Bahram was hired by the museum in 2015, when it was redesigning its website, and he spearheaded the project alongside former MCA employees Susan Chun and Anna Chiaretta Lavatelli. That year also marked the 25th anniversary of the passage of the ADA, and the MCA had been in conversations with other museums across the country about how to better serve visitors with disabilities. “We wanted to build a platform to solve a need for institutions to enhance access for visitors who are blind and visually impaired,” said Lisa Key, MCA Chicago’s deputy director. “It was clear that we needed better tools.”
Coyote is a free, open-source software that lives in the cloud, so anyone can adopt it. Editors log in and write descriptions for images assigned to them, which get reviewed before web developers present them to the public. “Think of it like a Google Doc for image descriptions,” Bahram said. “There’s an editing and approval flow that is really critical.”
Currently, just about 10 percent of the MCA’s 20,000 or so images have descriptions, but the museum’s editorial team has devoted a lot of energy to coming up with guidelines for writing about artworks in the most effective and intelligible way. The quandaries are complicated: What kind of visual information do you include in a few succinct lines? How does diction help shape the experience of learning about an artwork? How do you clearly describe abstract art?