Virtual Reality. Accessible to everyone?

Authors Organisation Keywords
Elisabetta Flor, Alessandra Pallaveri and Luca Scoz MUSE - The Science Museum of Trento Virtual Reality, Accessibility, Museums

Have you ever tried to fly over a mountain, dive into the depths of the sea or burrow down into the bowels of the earth? Definitely not experiences for everyone!

Expanding Access Through Technology

Technology can come to our aid with the virtual reconstruction of environments usually inaccessible or accessible only to a few. In all of this, museums, as places of knowledge and inclusion (as also stated in the new ICOM definition of a museum approved at the congress in Prague in August 2022), can play a strategic role in experimenting with the use of new technologies to expand the range of our possibilities of knowledge. But what are the limits of these applications?

Technology can come to our aid with the virtual reconstruction of environments usually inaccessible or accessible only to a few.

Museums at the Forefront

At the MUSE, the Science Museum in Trento, like many other museums and cultural venues, we look with interest at the development of communication methods that involve the use of new technologies, but at the same time we question the limits and problems that these entail.

Visitors with VR glasses inside the museum
The highly immersive and interactive nature of the virtual experience let visitors experience a new world of knowledge. Photo: MUSE - Science Museum of Trento

Virtual Visit to Lascaux

It was with this in mind that in 2022 we hosted the temporary exhibition 'Lascaux experience. The cave of lost stories” (23 July 2022 – 12 February 2023), which focused on a virtual visit, using Oculus visors, of the famous French cave, the UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been closed to the public for conservation reasons since 1963.

Hosting this exhibition was an experience that helped us to assess the costs and benefits of using the technology in question, both in terms of management implications and from the point of view of communication effectiveness and popularity with the general public.

Screenshot from inside the VR glasses showing part of the Lascaux cave as well as the virtual controller panel
Example of the virtual experience inside the Lascaux cave.
Photo: © MUSE · Science Museum of Trento

Challenges and Satisfaction

With regard to the first aspect, in other words internal organisation, considerable investment was required in terms of training the staff responsible for managing the experience, which cannot be left for visitors to enjoy on their own and therefore requires the constant presence of dedicated staff. The staff are required to manage any difficulties visitors have with correctly using the technological devices, as these are not yet widely used in homes, and also to identify and possibly solve, simple problems related to the software and hardware.

As far as the second aspect is concerned, namely reception by the public, qualitative surveys using direct interviews were carried out during the course of the exhibition with a total of 171 visitors (out of 22,060 experiences). The general satisfaction was evident, with about 80% of the respondents really liking the experience and 68% finding it easy and intuitive. Almost all the visitors who responded to the questionnaire did not have any problems during their experience, while 5% reported slight discomfort, such as dizziness or vertigo, with some expressing the desire to interrupt their experience.

The Limitations of Virtual Reality

So, is virtual reality using a visor a tool that can truly bring everyone closer to new worlds? While from a point of view of the accessibility of knowledge, virtual reality may be a valid support in the dissemination of science, in terms of accessibility, the tool's limitations are objective, both where user age is concerned (under the age of 13 the tool is not recommended by the manufacturer, and there are, in any case, physical limitations of use by children) and also regarding sensory and perceptive disabilities.


A useful tool therefore, but not an exclusive one for scientific communication of the present and the future.

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