This is a recorded session from the 2023 AAM Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo. How do we ensure that our accessibility efforts are all-encompassing and more than a one-off event? Creating an institutionalized culture of accessibility might feel like an overwhelming task, but it is one that is necessary and rewarding for all. This session will showcase how small steps can increase accessibility efforts and lead to a sustainable culture of access.
Thank you everyone for joining us. We appreciate you taking the time so early in the morning.
Today we are here to discuss accessibility journeys from one-off events to creating a culture of accessibility. When we talk about accessibility in this conversation, we are specifically talking about accessibility for the disability community.
My name is Lally and I am one of the co-founders of InfiniTeach. We are a small consulting and technology company based out of Chicago and we partner with nonprofits and businesses in tourism, healthcare, education, who are all committed to access and inclusion, particularly for the neurodiverse community.
Everybody on this panel is actually one of our many cultural institution partners. What we do for our cultural institution partners is we develop mobile apps as well as website support that welcome, support, and engage visitors who identify as being part of the neurodiverse community.
On the top right are two screenshots of what some of the features and our technology looks like. It includes social stories that are broken down by exhibits as well as learning topics. We also have visual schedules.
At the bottom are all of our partners up here. They’re apps with us. So we have NMMA For All, Access HMNS, MPN All In, and MPA For All.
Each of the panels are going to take their time to introduce themselves, tell you a little bit about their organization, and where they are in regards to their access journey.
Good morning everybody. Thank you for showing up so early. This is great to see this.
My name is Dawn Koceja. I go by she, her pronouns. I am the community engagement and advocacy officer at the Milwaukee Public Museum. I oversee our idea department. If you are doing DEI work and you don’t have the A attached to it, I challenge you to do so. A, for accessibility.
I report directly to our vice president. We serve about 500,000 people annually at our museum with a staff of 140 employees. I hold certifications as an ADA coordinator, a diversity practitioner, and an LGTBQ+ ally. Sorry about that.
I have worked in the museum field for almost 17 years, starting in the education department. Accessibility has been a focus at MPM for the last 15 years and in my journey through access, I’ve held four different job titles. This work is ever-changing, ever evolving, and there’s just so many opportunities to grow.
Thankfully I had strong support from my leadership since the very beginning. I was fortunate enough to be able to take the top down approach to addressing accessibility at my organization. I worked first to train our leadership and our board. Then I did an in-depth training for our managers and directors and then for frontline and other staff. That was very, very successful for what we were trying to do.
Currently, I’m proud to share that accessibility is considered across all departments in our museum and embedded into everything that our museum does. I’m very fortunate because I know a lot of you in the audience don’t have that support right now, but keep working at it. Keep fighting, keep advocating, and you will get there.
We are a union represented museum and accessibility awareness training is offered as part of all of our staff orientation for new hires and that is really critical as well. Everybody needs to know what services you have available, what opportunities, who to go to for questions, and all of those things. It’s really important that I spend about an hour with every new employee doing accessibility training.
In this photo you can see our new museum. We are going to be breaking ground next year and will open in 2026. I serve on the core design committee guaranteeing that our space will be completely accessible.
This is a challenge. A very exciting challenge. I spent a lot of time talking with architects and exhibit designers and they are really open to all of my suggestions and ideas, which I’m very happy about. It’s a very, very big task.
Hi. My name is Barbara Engelskirchen. I am the chief development officer at the National Museum of Mexican Art and we are a very different organization.
We’re a small museum on the near southwest side of Chicago in a neighborhood called Pilsen. Since opening our doors in 1987, we’ve grown from a one gallery museum with 900 pieces in our permanent collection to a 48,000 square foot museum with four galleries, a performing art space, an art studio, and a 20,000 object permanent collection.
Every year we mount six temporary exhibitions in addition to offering our anchor permanent collection exhibition [Spanish 00:05:25] stories of Mexican identity from the permanent collection.
We also present a performing arts festival and reach 52,000 young people each year with arts education, onsite in public schools like Chicago Public Schools, and at a satellite location from which we host our Yollocalli Arts Program, which is for teenagers, for teens, young people.
Where are we in this journey? Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Museum of Mexican Art had barely dipped a toe into accessibility. The museum facility is physically accessible throughout, but prior to that we focused most of our time and energy on the type of accessibility we aren’t talking about today. Socioeconomic accessibility, et cetera.
