Market Your Accessibility
Without exaggeration, you can probably say that everyone would enjoy and benefit from visiting
your science center or cultural institution. However, for a variety of reasons, people with
disabilities may not be coming. How can this be? After all, anyone may have a disability no
matter their age, gender, or background. In fact, one in every six people in the U.S. has a disability.
That's a sizeable number of people (54 million) with an estimated disposable income of 214 billion dollars.
Are people with disabilities waiting to be asked? What actions can you take to insure that they will be welcomed?
Spend smarter, not more. Begin
by taking an inventory of how you currently market your institution's
accessibility, and then consider what new marketing strategies you
Work with your visitor services and floor staff to make a list
of what accessible services are currently in place. For many
science centers and museums, the list will include assistive listening
devices for lectures and large-format films; audio-described tours
and films; sign language interpretation; wheelchairs or scooters
on loan; brochures in large print and in Braille; tactile maps of
permanent exhibitions; newsletter on disk or audio cassette.
Gather examples of all the print materials you currently employ to market your institution to the general public. Newsletters, brochures, maps, annual reports, school and camp programs will likely be among these pieces. Next, make a list of other ways your institution markets its programs, exhibits, and services. On your list may be radio and television public announcements, mailings, telemarketing, and web pages. Get print copies of these messages so you can make a complete review of your current marketing tools.
Make accessibility explicit. Knowing what services are
available and how to request them allows visitors to plan ahead.
To what extent do your museum's various communication pieces address
accessibility? If the answer is "not much," don't be flustered,
start with what you can assure and clearly state these services
in all your brochures, on your web site, in your newsletter, and
in your press releases.
|Respect the power of language.
In addition to using disability access symbols in the above statements,
did you notice the language? You won't find the word "special." Also,
note the use of "people-first language." That's putting the person
first as in person who is blind, person who is hard of hearing, person
who uses a wheelchair. The language you use makes a powerful statement
about the credibility of your institution.
|Connect with this new audience.
While individuals with disabilities get their news about local programs and events just as the majority of the population does, many also rely on newsletters, listservs, web pages, and public service announcements produced and managed by local disability-related groups, organizations, and agencies. What they say matters.
Become familiar with these groups and how they communicate places to visit and things to do:
you speak with a group or organization explain that your science
center or museum wants to make sure people with disabilities know
about its programs, events, and new films and exhibition, and you
need their help to do this. Would they be willing to include information
through their various communication outlets? If the answer is yes,
find out the name of the person you should contact. You will want
to talk with him/her about text length, deadlines, and the preferred
format for receiving your information (e.g., via e-mail, fax, or mail).
|Follow-up by sending a note to the people you spoke with, thanking them for their cooperation and reiterating your hope that they will keep you informed. But don't wait for them to call you; call them back in three months for feedback.
|Don't forget older adults and college students. Older adults are a large and growing demographic group in the U.S. while students with disabilities attending local colleges and universities are a renewable audience source. Both groups represent audiences for your programs and candidates for your volunteer corps.
While you can connect directly with students through a college's
office for students with disabilities, older individuals may or
may not self-identify as having a disability and likely rely on
many sources for their news and information. Among the news sources
older adults may use are local agencies and groups who work for
and with older adults. You will want to contact these organizations
and, if they agree, add them to your list of groups to receive announcements
on a regular basis.
|Achieve success quickly. There is no way to measure the effect of word-of-mouth publicity, but you can be reassured that "grapevines" exist. Similarly, within every community there are individuals who can act as advocates and spokespersons on your behalf. Know who these influential community members are.
Invite them to events; provide them with free passes; make sure they know you need and welcome their counsel.
your staff and volunteers. Getting visitors with disabilities
to come is one thing; their having a great time, is another. Good
experiences depend in large part on visitors' interactions with staff
and volunteers. Things fall apart when staff and volunteers do not
know what services are available, how to respond to questions and
complaints, or who on staff is responsible for accessibility services.
New, as well as experienced staff and volunteers need up-to-date information,
reminders, practice, and backup if they are to give quality customer
|Identify any remaining physical barriers and make a plan to remove them.
It's not unusual that your institution may still need to remove specific physical barriers so that visitors with
disabilities can fully participate in your events and programs. Rather than assuming that there are no barriers,
find out. Take these steps:
The most efficient transition-implementation plans include what needs to be done, who is responsible, the expected date of completion, and budgetary implications. Some changes can be accomplished with little or no money while others will take more time and resources.
With a plan, you can respond to questions and even complaints with "We appreciate your feedback. We know it's a problem, and we are working on it. We expect the work to be completed by ____. We value you as a visitor."
any missing accessible services. Removing physical barriers is
important; adding accessibility services is, too. These services may
mean the difference between individuals with disabilities visiting
Ask yourself: Do we know how to find sign language interpreters? Are our films and videos captioned? Which assistive listening systems would work best in our theater and for our films, lectures, meetings, and tours? Who can Braille print materials for us? Is the map of our floor plan available in large print? Do we have a tactile version? Are brochures and newsletters available on audio cassette or disk?
Your colleagues at other cultural institutions may have answers for you, and
the disability-related agencies and organizations in your community
can point you to helpful sources as well.
|Feedback is important to know how well your marketing is working. There may be no need to change how you hear from visitors, but you will want to check on how inclusive the processes are.
Take comments cards. Ask yourself: Are some available in 18 point type sans serif? Are cards within reach?
|It takes time to build an audience.
People with disabilities have a variety of interests as well as experiences with cultural institutions. In fact, you may run up against the perception "there is nothing there for us." Fortunately, perceptions can change. Change, however, depends in large part on the leadership of the marketing department. Continue to listen to people with disabilities and the organizations that represent them and your audience will grow, and your institution will prosper.
For more information
|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.|
|Copyright 2006 by the Association of Science-Technology Centers Incorporated. All rights reserved.|