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Calling museums to self-nominate for the Zero Project Innovative Practices and Policies 2019

Category: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion

I love to see museums and museum people winning awards and recognition outside our sector. Such accolades demonstrate the ability for museums to good in world-changing ways, and buffs the reputation of our field. For example, Rick Lowe, founder of Project Row Houses, is to my knowledge the only museum-world recipient of the MacArthur “genius” award. (Who will be the next?) The American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Science Boston, the Bronx Zoo, and the Exploratorium have all received National Science Foundation’s Public Service Award. In today’s post, Katherine Guernsey highlights an opportunity for museums to highlight the good they do with regard to accessibility and human rights. Katherine is a disability rights consultant and public international lawyer whose career has focused on disability inclusive diplomacy and development. She is a former Senior Policy Advisor to the Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State.

The Zero Project (#ZeroCall19) has issued its annual call for organizations to nominate themselves and others for innovative practices and policies – this is an important opportunity not to be missed! What is the Zero Project you ask, and why should you consider nominating your organization for an award? The Zero Project is an initiative of the Austrian-based Essl Foundation, begun in 2008, which works to promote a world free of barriers for persons with disabilities. In addition to monitoring conditions for persons with disabilities in over 150 countries around the world, the Zero Project also finds and shares models of good practice and policy that support enjoyment of human rights and improve the lives of all persons with disabilities. The intent is to spread knowledge and awareness of such policies and practices, so that others may learn from, replicate, adapt, and improve upon these efforts, and in so doing further achievement of a world without barriers for persons with disabilities.

In addition to hosting an annual conference at the United Nations offices in Vienna, Austria, the Zero Project also sponsors the annual Innovative Practices and Policies awards. Through these awards, the Zero Project helps to spread awareness and knowledge of actions that public and private sector actors can take to uphold the rights and equality of persons with disabilities. Award winners are featured in the Zero Project annual Report, and representatives are also invited to speak at the conference, which will next be held in February, 2019.

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Each year the Zero Project focuses on a different theme, and the 2019 theme is Independent Living and Political Participation. (Prior themes have included education, employment, and accessibility; themes which will be repeated in future cycles.) The current theme encompasses concepts of community inclusion, and full participation of persons with disabilities in society – areas of life in which museums play a critical role in supporting and facilitating the inclusion of persons with disabilities and their families.

Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that at least 15% of the world’s population is comprised of persons with disabilities. In the United States, the CDC estimates that there are at least 53 million adults with disabilities. When one considers that this population will likely grow as our population ages and acquires disabilities, and when one takes into consideration the family, friends, and co-workers of persons with disabilities, there are significant numbers of individuals who are directly affected by disability. As some disability advocates would also note, disability is the one social group that everyone and anyone can join!

Quite aside from simply complying with legal obligations addressing accessibility and non-discrimination, museums have a very important role to play in fostering the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the communities in which they work. Many museums already recognize the importance of encouraging diversity in the patronage of their institutions, and disability is an important component of that diversity. In addition, when museum collections, events, and publications are accessible to persons with disabilities through universal design and appropriate adaptation, they are typically equally accessible to other users, meaning that all patrons benefit when disability inclusion is addressed. Through such work, museums can support persons with disabilities being able to participate in, and contribute to, the life of their community on an equal basis with others with dignity and respect – a worthy goal that is consistent with the mission of most museums.

Many of you are already doing valuable and creative work to promote the inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in the activities of your museums. Don’t be afraid to highlight what you’re doing and remember that in doing so you’re helping to inform and inspire others to follow suit! Anyone interested in self-nominating their museum for the 2019 Zero Project awards is encouraged to visit the online nomination portal for more information (be sure to watch the short video), and note that the deadline for submissions is June 10th, 2018. Thanks for all that you do to support the inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in the life of your museum, and good luck!

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