A year before the pandemic, one of our fellows came in and pushed for accessibility for people who are blind or with low vision, but when she left the work stopped. Like I said, we’re in a very early part of the journey. It’s a start and stop kind of place. Hopefully we’re not stopping anymore.
During the pandemic, we were introduced to InfiniTeach and a lot change. We’re still in the beginning phases of that journey, but we’re making some really good solid steps and really excited to be in that place.
Hi everybody. I’m Matti Wallin. I’m from the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I’m the accessibility programs manager there under the education department and I report to the VP of education.
We have about two million visitors across all three of our campuses. We have the main campus, which is pictured on the slide here. We lovingly refer to it as our Frankenstein building because it was built over many decades and is a little bit confusing to navigate. We also have a George Observatory and our Sugarland location, which is a smaller version of the main location.
We have about 400 employees. Some of them are seasonal, but it’s a pretty large institution as you can tell. There’s about five levels of exhibit space and we cover all sorts of topics. We have permanent halls, special exhibitions made in-house and brought in externally.
My access journey started when myself and two colleagues at the museum approached our supervisors in 2015 and wanted to have additional accessibility resources for guests with disabilities. Basically my supervisor and my coworkers supervisors put us together and said, “Great. You guys are passionate about this. Make it go. You still have your full-time jobs and no budget.”
Started there. We’ve moved past that. Obviously I have the accessibility programs manager role now, which is great and I do have a little bit of a budget to work with. Right now, yeah, we’re working towards a larger culture of access, which is what we’re talking about today.
We’re getting buy-in from all departments and everybody’s considering accessibility now, but it’s just working towards more empathy. I saw empathy on someone’s sticky note and that is something we’re really working towards getting everybody on the same page about through training and community partnerships.
Hi. I’m Leigh Dale. I’m the coordinator for family programs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is a huge institution.
In addition to our main building, which is pictured here. There is an additional building with gallery space across the street that’s been closed since the pandemic, and three historic houses which have been closed since the pandemic, and the Rodin Museum, which is a little further down the parkway from our main building here. It’s about 200 galleries or so.
My role at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is not necessarily an accessibility focused role. I work with the family programs. A lot of what I’m doing are family tours, and drop in art making for kids and families, art kid classes, toddler classes, preschool visits.
I would say accessibility initiatives are maybe 10 to 15% of my responsibilities, but something that we’ve been talking about a lot as a group is that if accessibility is an institution-wide initiative, if everyone was thinking about this like 10% of their job, then it would be a really different organization.
The accessibility journey of this museum, there have been lots of great programs throughout the years, many which before I was hired. There was at one point an ADA coordinator position, but now that role has been vacant for about five years. With a lot of staff changes, some of the relationships and initiatives that have been started were discontinued and haven’t been picked up again.
I am seeing a head nod, which makes me feel like I’m maybe not alone in that with staff changes and things sort of getting forgotten or deprioritized.
We do currently have one part-time coordinator of accessible programs and she is really thoughtful and does a handful of really specific programs wonderfully, but because of her status as part-time, I don’t think she has the institutional reach that we all wish she did.
I’m happy to speak a little more about what a person who is not considered an expert in the field can take as sort of a first step in at least starting something as an accessibility initiative.
Thank you for those wonderful introductions.
Just to give us a little bit of context before we dive a little bit deeper, we wanted to talk about what is access at a museum particularly access for individuals with disabilities? Is when we try to remove barriers and add supports that enable visitors to engage and fully experience a museum.
When we talk about accessibility as a culture in your institution, that’s referring to a mindset, attitude, set of practices that really try to prioritize and promote inclusion of individuals with disabilities.
This means that it’s really considered a fundamental aspect of all types of designs when it comes to exhibit spaces, all of your physical spaces, digital content, communication, outreach, staff training, and so much more.
As many know that can take a while and can be very challenging for an institution to put in place. A reason for that is that accessibility is truly a journey and it’s about creating and building on initiatives, but this is not a linear journey.
So often as some of our panel has shared a staff leaves and that program or initiative discontinues. There are so many barriers and challenges when it comes to creating a culture of access. What we wanted to do here today was examine some of those common barriers and hopefully provide some solutions for you.
I have extra larger post-it notes if you’d like to write down some of these, but I know that most of you I can see already have notebooks. We’re hopeful that we can provide some potential solutions for you all today.
Dawn, let’s get this topic started or this conversation started with a topic that I think can be very overwhelming for organizations, but is incredibly important.
When it comes to physical spaces, where can an organization start when thinking about trying to make those spaces more accessible?
