I am getting ready for a presentation at the Leadership and Excellence in Accessible Design (LEAD) conference to be held at the Kennedy Center later this month. The presentation will ask and try to answer two big questions—what will the accessible museum of the future look like, and what do we have to do now to create it?
Usually I approach forecasting by applying my imagination to the current trends, and projecting them into the future to tell “what if” stories. This works pretty well with areas of operations in which I have been immersed (collections care, for example, or finance.) It’s harder with areas in which I have no “hands-on” experience, like accessible design. So, what does one do nowadays when one runs up against limits of knowledge or imagination? Crowdsource, of course!
That’s where you come in! Be my collaborators on the presentation, and contribute your experience, intuition and imagination. Here are a few of my thoughts about trends in relevant areas, offered mostly to fuel yours:
- Museums—I think we have made slow progress in the last couple decades, impelled largely by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Most museums (even the smallest historic house) make at least a nod to accessible design. Some excel. But my impression is that the progress is mostly incremental, and sadly insufficient. When I talk to people who need accommodation, I mostly hear frustration about the ragged edges of museums’ efforts. For example, a friend who uses a guide dog has stories of being hassled in museums, not because they didn’t have the right policies in place, but because not all the floor staff were well trained.
- Disability—the data I have reviewed suggests a slow increase in the number of Americans with disabilities, mostly tied to a population bulge as Baby Boomers reach their golden years. There are a few trends that might lead to increased rates of certain problems—the “obesity epidemic,” for example and the disorders that come with it, including impaired sight and mobility. But, this increase might be offset by trends in…
- Medicine—every futurist I have talked to says the most dramatic and least predictable developments in the coming decades will be in the field of biomedicine. If you believe the transhumanists, we are on the cusp of a transform the whole species, extending our lifespan (without attendant infirmities) and giving us the ability to replace/enhance all kinds of biomechanical and sensory failures. Transhumanists aside (and they are kind of the lunatic fringe of the futurist movement) just reading the weekly Science section of the New York Times provides a hint of coming advances, for example, implants that allow the user the control robotic limbs with brain impulses
- Technology (non-medical): we are also still on the fast curve of development of assistive technologies that may radically change the ability of museums to provide accessible experiences, and the way in which visitors choose to experience the museum. As more of these technologies become cheap, portable, and tied to ubiquitous devices (like smart phones) the old “what font size should be use for accessible labels” may be left in the dust.
- Cultural—I think there is a growing expectation that disabilities of all kinds, physical, cognitive, developmental, psychological, be accommodated in public services and public facilities, whether or not it is mandated by legislation. We have a growing cadre of highly educated, politically savvy parents who aren’t shy about the needs of their children, and willing to rally the power of public opinion to assure equality of experience and opportunities. This may radically expand the scope of what a museum might have to take into account under the rubric of “accessible design.”
Ok, those are just a few thoughts to kindle the discussion. Help me out here folks— tell me what you see coming in the realm of accessible design.