Skip to content

CARE-apy: On the Road to Welcome: Starting your accessibility journey

Category: Accessibility

The concepts of accessibility and inclusion are not new. There is not, however, a straightforward blueprint for doing this work in a clear-cut and approachable way, meaning many museum workers are often left wondering “how do I get started?” Join the authors of The Art of Access: A Practical Guide for Museum Accessibility to learn about accessible museum practices that can be easily integrated into the fabric of each and every museum regardless of the size, budget, or scope of the museum. Also hear from colleagues from The Henry Ford, the Intrepid Museum, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art about case studies that center on the disability experience and their outcomes.



We do plan to have time for questions at the end of the session. So in the meantime, since we have such a large group, I’ll ask that we all stay on mute. Please ask questions as they come up in the chat or you will have an option to also ask them at the question and answer session at the end. We do plan on making this webinar recording available through AAM’s YouTube and it should be available normally within three to six weeks. These webinars are kept free of charge, so we’d like to encourage you to consider membership to the American Alliance of Museums. And with that, I’ll turn it over to Heather and Danielle to get us started. Thank you for presenting today.

Skip over related stories to continue reading article

Heather Pressman:

Thank you for having us. Can you go to the first slide?

So I’m Heather Pressman. Like Anne said, I am at the Molly Brown House Museum here in Denver, Colorado. And if we can get the next slide as well. So we wanted to start out by finding if we can actually do a quick… Anne, are we okay to do a poll just to see who’s here?



Heather Pressman:

So we wanted to just do a quick check of who’s here today. One of the things we’re always curious to know is where people are in their accessibility journey, and what brought you here today, and things like that. So if you guys can just real quick answer those poll questions, that would be awesome. It’s very active group. Give people a few more seconds.

It looks like most people have had the chance to answer, so it looks like a lot of you are here to learn about new things, which is great. So hopefully we’ll share something that you can take back with you. There’s a fair number of you who actually have a moderate level of accessibility experience, which is great. That’s not usually what we’ve been seeing, so it’s exciting to see that this time around. And a lot of you are multitasking, so awesome. All right, well we can go back to the slides. Cool.

So, just so everybody has a basic understanding of what access is. There are a couple different ways you can look at it. Obviously, the ADA is the baseline law, which you have to comply with. It is the law and as the Americans with Disabilities Act, so that is now about 30 years old, a little more. And that applies to any new construction. So historic properties where I’m at, it’s a little bit different. For museums, accessibility means providing equal access to all visitors as much as you can. The goal being of course to eliminate any barriers that are in place at your museum. And then according to AAM, access is delivering relevant content and a superior user experience. So again, making sure that guests feel welcome and comfortable at your museum and that they’re getting an equitable experience. So can we get the next slide, please?

So why make museum successful? So there are a couple of reasons. One, like we just talked about, it’s the legal requirement. So it’s illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. About one in four adults currently have a disability of some sort, whether visible or invisible, which means you’re potentially losing out on revenue from about 61 million visitors a year. So not only is it a legal requirement, it’s also just good business sense. You definitely want to try to avoid those situations where you’re going to be in any non-compliance legally. But also, again, you want your visitors to feel welcome. And people don’t come to museums by themselves, most of the time. They come with their friends, they come with their family. So you’re also missing out on that revenue as well. But perhaps most importantly, it’s the right thing to do. Access is a civil right and it’s something that we need to keep talking about because we’re still seeing discrimination and segregation and exclusion and all those things are wrong. So museums can be leaders in our communities by making these places and spaces where just people with disabilities feel that they belong.

Danielle Schulz:

All right. Hi everyone. My name is Danielle Schulz and I’m at the Denver Art Museum and Heather and I are so happy to be here. And we’re going to share a little bit why we wrote this book and as well as share a couple fundamental ways that everyone can start on the road to accessibility. As Heather said, it sounds like there’s a lot of folks in our digital room who maybe have a couple years of experience under their belt, but these are fundamental aspects that everyone can use rather where you are in your journey. So Heather and I together have about 20, 25 years museum experience. It has not always been an accessibility. I would say really the field of accessibility has become ingrained in museums for probably the past 10, maybe eight years, where it’s actually been in people’s titles. But both of us really found our way to this area and sought resources and best practices and we really found none.

