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Accessible PracticesAccess AdvisorsPeople with Disabilities
In the sections that follow we suggest where to look for people with disabilities to advise on accessible practices. The list below provides a starting point by suggesting organizations that can help you identify potential advisors. As you build relationships with advisors, you will find connections to more individuals and organizations in your area. Below, we have included excerpts from interviews with three advisors who describe their relationships with science centers. In "Behind the Scenes," several museum professionals describe their relationships with access advisors.

Where to Look for Advisors

The following sources can help you recruit people with various disabilities to work with you as advisors.

  • Friends of friends
  • Personnel at the office for students with disabilities at local colleges or universities
  • Local or state service organizations (United Way, United Cerebral Palsy, Veterans, for example)
  • Independent Living Centers in your area
  • Parent training and information centers in each state serving families with disabilities
  • NICHCY State Resources Sheets that list municipal offices and local accessibility advocacy groups.

Advisors Describe Their Relationships with Science Centers

Ann Holmblad lives in Vermont where for more than a decade she has assisted communities in coming together to look at improvements to arts and recreation programs and facilities for people with disabilities. She recently completed a project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts that involved numerous access inventories of Vermont arts institutions. Holmblad uses a manual wheelchair.

Q: What is your approach as an advisor?
Ann: I take the attitude that I'm here to help you. I try to build on the museum's interest. That interest may be to increase audience, the revenue new audiences bring in. So it could be economic or short- or long-range goals.

Q: What has been your experience with various museum staff?
Ann: Basically, there are two main styles or personalities: those who see quickly or over time that accessibility can be integrated into what they are already doing and those who see change as an addition and as a burden. For the former, it's "Oh, yeah, I see how we can help," whereas the latter have difficulty being creative. Sometimes this second group seems to me to express the feelings that they are "above" or "beyond" accessibility issues.

Most people do "get it," but then you come back and the people you worked with have moved on to other jobs and you have to start again.

Q: What do you want to hear from science center staff calling to ask for your help?
Ann: Two things. I want to have the sense that they have goals and that they want to take some action. In other words, that there's a commitment. Even when I am paid for consulting, I want to feel my ideas are being paid attention to; I want to feel there will be some impact. Which gets to my second point. I want to hear that they are seriously interested in building a relationship between their institution and the community.

Q: How do you like to work?
Ann: I like to work as a member of a team that includes people with various disabilities. People are different, even people who use wheelchairs. Using a team makes for a more rounded perspective. In addition to being part of a team, it helps when looking at exhibits to start with some hands-on time. I've found that as we explore the exhibit together, each of us lets down our guard and we start to brainstorm. Exploring the exhibit together is an opportunity to become comfortable with each other. Soon we are being creative about access. Also, and this may be different for others, because I am consulting I expect a stipend or, at the least, for my mileage to be reimbursed.

Irma Shore was the director of Access to Art, a program of the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City where she continues to live. She has trained museum docents and carried out facility, exhibit, and program access inventories. Shore uses a motorized wheelchair and is legally blind. Asked to describe her experiences as a member on a team conducting a facility access inventory, she responded:

It is difficult to write a complete "job description" for an individual who will be part of a team conducting an access inventory of a facility and its exhibitions, but I'll try. The advisor, ideally, has an understanding and interest in the survey; is clear on the specific need for the survey; is clear exactly what he/she is being asked to do; has an understanding of the ADA guidelines and reasons for them; has an understanding of the difference between personal preference and minimum regulation standards; is willing to demonstrate to other team members the why behind specific measurements; and is willing to be part of a whole team in an effort to help the museum meet ADA compliance.

Deborah Leuchovius, an advisor for the Accessible Practices Project, works with museums in St. Paul and Minneapolis. She shared her thoughts:

Just being a person with a disability doesn't make you necessarily a good advisor on disability issues. I agree with Ann's approach of choosing consultants who can identify with people with specific disabilities and has related expertise. Advisors may serve on a team to conduct an access inventory or as a member of focus group, depending on the amount of time and commitment expected of them.

Regarding other issues museum staff needs to consider, I'll start with "To pay or not to pay?" I would recommend paying advisors a stipend as it helps insure a certain amount of expertise, commitment and follow through. Also, be sure to maintain the relationship with advisors over time in order to keep up the momentum. To help do that, determine who will have responsibility for initiating regular contact – a museum staff person or the advisor? Both parties are likely to be busy and too often access issues of museum professionals and volunteer activities of advisors are moved to the bottom of priority lists. Finally, involving advisors helps integrate access reviews into the routine procedures of a museum. An example is in the development of exhibits. I would also encourage museum folks to involve advisors in a second access review after the exhibit is up and running to see how things are really working in practice.

Links Related to Working with Advisors

Interacting with Visitors with Disabilities
Sign Language Interpreters
TTY/TDD

Behind the Scenes

  • Carolann Baldyga, Director of Education: Working with Your Local ADA Office
  • Janet Kamien, Vice President of Exhibits and Programs: Making Science Centers Accessible
  • Bridget Shea, Theater Manager: Making Large-Format Theaters and Planetariums Accessible

"Montshire staff works with advisors on access," an article from the July/August 1998 issue of the ASTC Newsletter, describes one museum's experiences working with people with personal and professional experiences with disabilities in assessing the accessibility of their exhibits.

 

This web site is not intended to offer legal, architectural, engineering, or similar professional advice. Refer specific questions to an attorney or an ADA authority.

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