Yeah and I see a lot of questions about physical space and that thing. I’m going to go a little quick through my information because I want to make sure that we have enough time to address those questions.
Before you design accessible programming, it’s really important that you assess your space first. If you are opening your doors to welcome people with disabilities, you should really ensure that they don’t experience any barriers to get to that program or that experience. That is really important.
These could be knowing where accessible entrances are located, removing any physical barriers that could impede traffic flow, and provide wide paths of travel. Making sure also that your staff is prepared to welcome this audience. Staff training is so critical to the success of your programming. Doing accessibility audit of your space can help your programs really succeed.
The purpose of the ADA is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else, equal access for all. I train museums around the country on accessibility and that is the one thing I hope you take away is that note of equal access for all, and that’s really important.
The ADA is divided into five different titles or sections that relate to different parts of public life. You really need to know which title of the ADA your organization falls under. For example, if you are a federally based organization, you are a Title II organization and you have a much higher bar of expectations to follow.
If you’re a privately owned organization, you’re a Title III and you fall under the same guidelines as malls, stores, movie theaters, those kind of spaces. It’s really important that which title your organization falls under.
Knowledge and understanding of the ADA laws are essential for preparing for your audit. Community resources such as the ada.gov website that’s up on the corner that’s going to be your best friend.
If you have a question or you need some background information related to the law, you can go to this website and they have a search engine. You can type in for instance, if you have a question about service animals. You could type in service animals and the law will come up and it’ll give you all the information that you need. That’s really important.
You should also have one person on staff that is dedicated and certified in the knowledge of the ADA if possible. The University of Missouri has the ADA Certificate Program. It’s a quite easy program really and it’s very affordable. It’s like $300 I think to get the certification and then you have to attend their conference.
The conference is a little expensive, but it gives you all the things that you need. I have been a certified ADA coordinator for 15 years and it really has helped me succeed and get us to where we are in our journey because I have the law behind me and the knowledge of the law. So not many people challenge me.
You should also have one person that they can go to for responses. Oftentimes people have questions, or complaints, or inquiries about ADA related issues and it’s important that you get one person who can answer those accurately and appropriately.
For one example I’ll give you, many years ago there was a museum that was open and it was a rainy, yucky day. The day that everybody goes to a museum and a family walked in and they had a daughter who uses a wheelchair. In this particular museum their welcome counter was staffed by volunteers and the volunteers stopped them and said, “Oh, excuse me, you can’t come into the museum today.” The family was like, “Well, why? Are you closed?” They’re like, “No. Your daughter’s wheelchair wheels will get our carpets dirty.” This actually happened.
This family was so mortified that they took it upon themselves to use this as an opportunity to spread awareness. They were on the Today Show, Good Morning America, they hit the circuit and boy, that museum had a lot of issues that could have been totally avoided if that volunteer was trained appropriately. Thinking about that, that’s critical.
When people have lawsuits or complaints, the Department of Justice is the organization that oversees accessibility issues and that can be very stressful for your organization to go through. Nobody wants that kind of press, right?
Once you become aware of the laws, you should understand that there are a few ways that you can avoid costly projects and I saw this in some of the notes.
We have a theater space that’s just a long steep down ramp to seats and a stage and it has zero accessible seating. My building was built in the 1950s. It’s an accessibility nightmare. I’m so excited we’re building a new museum, but in the space, in my audit I realized, wow, this is not accessible.
I got some quotes from contractors. I found it would take over $60,000 to make that space accessible and for us, looking at our financials, it fell under as an undue financial burden for us. Things like historical sites that don’t have elevators, that is part of the law that supports you. You don’t by law have to make all these accommodations if they’re an undue financial burden or if they fundamentally alter the program, the experience, or the space. We can talk more about that offline if you have questions about that.
If you can’t change your spaces, you really need to focus on accommodations. Things like this app is really helpful because my museum is so inaccessible and just a nightmare. Families can go and teachers and aides, teacher aides, can go on the app and see social stories about each of our spaces and can prepare for the loud noises, the change in floor textures, different spaces like that. It’s really beneficial to really focus on accommodations when you can’t change your spaces.
When you’re doing programming, be sure to think about access at the very, very beginning, not as an afterthought and if you get in this practice, it’ll make your life a lot easier.
Following universal design principles are really helpful to create inclusive experiences. I could do a whole session on universal design. I just have the seven principles listed here. Equitable use, flexibility and use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, size and space for approach and use.