Or when we did find things, they were cobbled together or they really were not easy to share beyond peer-to-peer via email, “Hey, do you have some requirements that have worked for you that you can share with us”? And so we wanted to create this book as a practical resource that we didn’t have. A compilation of concrete examples and specific resources to build awareness of both the disability experience, but then also identifying barriers that are involved in accessing museums and really understanding what it takes to dismantle these barriers and make a museum accessible. In the book, we wanted to illuminate really the incremental ways in which accessibility can be easily integrated into the fabric of any museum, any size, any scope, anywhere because we really want institutions to better engage with our audiences. Because as Heather alluded to, there’s a whole slew of folks out there who are really not finding themselves welcomed into museums.

So within the book, we share local and national resources as well as easy and low-cost activities to get started and to improve really where you are. We ourselves are not disabled, yet we do have decades of personal and professional experience. Our museums are not perfect, nor are they fully accessible. So we are really on this learning journey together. Today, as I mentioned, we’re going to offer a few fundamental steps to get rooted in accessibility practices, and then our lovely colleagues will highlight three examples of museums that are championing this work and the role that evaluation plays. So Anne, next slide, please.

Heather Pressman:

So meaningful inclusion, what is it, and what does it look like for evaluators? So it means opportunities for members of the disability community to advise on designing accessible programs, events, acquisitions, spaces from the very beginning. You’ve may have heard that it is much less costly to have to go back and retrofit something than start doing it right from the beginning. And then that includes accessibility initiatives as well. So why worry about meaningful inclusion? Well, as Danielle said, we don’t have disabilities ourselves, so we can’t be the be-all, end-all in terms of the answers. But people who with those lived experiences can contribute to the conversation and help guide the decisions that you’re making. It’s their interest, it’s their needs that the need to be addressed. And so one easy way to think about it is nothing about us without us. So what does this look like for evaluation?

Make sure you have cross-representation. So if you have advisory committees, if you have focus groups, make sure you know that your survey respondents all include people with disabilities because again, it’s 25% or 26% of the population. And so it’s a huge group of people and a lot of times people with disabilities are often overlooked in terms of recruitment for things like focus groups. You also want to think about it from a staff perspective too. If we’re not being inclusive in our staffing, it’s hard to be inclusive and welcoming to the general public as well. So it can help build empathy and learning with your staff to welcome these folks in as well. And you definitely want to make sure that you’re compensating people in some way. I mean money is always great, but some incentive [inaudible 00:12:12] or membership. It could be tickets to an event that you’re having. Think too about how people are going to participate. Do they have to come onsite to your museum, or could they participate virtually? Or can there be some sort of hybrid option that you offer?

There’s huge unemployment rate in the disability community. So think about that as well when you’re thinking about compensation. And again, it doesn’t always have to be monetary compensation, there are other ways to include that as well. Reach out to your community groups. There are lots of folks in your area who are doing the work, who are supporting people with disabilities. There’s things like the Alzheimer’s Association, groups like that that can help you reach out to these different audiences if you’re not really sure where to start. And they’re more happy to help with training and providing educational resources and things like that. So next slide.

Danielle Schulz:

All right, so another fundamental component of getting rooted in accessibility practices is recognizing ableism, and ableism, as it says on the slide, is discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities with the attitude that disabled minds and bodies are inferior. And this idea of ableism is really rooted in the medical model of disability, which views disability as something that is wrong with a person and that needs to be fixed. But as we all know, something that is different is not necessarily wrong or bad. And as with other forms of discrimination, ableism really perpetuates a negative view of disability as a flaw or an abnormality rather than just as another aspect of humanity and therefore marginalizes people who have a disability. And it’s really important to think about ableism and how it can show up. So one of the ways which again it can show up is in our language, and this can be an everyday usage, but again, as evaluators thinking about the language you use in maybe recruiting materials.

So thinking about misused words or euphemisms for bad. And if you can go to the next slide really quick, ’cause I have some examples here that really show things that again, people might think of as not a big deal to say, oh, I’m really dumb, or I’m feeling really crazy, this day’s really crazy and they’re meaning something negative. But really these are rooted in people who have mental health experiences. And so that’s really hard to hear. On the left-hand side, there is another column that has some words that again might be in people’s everyday usage, but really thinking about them, they’re extremely negative. So talking about someone who’s confined to a wheelchair. Again, a wheelchair user or mobility device user is just a way that someone gets around, they’re not confined to it, that is just what they use.

