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A Tool for Cultural Organizations

Site Visit: User-Expert Site Visit

Table of Contents


The aim of this second site visit is to bring in your local community user-experts to give their perspectives on the site and any changes you’ve made in the initial phases. Goals for this site visit should include testing changes made in response to the Accessibility Audit and Self-Study, not just hearing same things over again!

The main goal for this visit should be to better understand how visitors with disabilities actually experience your site. The Accessibility Audit focused on answering the question: “Is our site accessible?” This visit will answer the question: “Is our visitor experience effective for people with disabilities?”

Use this site visit as a chance to think about opportunities for continued partnership—this should not be “one and done,” but the start of a conversation!

Ground rules:

  • What are the goals/expectations of this user-expert site visit for us?
  • Identify the big picture and be prepared to explain this to your user expert(s) to help them get an idea of what your site values and aims to communicate:
    • What does the site do?
    • What is our intended outcome for visitors? Think holistically: How do you want visitors to feel in your spaces? Before/after a visit?
    • What/whose story are we telling? This may be reflected in your mission statement, interpretive plan, and/or collections displays. Are there areas where you are looking to include new viewpoints?
  • Determine scope—Plan what areas (both physical and interpretive) to be the focus of the visit, recognize that it may not be possible to survey the entire site in one visit.
    • What’s going well?”—To verify and reinforce staff’s accessibility efforts.
    • What’s going to change?” Think about new displays/objects, outdated/broken interpretive elements, etc.—use this to get feedback on how to improve before starting or while in process.
    • What do staff/previous visitors see as problem area(s)?”—Use this to verify and get feedback before making changes, also can be an area to integrate visitor comments/feedback you’ve received.

** The scope and choice of physical spaces can also help determine team size/composition—be sure to include staff and/or volunteers who have experience with these areas.

  • Select staff to be involved:
    • Make sure to include a cross-section of people, and place emphasis on staff who work with visitors as well as any people who have pre-knowledge of the ADA, the area(s) that you are specifically surveying, etc. Keep in mind that “decision-makers” exist at all levels of your organization.
      • Think about any specific roles and responsibilities staff will have on the day of the visit:
        • Cleaning/preparation (especially if the visit happens on a day that the site is closed to the public)
        • Visitor interactions: Include the ticketing/front desk greeting process as part of the visit. If the visit is held on a day where the site is open to the public, think about how it will potentially impact visitors.
      • Ask staff to aim for a learning mindset and allow for the visitor to view the site with as little bias as possible.
        • If the visitor asks for information that is not visible, staff should resist being defensive or going into too much detail (explaining why a decision was made, making value judgements on others, etc.).
      • Before the visit, set expectations for staff:
The site visit is:

·      A tool for helping to benchmark the site’s current accessibility to visitors

·      One element towards developing an action plan for improvement

The site visit is not:

·      A fault-finding exercise, or judgement of the site or its staff

·      About what has been done in the past or might be planned for the future

·      A comprehensive assessment of site accessibility

  • Compensate site reviewers for their experience—an honorarium of $150 plus travel costs per person for a 6-8 hour day is a typical starting point. If the visit is more than a few hours long, include multiple breaks and provide at least one meal.
  • Recognize that this may need to be repeated as spaces and objects are added or changed.

Before the visit:

  • Plan for your partnership:
    • Research and select a partner organization that can help you find user-expert participants.
    • What are the goals/expectations for both partners and staff?
    • Recruit for diversity of experiences—this will bring a richer dialogue and may bring up intersectional perspectives outside of disability.
    • Understand your audience—if looking for feedback from children, you may be getting most of your information by surveying their parents.
      • Also be aware of differences in communication styles by age and disability. For example, Deaf children may not be able to read captions and screen reader users may prefer to customize the speed of audio elements.
  • Do a walkthrough:
    • Determine how much time it will take to experience relevant areas.
      • Use the amount of time your staff walkthrough took as the minimum time for the visit!
      • Add 30-60 minutes of extra time from your initial walkthrough when planning the agenda for the day.
    • Make sure any audio/visual elements are functioning correctly.
  • If including meals or food in the day, be sure to ask participants about any dietary restrictions. Also ask if participants will be bringing aides or companions with them and be sure to offer meals for these folks as well.
  • Etiquette training is strongly recommended before a visit to make both staff and user-expert participants feel more comfortable.
  • Share any ground rules or guidelines with participants well in advance of the visit:
    • Invite partner organization staff/contacts to any planning meetings or walkthroughs.
    • Share any questions that you will be asking in advance with participants.

Sample Agenda:

  • 9:30-10:30am: Staff prepare site & meeting spaces for visit
  • 10:30am: User expert(s) arrive
  • 10:30-11:00am: Brief introduction to site & staff, overview of outcomes & expectations
  • 11:00am-12:00pm: Begin site visitor experience assessment (exterior & ticketing)
  • 12:00pm-12:45pm: Lunch break
  • 12:45pm-2:30pm: Continue site visitor experience assessment (visitor center, historic buildings)
  • 2:30-3:00pm: Wrap-up and final comments
  • 3:00pm: User expert(s) leave

Wrap-Up Discussion:

    • Even you’ve been taking notes on user experts’ comments throughout the visit, allow at least a half-hour for them to share their thoughts as part of the agenda.
    • Some sample questions to ask:
      • How accessible was the experience for you?
      • Did exhibits and/or the tour experience effectively communicate the outcomes that we shared in the beginning of the visit?
      • Did you enjoy your visit? Why or why not?
      • Were things easy for you to experience? Did anything feel extra challenging to you?

Debriefing and Action Planning:

      • This is best to schedule a few days to a week after the site visit to give staff members time to process and give time for any user-expert participants to share extra feedback.
      • Reflect back on big picture outcomes:
        • Are these outcomes being effectively communicated?
        • Are all visitors getting the same outcome, through the same process/method?
      • What is the low-hanging fruit?
        • Think about anything that could be updated quickly, easily, or at low cost.
        • Use the Action Plan Template to document these quick-impact projects and start planning longer-term work.
      • Set up next meetings to finish completing the Action Plan Template using feedback from both visits.
        • Be sure to invite staff here who may not have been part of the site visits if their role is relevant.
      • Is this something where the value is educational/emotional/etc.? Do we have “aha moments” in our outcomes that are being communicated equitably?

Some general notes when reviewing visitor responses:

      • Prioritizing—ask multiple times, and to different audiences!
      • Recognize that technology this may have a learning curve—just like nondisabled people, some disabled people may be more tech-savvy than others!

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