that I can access … info in my language, NZSL’, ‘It made me feel more confident’, ‘[I appreciate] how included I felt in the museum’.

Hearing visitors and staff are more aware of NZSL – ‘Very proud to work [here] when I see the NZSL guides, and how seamlessly the 3 official languages sit side-by-side’, ‘We’ve learned so much that will save us time in future.’

We’ve created best-practice guidelines for developing NZSL content, which will benefit not just us but the wider sector in the future.

We’ve learned a lot, and we’ll keep working with the Deaf community to better integrate NZSL into the museum and continue improving accessibility.