Imperial War Museum Duxford

Imperial War Museum Duxford

2009 Digital Access Onsite Winner

The Project

The audio guide was designed specifically for blind and partially sighted people, as part of the interpretative process of the Air Space exhibit. It seek to recreate the thrill of the visually striking display of 30 aircraft which represent the story of British and Commonwealth aviation. The audio guide is not a mere adaptation of a mainstream guide and empowers blind and partially sighted people to visit AirSpace alongside their family and friends on equal terms.

The Exhibition Gallery explores themes of how aircraft fly through hands-on interactive activities and sensory opportunities. The audio guide facilitates blind and partially sighted visitors to use the same provision as other visitors. Early on in the tour, the guide supports visitors through a touch tour of the Hawker Hunter exhibit. The verbal descriptions of aircraft are yivid and evocative. They are enriched by immersive sound taken from sound archives of aircraft taking off and flying overhead, alongside personal stories from pilots and designers.

Developed by Antenna Audio, the guide is delivered through a hand held digital audio player with an augmented telephone-style keypad. This has distinctly shaped operational buttons in high contrast colours and can be listened to on headphones for maximum hands free use or held like a mobile phone. It is compatible with an induction loop for visitors with hearing aids. The guide works in conjunction with RNIB Maps for All, allowing independent choice of route planning whilst providing a comprehensive navigation of the exhibits themselves with stops and tour pause facilities. It also provides safety information and reassurance in an often disconcerting environment. The audio guide cost approx. £30,000 to produce, provides information for a visit of many hours and represents 1% of the total cost of the Air Space interpretation.

Other Activities

IWM Duxford is a branch of the Imperial War Museum, which seeks to enable people to understand human behaviour through the lens of war and conflict. The exhibits and learning programmes of IWM Duxford demonstrate the effect aviation has had on war, society and people’s lives since the start of the twentieth century.


Both IWM Duxford and Antenna Audio involved disabled user focus groups since the first concept design stage. A report was written by PORTAL, Colchester and Ipswich Museum’s Disability Access Group. Seven members of the group with a range of physical and sensory disabilities, undertook an onsite tour and made the recommendation to include the audio guide for visitors with visual impairment. There were successive waves of visually impaired people trialling the touch tour and audio guide, with advice being provided by Support for Sight (formerly Saffron Sight), Fight against Blindness, Action for Blind People and RNIB Mark Austen, a registered blind focus group member with a design background contributed to the development of a large format paper map that could be easily carried. His testimonial to the result of the project was particularly enthusiastic:

“The first floor in AirSpace is wild. You’re encouraged to try out the access-friendly exhibits, and guided through them in an efficient way which allows you lots of freedom. There is plenty to touch and hear. First of all you have the chance to make a rocket take off. It’s a must!”

“Duxford’s commitment to giving the Blind visitor the best experience in a challenging space has been exceptional. And it has produced one of the best tours I have experienced.”

The Future

Both IWM Duxford and Antenna Audio recognise the value of working with focus groups and agreed it as a preferred approach to future projects. The audio guide will be, and has already been, updated to reflect changes in the exhibition. The audio guide is now part of a wider approach to accessibility on site. Duxford will now provide BSL for all of audiovisual presentations. As Paul Hanmer of NADP comments;

“It was refreshing to find a national facility which had given priority to accessibility at the planning stage rather than treating the process as an afterthought.”

Antenna Audio is committed to incorporating the same consultative process into the redesign of an existing player model. The industry trend is moving towards devices with touchscreens. In response, Antenna Audio is investgating the feasibility of using tactile silicon screens to enhance the accessibility of touchscreen players for visually impaired users.