My transition from a 5-year-old museum fan to exhibit technical consultant.
By: Guest Blogger Tim Kerbavaz
For the past two years, I’ve been serving as an advocate for electronic accessibility as the chair of the UC Davis Captioning Committee. It was through this committee in 2014 that a colleague approached me with a request: could I help the Longmore Institute at SF State design and build a multimedia exhibit about disability activism? I couldn’t say no. Being able to combine my childhood dream of exhibit design combined with my passions for AV technology and cutting edge accessibility was too exciting of a project to turn down.
When I was 5 years old, I walked into Berkeley, California’s Lawrence Hall of Science, looked at the animatronic dinosaurs, and stated matter-of-factly, “I want to work in the back [of the museum]," “I want to build the exhibits.”
It’s been a few years since I was 5, but that childhood dream has stuck with me.
I was able to get a taste of the museum industry during a 6-year stint as a science educator at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, but my primary career has been providing Audio Visual Support for events, both at UC Davis and through my own company -- I joke that my job is to make people louder. At Chabot, I had done some content design, but had not done any exhibit physical design or construction. With the Patient No More project, I was definitely in new territory.
The Longmore Institute exhibit team’s vision was to use iPads for video playback. I was excited to try out some cool technology and find a way to use an external button to trigger an iPad. This physical button was critical - we had to have a physical interface that was easy for anyone to use, regardless of physical mobility, height, or dexterity. Touchscreens would not cut it, and we had to mount the button at an ADA compliant height, so it couldn’t be attached to the display.
I poured over vendor sites, forums, blogs, and product manuals, trying to find the perfect interface for a tactile iPad button.
Alas, it was not to be - iPads are not easy to control with an external switch, and that button was a key accessibility tool to allow wheelchair riders or patrons with short stature to activate the players. We needed a new solution.
I called some trusted partners in the AV integration market, got some product samples, and got a parts list together, settling on a solid state video player with contact closure switch inputs and easy configuration and customization.
After playing with samples, testing hardware, and spreading parts all over my house, I settled on a digital signage player from BrightSign with hardware GPIO inputs and an easy to configure software interface. I chose basic Dell monitors for low cost and general availability - If we had any problems I knew I could get a spare on short notice. Add a small amplifier, some installation-grade surface mount speakers, a push button, and some cables, and I had a full system picked out.
One of the biggest challenges I faced with this whole project is that I live in Sacramento, the exhibit team works in San Francisco, and the exhibit is in Berkeley at the stunning Ed Roberts Campus. We did a lot of conference calling and I sent a lot of FedEx shipments, but I also did a lot of driving - To SF, to Berkeley, and back to SF. Because I was so far away, I had trouble imagining the exhibit as designed fitting in the space. I had seen bits and pieces, and I knew that all fit together on paper, but It was hard to visualize the completed project in the venue.
On installation day, I came armed with electric drills, spare parts, extra hardware, extension cords, and a stack of laptops. I walked into the space as the exhibit panels were being wheeled into place. It was the moment of truth, and it all worked flawlessly. The artwork was gorgeous, the videos played complete with captions and audio description, and all the screws fit where they were supposed to.
It was a long road to get to an exhibit, but when we did the final install it all came together perfectly. I had the privilege to work with a really talented team, both at the Longmoore Institute and at the exhibit’s fabricator, Gizmo Art Productions. By combining a passion for accessible technology with my experience in Audio-Visual systems, I was able to fulfill a childhood dream and help make a collective vision for a living history project come to fruition.
As a person with a disability, I’m personally committed to ensuring that the content and events I produce are accessible to all audiences, but I only have my own perspectives on what that entails. Working on this project, with so many moving pieces, so many considerations, and so much constructive feedback from the community at the Ed Roberts Campus has allowed me to better understand the myriad of unique perspectives and needs of people with a wide variety of disabilities, and has given me better perspectives on how to work within communities to ensure all their needs are met.
I look forward to continuing to work with the Longmore Institute and with the Ed Roberts Campus to help make AV technology and event technology accessible for all members of our community.
Patient no More is open until January 15, 2016 at the Ed Roberts Campus, 3075 Adeline St in Berkeley, CA. More information about this exhibit is available at http://longmoreinstitute.sfsu.edu/patient-no-more
Tim Kerbavaz is the founder of Talon Entertainment, a Davis, CA based event technical solutions provider. More information about Talon and Tim’s other work can be found at www.talonent.com