By embedding these principles into your program design, you can catch barriers and address them ahead of time before people come and complain because that’s what we want to avoid. Ultimately we want to be inclusive by providing access for all and this is the foundation of really designing and your programs to be accessible.
Barb, the financial barrier can be an issue for so many organizations. What are some things that people should consider when they need funding for certain accessibility programs?
Sure, thank you.
The first, this is an assortment of ideas, concepts and it’s really just a starting point. The first bullet is seek out funding along with an experienced partner.
Working with InfiniTeach has made a world of difference for the team that works on accessibility in the museum.
InfiniTeach teach came to us with the knowledge that we needed to get our programming started. There are a number of organizations you can partner with and we also partner with an organization called Prime Access Consulting. They have the knowledge that we don’t have right now. It’s not practical for an organization to hire someone with all the accessibility information they need at the beginning. Instead, you can rely on a partner to help you.
A good partner from the development standpoint. A good partner will have goals that mesh with yours and will be able to contribute to the fundraising process. When you work with someone, you have a partner in the grant writing process as well in the fundraising. They have done this with other organizations. They have helped raise funds for other organizations. They can do the same for you.
Talk to your development person. Are there any development people in here?
Whether your organization has a development team or a person who wears the development hat among other hats, and there are a lot of organizations that do that, talk to them early and often.
I’m from Chicago, we have reputation for voting early and often I’m just suggesting that you talk to your development team or person early and often. Understand that development doesn’t have a money tree, but you have to plan ahead and give the development people enough time to look for funding.
Some grants, for example, have one deadline per year and a decision from those sources could take up to nine months. If you happen to decide that you want to get funding from that organization and it’s the day after your deadline, then it could be a year to a year and a half before you have another opportunity. Plan ahead.
Also talk to development about what they need to submit a proposal to get yourself on the right track right away. It’s not rocket science. They’ll need a clear plan, some goals, a budget just to name a few of the things. If you don’t know where to start, see bullet number one, seek out a knowledgeable partner.
Next, begin with a manageable project then build on accomplishments. I mentioned earlier we’re a small organization and as opposed to some of the other organizations here. If you’re new to accessibility, start small.
We started with the InfiniTeach app as the museum’s education team started training with Lally and her team. They understood that working with children with autism was something they could do and wanted to expand on.
Consider a modular project that can start small and scale up by adding different parts, like more training, more programming, and build on small successes that will help you get more funding.
Look beyond your usual funders. If you’re talking to your development team, you’ve got a plan, even if it’s a small one. What next? Development people, there’s none in here, but this is for you. Look at organizations from regional foundations to foundations with a cause and federal organizations. There is a desire to support accessibility.
MNA’s partnership with InfiniTeach started with an audacious attempt to receive a large grant. At least that was large for us from a new funder to support this work. We didn’t get that grant unfortunately, but we’d done all the homework, we’d done all the proposal work, and that pushed us forward to seek other funding for this work. We pieced together all of that and got additional funding to do the work that or some of the work we needed to do.
For the development people out there, do your research, introduce yourself to new funders, and don’t forget to your usual funders. Talk to them about what you want to do. Especially if it’s something new. Many of them want to support accessibility work.
There is a funder that I can think of in Chicago that rarely funds us because they’ve been funding us for a while. We’re not doing new things, but when we suggested that they fund this project, they were all about it and we got support from them. It was something that was out of our comfort zone, something different.
A couple of things ensure that you have support from leadership as well as people from the frontlines. Prepare a case for your organization’s leadership help them understand why it’s important. For the National Museum of Mexican Art. We work with an underserved community and especially when it comes to accessibility, and we needed to be there to provide the services they need. That wasn’t a hard thing to convince our leadership to do.
The training mentioned above and mentioned by Dawn is another thing that will help build support among people on the frontlines. However, we found that our staff wants to be involved in accessibility work and doesn’t need that much encouraging.
Finally, get creative. Work with individual donors, auxiliary boards, board of trustees. Find someone to help you get the ball rolling. Someone who has a connection to accessibility and who will really want to help out.
When we think about sustainable resources, I think it’s important that we think about community resources. Museums know how important it is to listen to the community.
Matti, can you talk a little bit about the importance of how and why you work with community organizations when it comes to implementing accessibility programs?
I really like to think of community partnerships as sustainable resources because they can provide training of all sorts. If you don’t have the staff or manpower to do that yourself, community partners can help you with that. They can also create a larger culture of access by advocating for the programs that you’re working with.
