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My boyfriend uses a wheelchair and sometimes I make the phone calls concerning whether a theater, museum or exhibit is accessible because he gets so tired of always asking. We travel frequently so we have to ask frequently. If I can provide one bit of advice for science centers, it's to make sure that all staff and volunteers know what's accessible for people with disabilities (and what isn't) or, at the very least, know who in the center does know. I am so tired of being shuffled from person to person when I call. And often when we get there staff don't know where the accessible restroom is, much less whether the theater is accessible. Kathy, Massachusetts

Cover of the Smithsonian Institution's Access Guide showing two adults conversing using sign language. Consider listing your accessible services on your web pages and/or in an access guide. A brochure has only enough space to highlight three or four services whereas both an access guide and section on your web pages can provide more detailed information. Recommendations about how to produce an access guide are on the ASTC web pages as is information on accessible web-page design. Make sure your access guide and web pages are indeed readable to individuals who are blind or have low vision. Have your access guide available in large print and on disk. Similarly, make sure your web pages listing accessibility services can be easily navigated using a screen or speech reader. Use disability access symbols to help readers quickly find what they are looking for. S, Maryland

Examples of websites that include detailed information about accessible services are the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C., and the Paper Mill Playhouse , Millburn, NJ. The last two use accessibility symbols as well as text. While these are good examples of displaying accessible services, if they are not designed with accessibility in mind, people who use a screen reader, talking browser, refreshable Braille display, or text-only display will not be able to access the information! The web sites of several prominent science centers and museums are critiqued in the new book Maximum Accessibility: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone by John M. Slatin and Sharon Rush. S, Washington, DC

Although I am a person with a disability, I have never been a particular stickler for disability language. However, one word almost always seems to set me off. That word is "special." "Special" tends to create an Us versus Them dynamic. You have regular services for those of "us" who can participate like "normal" folks and you have "special" services for "them" who can't participate in the same way as everyone else. There is nothing special about my desire to enjoy the benefits of going to a museum or science center, gaining an education, riding on public transportation, or participating in any other activity that the rest of the public engages in. Andy, Boston

As for marketing strategies for museums to reach the hearing impaired population, information should be in brochures, in public service announcements, and on radio talk shows. Signage at ticket and information desks and marquees that assistive listening devices and captioning are available is also important. Volunteer orientation should include the information about ALDs and captioning. It would be great if a hard of hearing/cochlear implant volunteer could be trained and be available at certain times at the museum. When I volunteer at the Fox Theater, I pass out the ALDs. I also answer questions and assist the manager with some other general duties. Linda, St. Louis

Woman in wheelchair uses her hands to manipulate equipment. Height of the counter and ample space for her knees allows her to explore this hands-on exhibit. Word-of-mouth is the most effective PR tool. From a personal perspective, I know that if I am pleased with a particular service I received, I will 1) share my positive experience with others, so that they, in turn, can experience the same as well, and 2) be loyal to that particular business.A similar example would be when people are "brand loyal" to a certain toothpaste, detergent, etc. A pleasing product usually leads to repeat business. Ultimately, positive word-of-mouth gives businesses a "competitive advantage" over their competitors. F, Ohio

My husband uses a wheelchair. Basically, we want to go where everyone else goes and do what everyone else does. We discover new museums and events in various ways, including listservs and support groups for the disabled community. My husband subscribes to a national listserv for his specific disease and participates in at least a half-dozen local support groups. Some of these groups organize events at museums, ball parks, nature centers, etc. If these groups promote an event, we feel confident the location is accessible to us. And if we are not able to attend the event, we may visit that location at another time. For events like fairs and festivals, we scan promotional materials for the maps showing accessible restrooms, and parking. If I am unsure, I call ahead. After asking about admission rates, I usually ask about accessible seating and restrooms. When the person who answers the phone is unsure, then it's unlikely we will visit. Many times we learn about where to go from friends. For example, a friend told us about an area being roped off for people with disabilities at our local fireworks celebration. MA & M, Ohio

I coordinate the American Sign Language (ASL) Program here at the Aquarium. We hire an ASL interpreter to interpret a variety of programs on the first Sunday of every month. We advertise this service on a local listserv for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and on the homepage of the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf. J, Boston

Subscribers to EXCHANGE from Australia and England likely know about these two publications: "Access All Areas" is a basic guide about marketing to people with disabilities produced by the Australia Council for the Arts. "Disability access: a good practice guide for the arts" is an online publication produced by the Arts Council of England. Section four is titled "Marketing and Publicity"; it explains in some detail how to make marketing tools accessible and how to get feedback from visitors. R, Virginia

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 from your regional ADA technical assistance center by calling 1-800-949-4232 v/tty. Here's their advice about preparing staff and volunteers:
Cover of Visitor Map produced by the Lincoln Park Zoo. As stated on the cover, the map includes information about exhibits with sound and touchable displays          "All staff and volunteers should have a basic awareness of and sensitivity to disability issues. Make it clear to staff and volunteers that people with disabilities expect to be treated like all other event participants."
         "View an individual in terms of the whole person and not just the disability. Avoid being anxious or overly protective; people will let you know what they need. Be aware that many people will need extra time to move, speak, perform a task, or participate in an activity. The behavior of some people with developmental or cognitive disabilities may be unsettling to people unfamiliar with these disabilities. There is no need for fear, and as with others, respect and patience is expected. In other words, provide good customer service to everyone. "
         "Make sure that staff and volunteers are aware and know the location or availability of accessible features in their respective areas. This includes knowledge of such features, spaces, and services as toilet rooms, telephones, TTYs, ramps, or which performance is accompanied by a sign language interpreter." (p24) S, Washington, DC

"Documents should be made accessible because federal and some state laws mandate doing so. But we hope and expect that you will make documents available to blind and visually impaired people because you are eager to attract this group as loyal customers and because it's the right thing to do. Having equal and timely access to written information is absolutely critical for blind and sighted people alike.
         "What you may not realize is that offering accessible information to this consumer group gives you a chance to effectively target this population with its buying power. If you publicize how blind consumers can obtain accessible information, you will expand your customer base, and these customers are sure to spread the word about a company's obvious commitment to access. Blind consumers are willing to support companies that promote independence and maximize an individual's abilities."
From preface to web-page document A Guide to Making Documents Accessible to People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired by Jennifer Sutton; on the web site of the American Council of the Blind.

The Settlement Agreements listed on the web pages of the U.S. Department of Justice often make me aware of the basics of accessible practices. The Agreement with The Washington Opera is a case in point. Although much of the Agreement is about changes in ticketing practices and seating for patrons who use wheelchairs, the paragraph on marketing is pretty complete: "Within 20 business days of the effective date of this Agreement, The Washington Opera will write to at least 10 disability organizations to advertise the availability, pricing, and locations of wheelchair accessible and companion seating and the ADA Advisory Committee. The Washington Opera's Internet website and all brochures, programs, publications, and advertisements shall state, 'Wheelchair accessible seating is available in all price categories for all operas, shall advertise other accessibility features (such as the availability of assistive listening devices and closed captioning), and shall list the name, telephone number, and e-mail address of the ADA Coordinator. All brochures, programs, publications, and advertisements that contain pictures or photographs of Washington Opera patrons shall include a person with a disability. All brochures, programs, publications, and advertisements that contain pictures or photographs of seating areas shall clearly identify the location of designated wheelchair accessible and companion seats." S, Washington, DC

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