Someone that is suffering from memory loss. So, folks who have programs for folks with dementia or Alzheimer’s saying they’re suffering, that’s such a negative connotation, whereas really they’re just experiencing memory loss. And then as someone also put in the chat, think you, Lizette, is saying that there’s normal visitors. That is this route, that there’s… What is normal? What does it mean to be normal? Disability is a fact of human life. And so actually that is normal. So if you really are trying to talk specifically about visitors who do not have disabilities, you could say that or you could say, non-disabled visitors. But really saying normal is again putting that really negative view on. Anne, if you could go back to that other side please? Thank you. So really thinking about language and how it shapes how people think about physical or mental differences, which really anyone can acquire during their lifetime. Another way to think about ableism is inaccessible meeting locations and formats.

So are you having focus groups that are meeting in spaces that only have stairs or are there really bright lights or loud noises nearby to a focus group that could affect someone with sensory processing issues? As Heather mentioned, is there an ability to offer a virtual option to meet? With Covid, this has shown us that we all are able to have this hybrid opportunity. So folks who either live too far away don’t want to travel a far distance or maybe again, going downtown or somewhere for an hour is really a barrier to them. So how could you use that? Providing information in only a single format? Are you only providing information in a written format or a visual? Well, how is that supporting folks who are blind or have low vision? Could you offer an auditory component where you’re reading some of the questions?

If you’re only providing something in audio, how are you also providing a written transcript of it? So folks who are deaf or maybe hard of hearing can also participate. Thinking as well about inaccessible attachments, PDFs, sharing pronouns when people are there. So again, just thinking about how you’re making your meetings or your formats accessible, and why is this important to keep in mind? We all slip, we all do things. And again, the intent may not be harmful. We might use ableist terms like crazy or things like that when we’re not meaning to trivialize, but it really does and it minimizes people’s experience and this excludes visitors, staff as well as potentially funders. And so really thinking about how ableism shows up in your language as well as your meeting locations and formats is a way to be more welcoming. So Anne, if you could skip ahead two slides now. Thank you.

Heather Pressman:

Awesome. So we saw in the poll at the beginning that we have quite a variety of experiences and how much it that accessibility is part of someone’s job. Even Danielle and I, it is not our full-time jobs, even though I think we were both love for that to happen. But really access is, it impacts all parts of the museum and it’s everyone’s responsibility. So again, with the book, this was part of our goal behind it, was to help museums get to that point where it’s not one person’s job, that it’s second nature for everyone. And if we can get to a museum adopting a museum-wide approach to accessibility, that would just be, I think, all of our dreams would be fulfilled at that point, but that’s really what we need to work towards because that’s how we’re going to have a truly inclusive environment.

So again, it’s not one person’s job, it should be part of every everybody’s job. It shouldn’t just be in one person, one department. It shouldn’t be just with one person, which is how it is at many places right now. So we’re fighting the good fighting and slowly getting there. Accessibility, like I said, touches at all aspects of the museum, from people walking in the front door to experiencing exhibits, its education programs, marketing, visitor service, it’s everything. So training is really important. Staff training, volunteer training. And it’s not just one and done either. You can’t just have one training and be like, oh, well we did that so we’re good now. That’s something you need to keep doing, keep it. It’s an ongoing conversation, it’s an access itself is ongoing. Also think about when you’re delivering programs, what accommodations you can have, what supports you can have.

Are you going to have ASL interpretation at all your meetings? Can you make it easier for people with disabilities to participate? And like Danielle said, along the lines of meetings, think about what sort of supports you can offer visitors that are just easy and that they don’t have to out themselves to ask for that. They’re just there. So at our museum, we have baskets with tactile materials in it. Anybody can pick that up, but those are particularly great if you have sensory processing disorder, autism, things like that where you might be sensory seeking and want to do things like touch the feathers on the Victorian hats, which be highly discouraged. So keep learning. Like I said, training is really important, but also there are a lot of resources out there. AAM has great resources. There are a number of really great books right now from disabled authors.

The Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability or Lead Conference is a really amazing conference put on by the Kennedy Center. That’s all about access in cultural institutions. Again, look to those local or national organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association. They will often provide free training for your staff and volunteers. So definitely reach out to them and utilize them. And some areas, like here in Denver, we have an access consortium or community of practice. So if you have one of those in your area, definitely try to connect with them for support and also resources and reaching out to folks for those focus groups and things like that. And what you guys are doing today is an awesome stuff. And Danielle and I could talk for hours about all this stuff, but we’re going to stop and we’re going to hand it off to our three fantastic case studies.


So with that, Caroline will share a case study from the Henry Ford. Caroline.