When I first started doing accessibility work, I partnered with this autism organization and the head of the organization was like, “Who do I need to talk to? Send me to your president.” She was ready to go. You can have real advocates in the community for the work that you are trying to do.
The first step in kind of creating those partnerships because you might be thinking that sounds really vague, where do I start? How do I do this? Is identify who in your community might be able to help you. I’m just going to spit out some ideas that worked for us that might resonate with you all and give some short stories about them.
We started internally, so we thought about who within the museum and can connected to the museum can we reach out to who can help us move further in our culture of access? That initially started when we were focusing on sensory friendly programming and programming for people with autism in general.
We reached out to board members and we had a couple board members who had children with disabilities and so they connected us with local nonprofits who helped us along the way.
We also had an all staff meeting when we initially came up with our idea for sensory friendly programming. We had laid it all out and we presented it in an all staff meeting and so many staff members came up afterwards, kind of like what Barb was saying. They were ready to go, they wanted to support the initiative, they wanted to be there for us. Those were people already in the building and we already had access to them. So that was great.
Another way we connected with the community was looking at our programming. I’m based in the education department and we do scout programs and we connected with a longtime scout attendee named, Alex. He has autism himself and he kind of approached us and was like, “Hey, I could really benefit from some resources at the museum. Can I do this for my Eagle Scout Project?”
He fundraised and donated 25 I believe sensory friendly backpacks for the museum. Gave them to us to use for guests and that kind of snowballed in to other connections. It actually brought some awareness inside the museum and then we also had some people reaching out to do stories about his Eagle Scout Project. So other people in the community became more aware that we were starting these accessibility initiatives and that connected us to additional partners.
Fun fact, Alex is now a full-time employee at the museum. So he always gives tons of feedback, which is super helpful.
The next thing you want to think about is external partners, I would say. The museum has connected with schools and universities in the area. Some things you might think about are potential engineering classes that can help you with 3D printed items for programming with the blind community. Also, in Houston we have some ASL interpretation programming at U of H and they always like to practice.
So that’s great to have free interpretation for guests as long as you make them aware that it’s not a certified interpreter, but they can do free interpretation and then the students get that practice. That was a really good option in Houston that you might look into in your areas.
Next hospital and health organizations are great to look into that serve the community with disabilities. We’ve connected with Texas Children’s Hospital and we have robots come to the museum with iPad faces and they’ll create access for kids in the hospital who can’t come in person. That’s been a really great partnership.
We’ve also partnered with a research organization that they come out on our sensory friendly days and host a booth and then they actually gave us funding for the InfiniTeach app, which has been really great for that community.
Then just real fast, some other ideas. Our local support groups for parents. You can connect with them on Facebook, which is easy to do. Service dog training groups will come out and do free trainings for your staff and then that also gives them the option to, if they’re training younger service dogs, they get to socialize in your institution, which is awesome.
Thinking about connecting with the National Federation of the Blind Chapter in your area is always a great idea. Government organizations like in Houston, the mayor’s office for People With Disabilities came out and did free onsite reviews of the building and of our programming.
The Alzheimer’s Association in your area is a great option in Houston. The group there has kind of a pre-packaged program model for people with memory loss that we’re working towards implementing at the science museum.
Then don’t reinvent the wheel always connect with your colleagues. I have found in working with this work, everyone is more than willing to share their training materials, their advice, and it’s helpful to lean on people and know that we’re all in the same boat with the same struggles.
The second piece of the puzzle is once you connect with all these groups, you want to make sure your relationships with them are authentic. You don’t just want to get feedback or the free training and then let the relationship end. Support them like they support you. Show up for them and if it’s a one time situation, something like free comps for your museum, passes to come visit the museum are a great option.
You can also think about donating or hosting a vendor booth at events that they put on as well. That’s always really helpful to the community. I get a lot of requests for that and it’s an easy thing to do and then it raises awareness for your museum as well.
The last thing I want to talk about is representing the community well within your institution. Through all these connections I’ve made, we partnered with the Texas Workforce Commission and Vocational Rehabilitation Services and they have job training programs for young adults with disabilities entering the workforce.
We participate in that program and it’s a summer program. The kids come to the museum, they get to work with us, get experience, and then get paid through Texas Workforce Commission and then we have the option to hire them, which we have hired a lot of them because they’re wonderful. That really is a great way to have the community represented in your institution.
