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I've advised many cultural institutions, and basically, there are two types of personalities. On the one hand, there are the professionals who see quickly or over time that accessibility can be integrated into what they are already doing; and, on the other, there are the professionals who see change as an addition and a burden. With the former, it's "Oh, yeah, I see how we can…." and they get to work. With the latter, there's little creativity. They may even think of themselves as "above" or "beyond" accessibility issues when, in fact, they have much to learn and to do.

I want to hear two things from a museum that asks for my advice. One, I want to have the sense that they have goals and are willing to take some action. In other words, they will listen to my suggestions. And two, I want to hear that they are serious about building a relationship between their institution and the community.

I like to work as a member of a team that includes people with various disabilities. People are different, even people who use wheelchairs. A team makes for a more rounded perspective. When looking at an exhibit, for example, I've found that it helps first to explore the exhibit--to have some hands-on time. I've found that as we explore, we become more comfortable with each other. Soon we are being creative about access. A, Vermont

Advisor who is blind places hand on tactile map. When you call an Independent Living Center (ICL) you may reach a staff person who knows the ADA and is an expert on accessibility or you may reach someone who does I&R (information and referral). Staff may or may not have time to participate as advisors. It's more likely that you can expect some of the ILC's consumers to participate. Ask how you can best reach their consumers: if you can put an article in their newsletter or send a request for advisors through an email list. A, Massachusetts

While working as the ADA coordinator at my science center, I organized a meeting with six individuals who could tell us from personal and professional experience about what works for people who are deaf or people who are hard of hearing. Before the meeting, I mailed each person an agenda, directions, a packet of general info on the museum and its programs, and free passes. I hired two sign language interpreters. We began with a brief tour and then sat down to talk. Tour and discussion lasted two hours.

What did I learn? First, I wish I had organized two separate meetings, one about issues for people who are hard of hearing, and another for people who are Deaf. As I learned, the problems these two groups experience are very different and more time was needed to understand each set of issues.

For example, for visitors who are hard of hearing, background noise in the museum is a huge problem. It is sometimes so painful that the only solution is to turn off their hearing devices.

For visitors who are Deaf, I learned that language is very important. I learned from the man who teaches Deaf students that their experience is similar to people for whom English is their second language because American Sign Language is grammatically different from English. Consequently, our museum staff needs to make sure that our curriculum materials, exhibit labels, etc., use clear, simple language. Also, it is likely that teachers of Deaf students would appreciate receiving information prior to a visit so they can familiarize their students with vocabulary and concepts. L, Oregon

I have no formal advisory group, but I have found it especially helpful when working with students who are Deaf or hard of hearing to visit their classrooms. While I am there, I pay careful attention to how students and teachers interact. I make note of how a teacher gets the students' attention, how the desks are arranged so that all students can see each other when signing, and how a teacher gets difficult-to-sign information across. C, New Jersey

Some people with disabilities are experts on the ADA Standards for Accessible Design and some aren't. You can expect good personal experiential advice, but for technical advice you may need to contact your regional ADA & Accessible IT Center. The ten regional Centers distribute the ADA Standards, various checklists and other helpful publications. They also answer technical assistance questions and many review plans and drawings. You can reach yours by calling 1-800-949-4332. Remember, they are not the "ADA police." Instead, they provide reliable information—and it's free! K, Boston

The 2004 publication Accessible Temporary Events: A Planning Guide, produced by The Center for Universal Design, North Carolina University, is an excellent resource. Copies can be ordered by calling your regional ADA technical assistance center: 800-949-4232 v/tty. The authors write: Early on in the planning process, consider establishing contact with people with various disabilities. While having a disability does not make one an expert on all issues, a knowledgeable person can help locate resources or services and offer insightful advice. It can be particularly helpful to have people with disabilities involved in the selection of a site. In some instances, especially for large events, it may be appropriate to establish an advisory committee. If members of the committee have a range of disabilities and experience, individuals can help solve problems related to their disability. Since access issues often have an architectural component, include people who also have design experience. (p 17) S, Washington, DC

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