Caroline Braden:

Yes, thank you, Anne. So I am Caroline Braden, I’m the Accessibility Manager at the Henry Ford. And for accessibility purposes, I’ll provide a brief verbal description of myself. So I’m a white female, dark brown hair and two braids wearing glasses and I’m wearing a dark blue shirt with a dark blue sweater today. And for a bit of background on the Henry Ford, so the Henry Ford is a large history-focused institution in Dearborn, Michigan. We have an indoor museum, Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. We also have an outdoor village, Greenfield village, which has about 80 historic buildings. We have a factory tour called the Ford Rouge Factory Tour and we have a movie theater.

We started really focusing on accessibility back in 2015 when my position was created. And we currently have about 50 different types of accessibility programs and events each year. And today I’m going to be focusing on our sensory-friendly events, which are designed for people with autism, sensory processing disorders, and specifically, I’ll be talking about how we’ve been evaluating these events and how we have incorporated modifications from the feedback we’ve received. And I’ll talk quite a bit just here at the beginning and then I have a few examples on some slides after this one.

So for a little bit of background, we started offering sensory-friendly events in 2016. Oh, you can stand the first slide, please. Thank you. And these events include such offerings as pre-visit materials such as social narratives, which have pictures and texts to walk people through a visit. Also, sensory maps which mentioned such potential sensory triggers as loud sounds, bright lights, smells, other things like that. Also quiet zones, noise-canceling headphones are available and we oftentimes have exclusive access time to visit an exhibit or an event. From 2016 to 2020, we would have sensory-friendly events about four times per year. And then in 2020 we received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services or IMLS to expand these events and we now have them about 30 times per year and that includes sensory-friendly movies at our movie theater where the lights are up, the sound is down.

Also onsite events, virtual programs, and a program for teens and young adults with autism. For the first few years, we were offering these, we did not have an advanced registration process, nor did we really have a great sense of who was coming or how many people were coming. We had a survey at the exit, but we did not receive much feedback on that. People by that point were generally ready to leave, distracted, and we really didn’t get that kind of feedback we were looking for. So to initially help get some feedback, we formed an autism advisory group in 2017, and this group is comprised of parents and teachers of individuals with autism and a few people with autism themselves. And this group over the years has provided feedback on and suggestions for our sensory-friendly events. Also, as time went on and we had more of a need to register people because we had more events with limited capacities, we found that not only could we send pre-visit materials, but we could also send post-visit surveys.

And in doing so, we’ve received a lot more feedback. So over the years, the surveys have asked various open-ended questions like what were the positives of your visit? What could be improved upon for next time? What impact does the availability of sensory-friendly programs and events have on your family or group? And what topics or themes would you like to see in future programs? And we’ve received many positive comments. This is just one. So this is a quote. “For many of us parents of children on the spectrum. Just having a safe space to let our children be themselves is amazing. Being at an event that’s designed for our children brings a level of comfort we can’t get at ordinary events”. And that’s just one of many quotes we’ve received. We also received quite a bit of feedback about the need to keep these events at as low of a cost as possible and that free was even better.

Affordability costs their inherent issues for many of these families, but also a lot of them do not know how long their individuals with autism will be able to last at an event before needing to leave. So that did help inspire us to apply for the IMLS grant, which now provides free admission to these events. And the feedback’s also led to quite a few other modifications. And I’ll show some examples now. So next slide, please.

So this first example is of our check-in process. Back when we first received the grant, we had really increased our number of sensory-friendly events, but we were using a very slow process. We would register each of our families individually, we would print off their tickets, we’d have to find their tickets in a box when they would arrive. It was slow for us, it was slow for them.

We received feedback that sometimes they would miss some parts of the program because of that slow process. So we have now changed our process for many of our sensory-friendly events. And here on this slide I have an image of our check-in sheet where we now use a Google form to register people and then we create a spreadsheet where we list the first and last names of the families, also the number of tickets they’ve requested, how many are adults, senior, youth, child. And when they come, we check their name off, we put the number of tickets picked up, it’s faster for us, it’s faster for them. We can also easily count the total number of tickets picked up and we have received feedback about how efficient this new process is. Next slide, please. Thank you.

So moving on to our sensory-friendly event maps. We create these, especially for our larger scale events like our Halloween program, our holiday nights program. This one is from our Halloween program. Early on, we were using color dots to differentiate potential sensory triggers. Like in the upper left-hand corner here, there’s a sensory map key and it shows color dots for things like loud sounds, low light, fire, fog or smoke flashing lights, smells. And we would put those dots on the map and also on the listing of activities next to the map.