We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from employees with disabilities because they’re there every day. They see all sorts of programming going on, they give great feedback. That’s a really great sustainable resource to creating a larger culture of access and empathy because your colleagues who don’t have disabilities work with colleagues with disabilities more often.
We’ve had young kids come into the museum and express excitement that they see themselves represented in a staff member there, which has been really touching. So just keep community partnerships as an idea for a sustainable resource to continue your culture of access.
While we do know it’s so important and we want all institutions to implement a culture of access, we also know that you realistically have to get started somewhere.
Leigh, do you mind sharing your story of how others can lead from their position to get started on an access program or initiative?
Before I entered museums, I was a teaching assistant at Perkins School for the Blind. I had a little bit of exposure to special education and as I was sometimes a chaperone for school trips to museums, I occasionally got to see some accessible programs in museums in the Boston area at the time.
I had an awareness of what was going on and then when I started my role at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I felt like having seen that this exists, I could at least dip my toe in the water within my limited scope of family programs.
Talking a little bit about leading from where you are. Knowing that I might not be a leader within the institution, I think it’s important to identify some areas where you can make change or some areas that you’d feel like you might have a little bit of control.
I felt comfortable starting a family program that had an eye toward the audiences of families who had a child on the autism spectrum or who had sensory sensitivities. As folks have mentioned, neighboring institutions are great to connect with and ask what they’re doing. I’m in touch with some other organizations in Philly and we have a shared calendar so that we’re not all offering our sensory friendly program on the same day.
We don’t want to be competing for a same small audience and we send out a shared postcard with upcoming dates. Since a family who might be interested in my sensory friendly program would probably be curious to know that there’s also a relaxed performance at the ballet, things like that.
One of the other things we mentioned was talking through spaces. Again, my building is enormous with something like 200 galleries, but I do feel like I have control over some spaces. Our programs activate two classroom spaces where I feel like I can control the lights, and the sound, and make it a sort of more comfortable low sensory zone. Then we also activate just two out of our 200 galleries and set up activities there. It does mean hiring security for early morning hours, but I can afford that for two galleries rather than 200.
Yeah, so it’s worth it to sort of think of these as bite-sized steps and taking a first step.
Other things I consider in planning spaces are which galleries are going to be closest to the elevator, and the restrooms, and some of those really simple thinking through what the visitor experience would actually look like.
Our third point was funding for the program. I think considering ripple effects and snowballing that we’ve heard often if we secure funding for one project, it’s getting some attention and could lead to other projects. In our case, we had some level of institutional buy-in when we were working with Lally and InfiniTeach to create the app, PMA For All.
With that same funding, we were asked to put together sensory kits, which I think a lot of cultural organizations have, but having those available for any visitors to drop in at any time and use. I think just sort of heightens visibility and heightens awareness of something that we can do. It is a manageable first step.
I love that Matti spoke so much about partners for sustainability. I think especially when we were first piloting our sensory friendly morning, it was especially crucial to be partnering with other folks and sort of create a community advisory board. We were speaking with parents who had children on the autism spectrum and some adults who were self-advocates and had autism, but also folks who did sensory friendly programs at neighboring institutions.
We worked with Roger Addessi, who at the time was at Temple University and now I think he’s at GW in DC, but he coordinates a lot of accessible programming for cultural institutions. Also, we were working with Lauren Stitcher at Moore College of Art who puts together a conference on disability studies, arts, and education. Continue to work with the occupational therapy program at Jefferson University.
Our sensory friendly programs have volunteers from that graduate program on site. It’s really useful to have professionals in the field to help us plan and give us some feedback as we’re planning, but also be there to engage in conversations with parents who might be having particular questions or particular experiences and want to speak with OTs or OT students.
An additional partner that we have in our community is something called Art-Reach. We learned that Art-Reach has offices in a few different cities throughout the country, so see if your city has one. They do a myriad of different things, but for us, we most closely work with them to do some staff training.
Again, because I’m family programs, I don’t have much say in a wider staff training for all the employees at the museum, but I do hire about 10 part-time seasonal workers to join us for family programs. I hire about 10 every summer and about 10 more to work the school year.
We’ll do a little two-day orientation and part of that is like a disability etiquette 101 essentially from a professional at Art-Reach. I think it’s helpful to just sort of embed that into what control I feel like I do have over a new staff’s introduction to our museum.
Our last point was planning and executing an event and following up on program. I think it’s really useful to be continuously collecting information from your participants, reevaluating what tweaks need to be made. We’ve gone through a lot of iterations of our program. We do have a director of audience research who has worked with us to create a survey. I recommend being open to continuously changing and evolving.
