Webinar: Accessibility and Inclusivity at Museums and Historic Sites

How museums and historic sites can create inclusive programming and educational experiences for history lovers of all ages and abilities. Going beyond basic ADA compliance, this webinar will provide examples and strategies for cultural organizations to be better stewards of history and accessible to diverse audiences.

Details:

Date: November 29, 2017

Time: 3pm-4:15pm EST

Cost: $40 AASLH Members/ $65 Nonmembers

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Full Description of the Webinar:

Conversations about inclusivity and accessibility have become common place within the museum community. Issues of inclusivity can take account of a variety of audiences with special needs: those with mobility limitations, deaf/hearing impaired, blind/visually impaired, developmental, cognitive, or learning disabilities, and on the autism spectrum. As many museums have realized over the past two decades, people with special needs are an important audience; one that should not be ignored. But how can museums and historic sites make their programming and interpretative goals inclusive to those groups? And how can we be more purposeful in our efforts to better serve everyone in our communities?

Join AASLH and Katie Stringer Clary in a conversation on how museums and historic sites can create inclusive programming and educational experiences for history lovers of all ages and abilities. Going beyond basic ADA compliance, this webinar will provide examples and strategies for cultural organizations to be better stewards of history and accessible to diverse audiences.

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About the Speaker:

katie_claryDr. Katie Stringer Clary currently teaches history and public history at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.  Since 2007, Dr. Clary has worked with museums in various capacities from docent to executive director.  In her time at museums and as a graduate student in Public History she focused on museum education and inclusion, especially for people with special needs.  This research culminated in her 2014 manuscript, Programming for People with Special Needs: A Guide for Museums and Historic Sites.  She followed this with a chapter “Accessibility in Museum Learning” in Museum Learning, 2nd Ed. edited by Barry Lord and Brad King in 2015.  Through her work, she continues to advocate for accessibility equality in museums and historic sites and presented as a discussant in a ongoing working group on this topic at the National Council for Public History in March of 2016.

Take a look at Dr. Clary’s AASLH published book, Programming for People with Special Needs: A Guide for Museums and Historic Sites here and her blog Something Old, Something New here.

For an example on how programming for visitors with special needs can be done, check out Caroline Braden’s “Focusing on Guests with Special Needs: Examples and Insights from The Henry Ford,” and Katie Poole’s “Inclusivity and Accessibility at Museums: It’s Worth the Work.”

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Focusing On Guests with Special Needs: Examples and Insights from The Henry Ford

In recent years, there has been a growing trend among museums to place more attention on audiences with special needs. This has increasingly involved museums creating and implementing innovative programs and opportunities for people who have mobility limitations; are blind/visually impaired; are deaf/hard of hearing; are on the autism spectrum; and have developmental, cognitive, or learning disabilities, including dementia.

 

Sensory Friendly Day, The Henry Ford
Sensory Friendly Day at The Henry Ford

For the past year at The Henry Ford, we have been increasing our focus upon our guests with special needs, starting with two audiences in particular–guests who are blind or visually impaired and those on the autism spectrum. For guests who are blind or visually impaired, we have created tactile tours for Henry Ford Museum. These tours not only provide background and context on our collections, but also include opportunities to touch various artifacts and models of artifacts located throughout the museum. While some of the artifacts included on the tours (i.e. the Rosa Parks Bus, Allegheny Locomotive, and Build a Model T interactive activity) can already be touched by any guests, the tours also include special opportunities for guests to touch a pre-approved list of cars in our “Driving America” exhibit while wearing gloves. Working with organizations serving individuals with visual impairments (such as the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan and the Greater Detroit Agency for the Blind and Visually Impaired) and testing the tours out with guests with visual impairments have both been instrumental in the continued development of these tours.

 

Tactile Tour, The Henry Ford
Tactile Tour at The Henry Ford

For our guests on the autism spectrum, we held two sensory friendly days during April 2016. These days included: maps showing areas in Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village with loud sounds, bright lights, and designated quiet zones; loud sounds turned down or off in Henry Ford Museum; quiet areas for hands-on activities; and even some sensory-friendly movies in our Giant Screen Experience theater, in which the lights were turned up and the sound was turned down. As with the tactile tours, working with organizations serving individuals with autism (in this case, the Autism Alliance of Michigan and The Color of Autism Foundation) helped with the development and implementation of these sensory friendly days.  The autism organizations that we worked with had resource tables set up with information for families, helped get the word out about the events, and assisted us with the creation of a social story (pre-visit planning guide that uses pictures and text to walk families through their visit) of Henry Ford Museum. We also planned and coordinated these sensory friendly days in collaboration with other Detroit-area museums, sharing resources and publicity.

 

Roadside Food - Lamy's Diner & McDonalds sign - Driving America - The Henry Ford
Driving America Exhibit at The Henry Ford

From these programs, there is much that I have learned about creating and implementing offerings for audiences with special needs.  Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind:

1.) Involve individuals with special needs and organizations serving these individuals in the development, testing, and implementation of your programs. Doing so can help you ensure that you are aware of needs and interests and serving your intended audiences effectively.

2.) Observe other programs for individuals with special needs. If other museums in your local area have created programs for these audiences, see if you can observe the programs and talk to the people who have helped create them. Perhaps you could even collaborate on a future program or at least share resources and experiences.

3.) Be flexible. This could be the first time that you or others at our institution are working with a particular audience. Know that it is ok to be flexible and to go with whatever happens, even if that may not necessarily be what you have intended.

 

Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford
Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford

Over the past year, I have found that working with audiences with special needs and opening up new worlds for these audiences never grows old. Recently, on one of our tactile tours, one guest who was blind stated, “I’ve said before that I don’t like museums. What’s the point of being here if you can’t see? But this was different.  I liked this.”

To learn more about innovative work being done at history museums for audiences with special needs, check out the session “Accessibility for the 21st Century: Welcoming All Visitors to History Museums and Historic Sites” at this fall’s AASLH Annual Meeting in Detroit, where I will be joined by accessibility specialists from the Minnesota Historical Society and New York Transit Museum.

During The Henry Ford Un-Conference, Annual Meeting attendees will have an opportunity to learn more about and participate in our tactile tours. And watch for information about an informal accessibility meet-up during the AASLH meeting.