Thursday, June 28, 2012

Accessibility Is Possible

Literally thousands of pages on Accessibility exist that relate to museums and although these pages are very important and should be read, it can be intimidating and very time consuming to wade through it all at once. Small museums and museums in general are always short on money and time.

If you had sixty seconds to explain to your board why you should address Accessibility, you might make the following arguments:

  1. Making the museum or site accessible to individuals with disabilities increases your potential visitor pool and creates a better experience for everyone.
  2. Most museums and historic sites are looking for more visitors and to be, or remain, a vital part of the community. Welcoming a diverse audience that includes people with disabilities will enhance your community standing and increase the value of your mission.
  3. It is the law - Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. 
One way to get started is to ask for input and for help.

How do you know what your site needs to do to become more accessible? It can be difficult to look at your own site with “fresh eyes,” in a critical and unbiased way.  Bringing in someone new, someone who is not familiar with the site can provide that critical perspective. Museums often bring in outsiders for strategic planning, for consultation on utilities, on grounds and many other things. Assessing Accessibility is much the same thing. Additionally, outsiders will often notice things and bring up both challenges and solutions that museum staff will overlook because of their great familiarity with the site. 

In examining challenges and possible solutions for Accessibility, you’ll need to consider a wide variety of areas. Museums vary widely in size, architecture, time period, location and in pretty much every way possible. All museum structures and sites are unique and present their own challenges.  Think about how Accessibility fits into your institutions mission to make the best decisions.

Another way to get started is to consider some or all of the following questions:
  • Can visitors see the front door or main entrance from where they are parked?
  • Are there signs telling visitors where to park, and where to find the entrance?
  • Is the door to the main entrance heavy or hard to open?
  • Is there an accessible entrance separate from the main entrance? Is there a sign?
  • Do visitors often come to the wrong door?
  • Do visitors often leave family members or friends in the car or on the first floor?
  • Are visitors sitting and leaning on artifacts?
  • Are visitors too tired to buy anything in the gift shop after the tour?
  • Do visitors need to put on their glasses to read the labels?
  • Do visitors keep their coats on the entire tour?
  • Are there places to sit or rest during the tour?
  • How long is the standard tour of the site?
  • Are visitors expected to stand for the whole tour?

You don't always have to make major or expensive changes to make your site just a little bit more Accessible to all.

Kat Burkhart has a masters in anthropology and is a graduate of the Seminar for Historical Administration and the Institute for Cultural Entrepreneurship for Museum Leaders. She is the executive director/curator of the Carnegie Museum of Montgomery County in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and has worked in several small museums, including the Riverview at Hobson Grove (director) and the Astor House Museum and Clear Creek History Park (assistant curator). She was also president of the Association of Indiana Museums (2008–2010). 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Stacey and Kat--Just wanted to let you know how useful I found this--I used it in a series of workshops in Newfoundland this past month and have included it on a website related to the workshops (still being developed, but you'll be able to find it here once live: Thanks! Linda