At this time we’d like to open up to questions. I can also walk over here and read some of the barriers or questions that people had. First, I’d like to open it up to the floor if anybody has a specific question or a general question.
In terms of senior leadership. I’m curious advice [inaudible 00:42:58] otherwise around senior leaders help and support these efforts. They don’t [inaudible 00:43:06], they don’t actually listen to any advice. I’m not having [inaudible 00:43:11] to do with funding. You’re giving everything else, but they’re not actually talking about it.
Yeah, leadership is extremely busy. They don’t have time for these programs. They have no idea what’s going on in inside their building, right?
For me, leadership was aware of what I was doing, but I sought out press because they love good press. Then I made some relationships with some really substantial funders who really appreciated that work we were doing.
Then I made sure that I went outside of our walls and was getting recognition outside of our walls. Getting awards for our programming, getting awards as emerging leader, putting myself out there as that professional in that organization got their attention and put value into the work that I was doing.
Yes, right here.
We do a fairly decent job around physical access to our space. Our PCU is part of the city structure and recently the city has made a mandate for everyone needs accessible language on the website, which has been really helpful in terms of writing for gallery labels and I’m kind of getting some buy-in to that.
Explaining what being accessible to a neurodiverse audiences is more challenging. I would say from our broader staff and around program planning.
Do you guys have resources, or meeting, or training, or train to help introduce other staff members in that area of accessibility?
Yeah. We do have some online training that’s available for staff that’s really helpful and geared towards museums and other cultural institutions. I’m happy to follow up with you afterwards.
When you are starting and you’re picking one program, I’m all about let’s do something that’s successful and then you can build upon that. How do you choose which program to start or which accessibility area you’re going to focus on? Do you look at the community? Do you look at what’s easiest within the building? How do you actually choose exactly which program to start with?
I have kind of a weird answer to that, but yeah, I was mostly, if you remember, this initiative at the science museum started when I had a separate full-time position. It was mainly based on staff time and we looked at what resources within the building we could control. What we could create internally. That started with sensory friendly programming.
Things like visual vocabulary cards, exploration planner, and a sensory guide. Myself and my two colleagues were able to do a lot of research, create those on our own, just documents, and then have the community come and evaluate them and give us feedback.
That’s when we brought the community in after that point, but that was a starting point for us because it was what we could easily manage with staff time and I know that’s an issue for a lot of us.
Yeah, that’s my answer. Yeah.
I’ll add that sometimes it is based on opportunities. When do you have an opportunity to receive funding to support it or do you have someone in particular who’s interested in spearheading it?
We’re a small organization. For us it was pretty opportunistic in figuring out where to start.
I was wondering if you could speak a little bit more on bringing frontline staff into accessibility programming.
Leadership and funding is super important, but I also think that frontline staff are the people interacting with this audience and actually presenting a lot of the programming and the experience. I was wondering if you could share some more ideas about what does it mean to get frontline staff on board?
That is a great question.
With my initiative when I started many years ago, we did an all staff mandatory training. Every staff person had to be trained and I brought in an outside partner to do that training because they needed to hear it from somebody other than me. Bringing in that community partner to do your training is really important.
I did a pre and a post attitudinal survey of my staff and that gave me a lot of data. That made them think about what the training included as well. The pre attitudinal surveys, how comfortable are you working with people with disabilities? That helped me identify future training needs and then it also really impacted them afterwards to think about what they took away from that training.
I knew it was successful when I had a custodian come up to me a few weeks later and he said, “Hey Dawn, you know what? On our free day when we have a lot of people with disabilities here,” he said, “I would always look at the ground and walk around them and not even engage with them.” He said, “But after the training I make eye contact and I smile,” and I’m like, “That’s all you got to do.” I said, “That’s just a huge step.” Those tiny little steps make huge differences, but that is a great question.
Inviting them, inviting them in. When I started the Spark Program for people with dementia, I did an all staff dementia awareness training because we’re all going to have to deal with that at some point in our life. Five years later I had staff coming up to me saying, “Oh, thank you so much for that training because now my grandmother or so-and-so,” including they feel a part of that program.
If I need extra chairs or if I need something on a day of our program, they are there, and they’re offering the help, and they’re engaging with our participants. Getting them involved from the beginning really helps with that buy-in for your staff.