But it was a very busy map and we received feedback that it was hard to figure out what the different color dots we’re referring to. So we’ve changed this, and next slide, please. We now have icons that are more representative of those potential sensory triggers like a nose for smells, a fire icon for fire, waves for water. And rather than putting them all on the map, we do put most of them with the activities that are happening along the side of the map. It’s an easier, more intuitive map to read. And we’ve received nice feedback on how helpful this map is.

Next slide, please. My last example I’ll share is of our visual schedules for our virtual programs. These help walk people through what to expect from these programs. And when we were first starting these programs, we would have just a listing of the different activities and the order that the activities were happening. This example on the left is from a virtual program two years ago and we had introductions, we had an activity called Santa says, we had a story and we would just have those descriptions of those activities. But what we have changed because we received feedback that it would be helpful to know how long each activity would likely be taking, is we now do what is shown here on the right where we list the start times, approximate start times for each activity, so six o’clock introduction, six 10 movement activity six 15 exhibit sneak peek.

And we’ve received feedback there that it’s much easier for our families to know what to expect and if they want to leave at a certain point they have much more of a sense of what’s going to happen during the program. A lot of other feedback has also been incorporated, for example, to help us determine appropriate sound and light levels for events, to help us figure out topics and themes for our programs and events throughout the year. Even things like to remind people to bring us sweater for events that are in our air-conditioned movie theater. So overall the feedback really has been significant to the success of this programming. It helps ensure that we’re meeting our audience’s needs, incorporating their interests, and we look forward to continuing to incorporate much more feedback in the years to come. So thank you.


Thank you, Caroline. And now we’ll hear from Charlotte from the Intrepid Museum.

Charlotte Martin:

Hi. So my name is Charlotte Martin. I’m the Director of Access Initiatives at the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum in New York City. And I’m presenting on behalf of myself and Linda Kennedy, who’s our VP of Education and Evaluation who also contributed to our section of the blog. Next slide. So I’ll be talking a little bit about the opportunities and challenges around accessibility on an aircraft carrier and some of the ways that we have implemented evaluation practices and are trying to make those available to others in the field as well. Just for a little bit of background, in case not familiar, the Intrepid Museum is based in New York City. It’s on a former aircraft carrier, which is pictured here, floating in the Hudson River. It’s a long gray ship, it’s about 900 feet long and you can see like bits of airplane wings and tails sticking out over the side because this was a former aircraft carrier that served in the US Navy from 1943 until 1974 and has been a museum since 1982.

We also include a submarine growler from the Cold War, British Airways Concord, and the Space Shuttle Orbiter Enterprise. And our mission is to promote the awareness and understanding of history, science, and service in order to honor our heroes, educate the public, and inspire our youth. And a big part of that is making sure that we are making that mission available to all visitors, including those with disabilities. And as you can imagine, when the Navy built Intrepid in at the start of World War II, accessibility was not a priority. It had a very specific mission, which was to bring aircraft to the Pacific Ocean, to fight against the Empire of Japan at the time and it’ll continue to serve in capacities related to that for a long time. But as a museum, we do feel it is important to make sure that we are making this museum and the stories of the over 50,000 people who served on it accessible to all visitors.

And we really see this as a great opportunity because it is an immersive place. It is a place where people can really connect to history, make connections between the experience of the people who served on the ship and their own communities. So something that we can really meet, for example, for school groups, both their academic goals around history and the history of innovation as well as social-emotional goals around what that experience might have been like and how we face challenges and things of that nature. And we also have the opportunity to be hands-on as well as immersive. Because we are a historic ship, we do need to preserve it and be careful, but it is a little bit different than an art museum or a much more delicate space. So next slide.

So if you build it, in this case, accessibility, hit next again, they may come, again, but that doesn’t mean they will come back. And that was something that we really were thinking about from the beginning of this accessibility initiative, which started, I will say I’ve been here for nine years and it has been going on for longer than that, but it started out based on the initial interests of staff and visitors. So for example, our education team realized and recognized that self-contained special education classes were coming to the museum already, but recognized that we needed to do more to make sure that we actually met their interests and goals and any needs that they might have. And so out of that came an attempt to develop ways of targeting those interests and needs in those programs. And that was through conversations with teachers while they were booking programs, finding out what specifically they needed, what they were looking for, why they were interested in coming here, and really trying to tap into those experiences that were drawing them in.

For example, the opportunity to get really up close to aircraft or even inside of some, with some of the challenges that come with that, the sounds, the noises actually right below me. I am on the shift right now, but right beneath my office is our Kamakazi experience that goes off every hour on the half hour and it’s very loud, it’s very moving, and powerful, but it can be disruptive. And so working with people interested in coming to develop that. And that also meant developing some surveys early on that we could share for people who attended these school programs, but who also started attending early versions of some of our sensory-friendly programming and access family programming as well that we were doing.

