Case Study: MCA Chicago

When the MCA began the redesign of, creating a welcoming site for all was a primary goal for the project. The new identity provided an opportunity to adhere to the best practices in accessible functionality and design to extend the museum’s radical welcome to visitors of the website. We elected to work with Sina Bahram, of Prime Access Consulting, as our guide to making the most accessible museum website possible. The MCA webteam (including myself) and our developer, Tomas Celizna, confronted many areas of content production and methods of web development to shift practice to be more inclusive and conscientious of the range of abilities people bring to a website. The dedicated effort towards being world class in accessibility led the team to the creation of a project to manage and develop best practices for image description online, the team named the project Coyote.

The MCA core team led trainings with staff across departments at the museum, sharing the knowledge that the act of describing doesn’t require any special knowledge. One simply should start describing, we all see our world in our own way and can contribute to making images see

Development of Coyote
Donuts for Descriptions
Visual surfacing of descriptions on
Link to Museum Magazine Article

Last year, the MCA built a software tool called Coyote to support workflow around the description of images on our new website. The description work is one element of the museum’s commitment to accessibility and to the web team’s pledge to invite people who are blind or have low vision to experience images of our artworks. The project has yielded a remarkable body of short and long descriptions that are valuable to both sighted and unsighted users: many of them, taken on their own, are poetic and beautiful pieces of writing. The descriptions, authored by a group of volunteer staff from across the museum—including curators, educators, librarians, publishing and digital team members, and staff from visitor services, exhibitions, and collections— are also helpful tools for finding works in our internal databases and online, and, as anticipated, an important step toward making museum content accessible to visitors who use screen readers. The project has been widely discussed and presented at museum conferences (including meetings of the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium, Museum Computer Network, Museums and the Web, and the Association of Art Museum Directors), and was cited as a technology project to watch by the New York Times in its Fine Arts and Galleries section on October 30, 2016. However, the Coyote team believes that in addition to supporting online accessibility, the description project has the potential to support interactive learning experiences for visitors on site, and to invite new communities to participate in knowledge-making. A project we hope to develop would build on the Coyote software and descriptions to create scavenger hunts for sighted visitors of all ages.