Museum galleries accessible to Deaf visitors


For the first time, the permanent galleries at the Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira are accessible to Deaf and hard of hearing visitors who use New Zealand Sign Language.

The NZSL project took three years to complete. It started when the Museum began two major gallery redevelopments: Tāmaki Herenga Waka: Stories of Auckland and Te Whiwhinga The Imaginarium.

The project saw the creation of the NZSL Online Hub, a signed video about planning your visit to the museum and a video about how to use the NZSL Online Hub.

Close to 200 text labels in the galleries have NZSL translations and will be on display for many years, says Katie Skinner, Interpretive Planner at the Museum. 

“We’d like to thank the many people who helped and guided us through the development of our NZSL content here at Auckland Museum,” Katie says. “We’ve learned many things along the way and want to continue improving our  accessibility for all visitors to the Museum.”

Katie responds to three questions asked by Arts Access Aotearoa.

1. What was the process for developing the guide and how long did it take?

Guided by the Museum’s Diversity and Inclusion Policy and Action Plan, and working with Be. Lab, we came up with an accessibility action plan and a checklist to steer us throughout the gallery redevelopment process.  

© Auckland Museum

We decided to create a bring-your-own-device experience to ensure that access to the NZSL content was free.

We also decided to have a video for every text label in each of the galleries, as opposed to a guided or curated tour. This means that the visitor can be self-guided through the spaces. The NZSL videos are accessed via QR codes located on the labels in the galleries. 

To create the NZSL translations, we contacted Deaf Aotearoa and worked with Daniel Harborne, NZSL Information and Resources Team Leader. We provided him with a brief, including the text labels, and Deaf Aotearoa delivered the NZSL video translations.

We wanted to be sure that what we were creating was going to work well for the Deaf community and so we contacted Stace Robertson, the Access, Inclusion and Participation Advisor at Arts Access Aotearoa. He put us in touch with several members of the Auckland Deaf community. We invited them to the Museum to test and give feedback about the NZSL Online Hub.

We paid the members of the testing group for their time, and arranged transport to and from the Museum. We also hired interpreters for the workshop so we could communicate more easily with the testing group. 

As well as testing the NZSL Online Hub in the galleries, we worked with Theresa Cooper, an NZSL consultant in Wellington. Theresa is Deaf and she also worked with Te Papa when it was developing its NZSL offering. This meant she understood the priorities and restraints of working in a museum environment. 

When it was time to launch and promote the NZSL Online Hub, we worked with Grace Covey, an Auckland Deaf presenter. We also created a video about how to use and navigate the Online Hub; a video about planning your visit to the museum that people can watch before visiting the museum; and a shorter video to promote the NZSL Online Hub on social media. Both videos are available  at the NZSL Online Hub webpage

2. What feedback have you had about the NZSL Online Hub?

© Auckland Museum

The NZSL Online Hub has had more than 800 users since it was launched at the end of September 2022. We also had a visit from The National Foundation For The Deaf and Hard of Hearing and they gave us some great feedback.

The NZSL Online Hub is also accessible via the Museum’s website to combat any issues with scanning QR codes in the galleries.

Other feedback included more ways to promote the NZSL Online Hub at the entrances to the Museum, and we’re looking at ways we can do this. We appreciate receiving feedback from the community and strive to incorporate it when we work on future projects.

3. Do you have plans to add to the guide?

© Auckland Museum

We’re always striving to make our museum more accessible to our visitors through our Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan. Before this project, we only had offerings for the Deaf and hard of hearing community in our temporary exhibitions, and we knew we wanted to do more in our permanent galleries.

As we continue to redevelop our permanent long-term galleries across the Museum, we plan to make them all accessible in NZSL. However, this redevelopment process takes several years to complete. 

Whenever we change any of the smaller displays in the Tāmaki Herenga Waka: Stories of Auckland and Te Whiwhinga The Imaginarium galleries, we will update the NZSL content as well. In fact, we recently changed a display in the Tāmaki gallery and are working with Deaf Aotearoa to have those stories available in NZSL.

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira is a member of the Arts For All Auckland Network. Visit the website for more information and to join the Network.


Museum galleries accessible to Deaf visitors


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