I was curious how your organizations address overlaps and barriers? Having a disability can incur significant financial burdens or it can limit transportation options. I’m from Chicago, so I know PACE is very good, but obviously not every city has such a robust program such as that.
I think that financial overlap is going to be there. We are a small enough organization that almost everything we do overlaps. I’m not sure that overlap is a bad thing because then it brings people from different parts of an organization together. It is important from a small organization as well as a larger organization that we all work together to make sure there is funding to support these things.
I think what we do at the National Museum of Mexican Art because we are small enough, is that we meet and we discuss our needs. We’re aware of where there’s funding overlap, and where we can support accessibility from one budget to another. It’s going to be a little different in larger organizations for sure.
I just want to make sure we get a few of these notes. Some of them really stood out to me. Memberships for caregivers.
Under the law, if an individual needs a caregiver, a care aide, they should be getting free access, free entry to a museum. That is the law. There are a lot of lawsuits about that. If you Google that, you’ll find museum lawsuits about that specifically.
If an individual cannot take care of their everyday functions without assistance from somebody else, that person is required to be with them. They have to get free admission. If you want to go deeper into that, find me afterwards.
Then there was one more for real. So many things could be better, which is most impactful for the visitors we currently will serve in the future? The biggest thing that I have found to be successful is removing your barriers, making sure your spaces are accessible, your registration, everything from calling your website, calling is really important to have an outlet for questions and inquiries.
At our museum, it’s called access@mpm, it’s an email that comes directly to me. It’s easy to remember. It’s put on the bottom of all of our marketing materials. Having that direct line to request accommodations takes a lot of pressure and time away from the people who need it. So that would be a big one.
I heard one of you mentioned that visual stories, how many of you utilize visual stories at your museum’s and how impactful have you found them to be?
Yeah, I think it might have been me where… Yes, you. I mentioned visual vocabulary cards and the exploration planner that we have.
I’ve found that they’ve been very impactful. Oh, hello. Good morning.
Yeah, we have them as resources for field trip groups that come to the museum so they can create a visual schedule and hold onto those cards and flip as they move to a different location, which has been really great and as communication cards. Kids can use them if they’re non-verbal to express where they would like to go or what they need.
We also have the option have they’re fillable cards, so you can create your own if you would like to. Yeah, I think they’ve been really great at the museum, especially with such a large museum, it’s easier to break it down into pictures of our exhibits.
Did that answer your question? Okay.
Hi, thank you so much for this session. It’s wonderful.
Can I ask, in the UK we have something called Mackit, which we use with audiences with learning disabilities especially, which is a simplified form of sign. Can I ask if any organization has had experience of using something like Mackit or another basic form of sign within their institutions?
In Fairfax County in Virginia, we are a huge cued speech hub, which is a different also kind of modality for deaf or hard of hearing and hearing impaired, hard of hearing individuals.
The reason I also know this is because my son is deaf and my daughter is hard of hearing, but that’s one of the things that we have focused on at the museum that I was at.
Was, okay, what does the local community have? And because Fairfax County is actually almost a hub for it and they offer it in the public school system. Having what they call like a transliterator, but because there’s actually multiple types of actual sign, signing in exact English and those sort of things, that kind of knowing what’s in your community as hubs is actually I think really important.
We got a question. I’ll walk back there, but I want to really say one more thing.
Not all disabilities are visible. It’s really, really important that we remember that. Thinking about your leadership to your question might say, well, we don’t see that audience here. You don’t see that audience here doesn’t mean that they’re not there, right?
All right. This is actually a follow-up to a question that was asked and the risk of outing myself as senior leadership, I will.
I thought your answer was great and I just wanted to expand on two other things. Make it easy, which I think is really the point of the answer. Make it easy and also don’t forget about elected officials and getting them involved in the programs because they hold a lot of sway with your senior leadership. I think find the advocate in middle management that can help you.
Now, there’s a person over there that works for me. She’s a few levels down from me and she’ll give you the real skinny on things afterwards, but during the pandemic, all of our educators… We’re a statewide organization so during the pandemic, all of our educators and a lot of our engagement folks came together and developed a staff team that was really working on these issues.
They were fabulous about keeping me informed via email, pulling together budget plans, and proposals for me about the work that they want to do, which really made it easy for me. Key to that was one of my senior leadership teams was leading that team. He has more FaceTime with me to advocate. That would just be some additional recommendations.
Thank you all so much for being here and for the wonderful, thoughtful question and answer session. We appreciate it so much.
We will be up here for a few minutes if you have any additional questions.