This also meant piloting programs and offering free admission even before we had full funding secured in exchange for getting detailed feedback. And that was something that was really helpful that then enabled us to pursue funding to make these programs sustainable just by taking on a little bit of financial risk early on, but really paid off with the amount of feedback we had that we could inform our future programming. Next slide.

And when we think about accessibility at this phase, we’re thinking about things like infrastructure. So how do people actually get into this steel ship? We’re thinking about exhibition design and content consideration. So whose stories are we telling and how are we telling them and making those available. We’re talking about staff training, which Heather and Danielle brought up as being really important and we’re thinking about all aspects of the visitor experience. So before people arrive, while they’re here, afterward, are they able to access things that they found out while they were here and learn more as well as online, especially more recently. And this includes specialized resources that we have available, some of which are similar to things that Caroline mentioned, like our sensory guide that we have on the website, the sensory kit we have available, the verbal description, the audio description, and tactile guide we have available for people to borrow, those resources as well as things that are built into the experience. Next.

So this means feedback at all stages. So similar to Caroline, we have had here for several years now, over 10 years, an Autism Advisory Council. This was started as part of a seed grant that went along with piloting our early morning openings for children with autism in their families. And this advisory council initially consisted of just parents of children with autism, but over the years we’ve recognized the need to actually include the voices of self-advocates, of adult self-advocates in this as well. And so we have more and more representation on the council of adults self-advocates with autism who are able to share their experiences. We also include program participant surveys for most of our programs that we have at the museum and online. And that’s been really valuable for reporting and for making adaptations to our programs and also exhibit prototyping. And so for example, in this photo, this is an installation that we have in an exhibit about the submarine.

Our submarine is very small, it’s crowded, it’s hard to get into. And so we wanted to create an exhibition on the pier that is fully accessible. And that included here a sonar interactive, which has a couple of different activities that you can do related to sonar on the submarine, which is those signals that you send out and wait for them to echo back. And so here we have two part two visitors who are doing one of these holding up audio sticks. And so we brought in veterans to test the set. We brought in older adults, we brought in members of our Autism Advisory Council, we brought in user experts who are blind or have low vision. We brought in people from the Hearing Loss Association of America to test these out. So like what others have alluded to, we worked with local networks, advocacy networks to bring folks in and test these out for us in a prototyping stage so that we could then go back and improve these for actual implementation.

Next. Oh, can go back one. So I’m going to rush through this a little bit, but I’m happy to answer questions later. But one of the big projects that we’re excited about is our making history accessible project that we’ve been doing. This was funded with support from IMLS National Leadership Grant, where we’re working to develop a toolkit for sensory interpretation, and that’s targeted for historic sites, but hopefully relevant to more than that. And so with this, we worked with the New York NYU Ability Project to bring together historic sites from around the country as well as disability advocates who were involved at all stages of the process. So at an initial convening to identify some of the biggest challenges and opportunities that we wanted to work on. And then actually consulting with NYU Ability Project students and the Intrepid museum exhibits team to develop prototypes.

And so giving feedback at all stages as well as during when we were fully closed, we also focused on making our accessible mobile guide that you use on your own device that we worked with and did some early user testing with screenwriter users and others and then additional testing later throughout the process. But when we were able to actually get back together and work on these prototypes, we put together an exhibition which is photographed here, which showed some of the prototypes that people, the students, and our exhibits team had developed. And in addition to the advocates that we already had throughout, we again invited specific disabled user experts to come in and provide additional feedback. We gave out surveys, we did observations of people in the exhibit. And this was really helpful for informing changes that we could make while the exhibit was actually up so that we could see how that changed over time, as well as changes that we could then suggest to the historic sites around the country when they were going to implement their own versions of these prototypes in their museums.

So for example, for the tactile stove, it was a touchable version of a stove at one of our site’s houses, a bunch of our other people who came in asked if we could actually have a model available as well so they could get a better context for the parts of it that were recreated. And then I will say that it was really important for us to consult with others who’ve done this work before. So Ashley Grady at Access Smithsonian was really helpful in giving advice on how to conduct accessible interviews, making sure that we were giving people opportunities to communicate in the ways that work best for them as well. And then last slide, and this is just to say some of what we’re looking ahead of doing, so we are working to make sure that we are able to compensate advisors. So for Autism Advisory Council, we used to offer family membership in exchange for participating.

