Involve Accessibility Advisors
and work with individuals with disabilities and ADA professionals
with and without disabilities, and you are sure to increase visitor
satisfaction and repeat visits. Why? Because individuals with personal
and professional experience with access can help you conduct ongoing
reviews of your facility, programs, exhibits, and services; educate
staff, volunteers, and board members; and advise you on how to attract
Whether you are surveying your facility or planning an exhibit,
success is more likely if you involve accessibility advisors early
on and then keep them involved every step of the way. As sounding
board, mentors, and allies, they help you build a bridge from your
institution to the community.
Two groups of advisors. Accessibility advisors can be divided
into two groups: ADA information specialists and people with various
ADA information specialists can help you with the technical side
of things; specifically, your obligations to the ADA (1990) and
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973). These experts may
or may not have a disability. Three places to find ADA information
specialists are in your mayor's office, local Independent Living
Center, and regional DBTAC (see below for more information).
Individuals with disabilities help connect the ADA guidelines to
human factors. For this reason, be sure to seek out individuals
with various disabilities and experiences. Why? Because some people
with mobility disabilities use manual chairs, while others use scooters,
power chairs, or walkers; similarly, some people who are blind use
canes, while others have guide dogs; and some people are hard of
hearing and others are deaf.
It's not that you want a large group of individuals with disabilities
advising you, but you want to involve as many as it takes for you
to really understand how your facility, programs, services, and
exhibits are experienced. And as you listen and think you understand
these individual experiences, turn to your ADA information specialist
readiness. Is your institution ready to involve accessibility
advisors? (Be aware of the time, resources, and commitment that
are needed.) Do you have the backing from your director? Are you
a bit uncertain about where to start?
It's not unusual to be fearful of promising too much or inadvertently
causing offense. But think again. Involving both ADA information
specialists and people with various disabilities in making decisions
is not only the right thing to do, it makes good business sense.
You will save money in the long run, build community good will,
satisfy funders, and fulfill your institution's mission. There are
no laws that commit you to building a large-format theater, designing
an exhibition or developing a program; there are laws that obligate
you to making them accessible.
Commitment, respect, and patience: One person's experience.
Dr. Betty Davidson, exhibit planner emeritus, Museum of Science,
Boston, has been working with advisors with disabilities for over
a decade. However, her beginning was a bit uneven. She recalls telephoning
a local school for youth who are blind and the administrator responding:
"I wouldn't bring my kids to your museum for anything. There's
nothing there for us!" Davidson was taken aback, but recovered,
saying, "Well, we're trying to change it, and we need your
help." The school has sent groups of youth to work with Davidson
over the years, and she describes their contributions as "invaluable."
Davidson explains that she uses an "informal style" when
working with advisors on new exhibits. She follows this four-part
formula: "Work with small groups. Listen rather than talk.
Test out some things together, and then test again." She explains
that integral to this way of working is understanding that what
works for one person may be a barrier for another, and that even
individuals with the same disability have different preferences.
Furthermore, she recognizes and appreciates that individuals are
diverse in terms of their backgrounds, lifestyles, interests, and,
important to the case in point, their experience with museums. She
strives to provide visitors with choices. For example, she would
not remove a microscope from an exhibit but would find another means
for visitors with visual disabilities to get to the same point.
Use an informal tour to get going. A place to start is with
an informational tour. It's a good icebreaker, and most people like
to "go behind the scenes" to see firsthand how you plan
and fabricate an exhibit, create a kit, care for collections, or
feed the fish. A tour allows you to begin to see which individuals
are interested in your institution and comfortable sharing their
perspectives. Say in your invitation, "We're just getting to
know each other so please let me know if you'll need an accommodation
to participate." And afterwards, learn from each individual
what might make the next meeting work even better for him/her.
Activities like tours build bridges between your museum and the
community in two ways: they introduce individuals with disabilities
to your institution, and they introduce your institution to the
various disability groups in your community. With those goals in
mind, be sure to design your informal tours to include meeting other
staff; preferably those who are working on something concrete. When
you stop to chat and show off their work, you are introducing them
to the needs and interests of individuals with disabilities as well
as showing your visitors interesting aspects of your institution.
to know potential advisors through local organizations. A way
to get to know individuals and become familiar with accessibility-related
issues is to attend meetings of various local groups that work for
and with individuals with disabilities and are often run by them.