We would [inaudible 00:43:07] to attending three of the four meetings that we would have during the year and at least one program. But we now are able to compensate for meeting attendance to help cover cost of childcare, travel, and also acknowledge their time and expertise. And we are going to be bringing in more advisors early on for some upcoming projects such as future exhibitions that we’re developing and the like. And we’re able to offer some compensation for our website. We are going to be working with the Institute for Human-Centered Design to ensure that the new website that we’re developing is accessible. We’re also trying to weave in accessibility into more of our public programming, not just specialized programming, which has been really important to us.

And then we’re also trying to implement what we’ve learned into our own exhibitions and infrastructure efforts. So for example, we’re a temporary exhibition that we have now about On The Mend, Restoring Intrepid’s Sick Bay. We’ve included incorporated a tactile map with braille. We worked really closely with the vendor to make sure that it was readable braille and readable raised lines. We’ve tried to implement tactile object, tucked objects that are a little bit out of the ordinary, so it is a special opportunity for them to handle, but in a safe manner and building and verbal description, audio description of sailor art that we have there as well. So excited to continue implementing this throughout all stages. Thank you.

Alyssa Carr:

Hi, my name is Alyssa Carr. I’m with The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. We have a lot of access programs at The Nelson Atkins, but I wanted to specifically focus on the deaf culture project that we have. And what was great about this project was that we were really evaluation heavy from the very beginning. So we were able to build that in as we went. So we can go in the next line. And I wanted to focus a little bit more on this sign that we have. We were able to work with partners and come up with a specific sign for The Nelson Atkins. So this is the lawn with your right hand and your left-hand makes a shadow clock because we are known in our community for our giant Claes Oldenburg shadow clock statues on our lawn. So we can go to the next slide.

So for the deaf culture project, we really began engaging our community partners in 2015 with a cultural festival centered around deaf culture. And this is part of our offerings that we have throughout the year where we have other cultural festivals throughout the year. And so we began that in 2015 and then applied for an IMLS grant in 2017. And we’re able to send that in with letters of support from our partners. And so you can see some of our partners here. We can go to the next slide. So I wanted to talk a little bit more about how we accomplish these goals that I have listed here. And I’m not going to talk through the goals, but we began with focus groups of our community members and educators. And this is again, was how we built evaluation in from the very beginning.

And so when we did our focus groups at the very beginning, and I’ve noticed a few people asking about compensation for things like this, we did a hundred dollars per person and then also gave them dinner. So when we did our focus groups, we were able to revise our plans based off of those focus groups. And so we changed some of the things that we did. And so one of the things that we had originally planned was to do some more activities outside of the deaf culture festival. However, we heard back from our partners and from participants that was really important to them. And so we were able to readjust and make sure that there were resources put into the festival planning. And then I also wanted to highlight Lucy Crabtree here, who is a wonderful person and a wonderful human. And she was our project coordinator that we were able to hire through the IMLS grant and she was able to also represent the deaf and hard of hearing communities. And here she’s doing some ASL tours.

So we go to the next slide. Some of the projects that we did because of this grant were to really create some audio and video guides that we put onto our Smartify app. And so Smartify is just an app that you’re able to access through your own smartphone. And we were able to hire actors who are deaf or hard of hearing to be able to put life to some of our more famous paintings and some of our galleries to create a truly immersive experience. And then one of the other things that we did at the bottom here, you can see we use real-time captioning. This is sometimes called CART. It can be a bit of a mouthful, it’s Communication Access Realtime Translation. And basically, that’s exactly what we have right now where we have the captions across the bottom, but with CART, somebody is listening in live and typing things out as they go.

So it’s really great to be able to have that live person there. And then one of the other things that we did was start a ASL Teacher Advisory Board. And then we also had an ASL teacher who came in and conducted monthly ASL tours. So we can go to the next slide. So project outcomes, I really wanted to focus here a little bit about, we clearly had challenges. COVID-19 threw a wrench, I think, into everybody’s plans for everything. And this IMLS grant, Covid was right in the middle of it. And because of that, we had a reduction in force. And then our project coordinator role was not renewed. That was always something that was intended to end at the end of the grant. However, it’s important to acknowledge how that feels for community partners and make sure that we are addressing their concerns in that way.