Likely in your area there is a Independent Living Center (ILC), a
parent group connected with Easter Seals, and meetings of Self Help
for the Hard of Hearing (SHHH). It takes some courage to walk into
an unfamiliar setting, but consider this your parallel opportunity
to "go behind the scenes."
Seek advisors with these qualities.
When considering accessibility advisors, look for individuals who
are frequent museum-goers as well as those who are not, as each
will tell you something you likely need to hear. Look for individuals
who are straightforward with their comments, even when critical.
Ask about their previous experiences giving advice (e.g., member
of a committee to build a playground or active in a parent association),
what they contributed, and what they think they gained from these
Advice can come from individuals
or from a group. Some museums prefer to work with individual
advisors on an informal basis; others prefer an advisory group that
meets regularly to discuss a variety of issues; and still others
involve specific advisors in specific projects. Actually, these
three formats can take place in the same institution and at the
same time. It's important for visitor-services staff to get the
feedback they need when they need it. Similarly, staff designing
a new exhibit will want to involve one or more advisors from the
beginning of the project to the end while conducting focus groups
with one-time advisors as exhibit components are being prototyped.
Your goal is to create an atmosphere
where everyone feels that he or she has something to contribute
and something to learn. Your best measure of success may be
the extent to which people with disabilities talk openly and matter-of-factly
about what works for them and what doesn't, and the extent to which
museum professionals feel free to voice their concerns as well as
It's been over a decade since the
ADA was passed and frankly some individuals with disabilities don't
believe that their ideas will be valued: they've been there, done
that, and nothing they can see came of their advice. Hence, you
will need to be explicit from the start how their feedback will
be incorporated into the museum's operations.
Thank your advisors. You should
know that not everyone with a disability wants to be an advisor,
has the time, or can offer their services for free. While some individuals
may request a consulting fee or honoraria, others may welcome a
family membership, invitations to special events, and/or free passes
to your large-format theater. As was Davidson's experience, the
more that people with disabilities and their families become part
of your science center and museum, the more "invaluable"
feedback you are sure to get.
As for ADA information specialists,
if they work for a government agency, consulting is part of their
work; if they work at a nonprofit, they will need to be paid. In
either case, providing them with free passes will help build relationships
and provide you with ongoing feedback.
Tips for Finding Advisors and Asking
- Start with people you know and
- Talk with staff and volunteers
about people they know and would recommend.
- Get recommendations from colleagues
at other cultural and educational institutions in your community.
- Contact local and state disability
organizations that work for and with people with disabilities.
Carefully explain what you want and ask for names of possible
- Make the contact. It gets easier.
- I work at the city museum,
and we are trying to get better at how we welcome and accommodate
visitors with disabilities, their families, and friends. We've
been working on accessibility and feel we need some more input;
we thought your experiences could help us.
- I got your name from _____________;
she thought you might be interested in helping us.
- Have you visited the museum
before? Tell me more.
- I thought a tour would be a
good way to start. How does that sound to you? I expect it
would take about an hour and a half. Is that okay?
- Are there any mornings or afternoons
in the next month that would work for you, either weekday
- What is the most convenient
way for you to get here? We are happy to pay the cost of your
- Would anyone else be coming
with you? I want to leave your name(s) at the desk. When you
arrive, ask person at desk to call me.
- What are the best ways for
us to stay in contact? Let me give you my name again, and
my telephone number and e-mail address. That way, should you
need to get in touch with me, you can.
- And likewise, let me get your
address. We'd like to send you a pass to the museum for you
and your family. After all, the more you get to know us, the
more we can learn from you.
- We'll pause for a snack; are
there food restrictions or other things that I should know
about when planning the menu?
- Is there anything else I should
know that might make this visit enjoyable?
Others' Experiences for more ideas and please
Share Your Own.
|Accessible Practices EXCHANGE is supported by the National Science Foundation
under Grants No. ESI-9814917 and HRD 9906095. Opinions or recommendations
expressed in this material are those of the author and presenters
and not necessarily those of the National Science Foundation. www.nsf.gov
|ASTC is not responsible
for the enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The information presented
here is intended solely as informal guidance, and is neither a determination
of your legal rights or responsibilities under the ADA, nor binding
on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. This
web site is not intended to offer legal, architectural, engineering,
or similar professional advice. You should refer specific questions
to an attorney, and/or national, state, and local ADA authorities.
2006 by the Association of Science-Technology Centers Incorporated.
All rights reserved.