So a lot of this project I really want to emphasize was really just about feedback, feedback throughout the entire project. I would go out to the partner sites and provide them with some of the data that we were collecting via surveys or maybe the focus groups. And then we would revise plans based on that participatory analysis that we did. And so it was really important to have that ongoing dialogue throughout. So some of the things that supported our partnerships was having that continuous feedback, but also building upon those partnerships that we already had. And so some of you, I’ve heard questions before, you might ask why focus on this specific community as opposed to other communities? And I think it’s specific for each museum, but this was a community that we had already engaged with really deeply.

And so this was a continuation of that work that we had already started. And then another thing was building internal capacity. So we had some trainings that all of our staff did around etiquette for deaf and hard of hearing communities, but also access in general. And so those were really helpful to push the needle, I think. And then I think I’ve already said this, but we established those processes from the beginning to make sure that evaluation and feedback was really highlighted throughout. So we can go to the next slide.

And this is the last one. I just have a few tips here for evaluation with deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences. Something that was really important for me when conducting surveys was to have some printed materials. And of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, so you may have some that would apply here as well, but having printed materials, a paper in a pencil available for writing notes back and forth, and then building in resources for captioning and hiring interpreters was extremely important, especially when you’re thinking about focus groups and having conversations.

A lot of times the captioners need a little bit of time to catch up. And so it’s not going to be an automatic, I say the words, we have to wait a few moments for the captions to catch up, and the same with the interpreters to be able to catch up. And so you just have to build in a little bit of extra time then you would originally. I think that our focus groups were intended to be an hour long. We extended them to an hour and a half each so that we could capture that. And I think that’s it. I’m going to hand it back over.


Thank you all for sharing your experiences and those case studies and to think about centering the disability experience. At this point, I’d like to open up for questions. I think we have time for one or two. If anyone that has joined in our audience would like to unmute themselves and ask a question, please go ahead and do so.

Go ahead, Daniel.


Yeah, one thing that I just wonder if any of you all have some experience on it. I know that a lot of museums develop various apps to use to assist visitors in various areas of accessibility. Anybody found a good resource to help in the development of an app?

Alyssa Carr:

I think that’s a great question. I’m not able to answer that completely, but we do use the Smartify app that’s already developed, but we were able to use that to be able to film ASL videos and put them out to our audiences.

Charlotte Martin:

This is Charlotte. We developed not an app, but a mobile guide for the museum that is available you can access on your own device. We chose not to do an app because it’d be a little bit easier for us to update ourselves and we didn’t want to have a barrier to people downloading the app. And so I’ll put a link to it in the chat, which I just did. But this is something we developed in WordPress and it’s something that we can easily update ourselves and we’re planning to actually add a bunch of new stops soon. But trying to integrate things like descriptions into the whole process, into every stop and just weaving in content that we had in a bunch of different areas, like our audio guide, our labels, and our tactile guide all into one space as well. So you’re welcome to take a look at that and I’m happy to answer any follow-up questions you might have about the process. I’ll put my email address in the chat as well.


And will the chat be emailed? Will that somehow be saved and emailed to us or available?


Hi. Anyone that would like to go ahead and save the chat on their own, this would be a great time to do that. I’ve also want to let everyone know that the session is being recorded. The webinar recording will be uploaded to AAM’s YouTube channel. It normally takes us about three to six weeks to make sure that we have a chance to review the captions and the transcript to go along with it, but it will be posted up there in case you’d like to check it out later or share it with colleagues.

I do know that we have a couple extra questions that are in the chat and I want to acknowledge that it is one o’clock and be respectful of everyone’s time. If we’ll go through the chat and make sure to follow up with folks who ask questions there. To our presenters, if you would be willing to receive additional questions if folks have them if you could just drop your email address in the chat. I think some of you have already done that so that folks can reach out to you directly as well.

Now with that, I want to thank everybody for joining us today. So great to see everyone’s faces and learn with you together. We hope to see you at a future therapy session and I hope everyone has a great rest of their day. Thank you.

Danielle Schulz:

Thanks, everyone.

AAM Member-Only Content

AAM Members get exclusive access to premium digital content including:

  • Featured articles from Museum magazine
  • Access to more than 1,500 resource listings from the Resource Center
  • Tools, reports, and templates for equipping your work in museums
Log In

We're Sorry

Your current membership level does not allow you to access this content.

Upgrade Your Membership

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Field Notes!

Packed with stories and insights for museum people, Field Notes is delivered to your inbox every Monday. Once you've completed the form below, confirm your subscription in the email sent to you.

If you are a current AAM member, please sign-up using the email address associated with your account.

Are you a museum professional?

Are you a current AAM member?

Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription, and please add to your safe sender list.