Nicole Michaud: Tips for Creating an Access Guide
When interviewed for this profile in 1997, Nicole Michaud was the access programs coordinator at the Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts, a position she held from 1994 to 1998. Currently, she is the community liaison for the Museum of Science. Here she discusses the need for staff readiness, priorities in creating an access guide, and how to use existing procedures to disseminate accessibility information as widely as possible.
Priorities of an Access Guide
An access guide should prioritize four things. First, the guide needs to be welcoming. Museum guests should know from the tone and look of the guide that the museum is open and welcoming to them.
Second, the guide needs to be informative. By that I mean that it should include all the programs and services a museum offers its guests with disabilities, as well as where to call for more information, and give the particulars what's tactile, which parts of the museum have auditory components, and which invite participation so guests can plan their visit better.
The information, of course, must be accurate. There is no such thing as almost accessible. By naming what is not accessible, we help guests make alternate plans or use another route (which might be suggested to them). It is best to be up-front and clear. An example in our museum is an accessible route to the lower level both elevators will get you there, but one hallway has steps; we suggest the other one in our guide.
Third, the language used in the guide should be respectful. Use "people first language"; that is, referring to the person before the disability (i.e. "visitors with disabilities" instead of "disabled visitors").
Finally, the guide itself must be accessible. Often, that means having it available in alternate formats, such as Braille, large print, audiocassette, on disk, and on an accessible web page. A guide is most usable when it is designed to reach out to the broadest possible audience; this concept is often called "universal design." That means that the guide is manageable in size, uses universal symbols, has high contrast between print and background, avoids bright white paper, and is large enough to read. Ultimately, the goal is to create a guide that can be used by all guests: Information about access should be included and integrated into the museum's general guide.
Tips for Creating an Access Guide
The Ten Tips for Making an Access Guide that appear in the Accessible Practices section of the ASTC web site are helpful; I especially like the examples that are given from various museums, as well as how terms are defined for example, that "large print" means type in 18 point.
One tip is to survey museum staff in order to learn what is accessible and what is not. I would add that using a checklist helps this process. This is what we did and are still doing; we follow an accessibility checklist developed by the Adaptive Environments Center. We will often conduct a focus group of individuals with various disabilities or people who represent them to survey our facility. Their input is very helpful. For example, we have learned that some places may be accessible for people who use wheelchairs, but not for people who use electric scooters.
Also, we learned it was helpful to ask people with various disabilities to try prototypes of the access guide before it was printed. Doing this leads to a more accurate guide, as well as savings in time and money.
Educating Staff About Your Access Guide
Once the access guide is available to the public, staff must be ready to respond to guests who, having read the guide, have a question or a request, such as how to get the infrared headset they read about in the guide.
Preparing staff by explaining what is available and how to get it is an ongoing process; as new staff are hired, it is very important to get them up to speed. Equally important is informing existing staff of new accommodations as they become available.
Distributing Your Access Guide
A final point involves the distribution of the guide. We strive for the widest possible distribution. The guide can be picked up at the information desk, but I also refer to it on my voice mail. I talk about it any time I am interviewed or speak at meetings, and it is referred to on our web site. In addition, by talking with staff in other areas of the museum, I identify who distributes materials by mail. With their cooperation, the access guide is added in these mailings. For example, the telemarketing department includes the guide with their materials, as do the staff who mail out school field trip confirmations. Museum staff doing community outreach take copies with them. We have an ongoing process of finding links with disability-related organizations and parent groups. I would like to get our guides to them and get notices in their newsletters. One way to do this is to call other museums in the area to learn what contacts they have in place.
You can write to Nicole Michaud at: Museum of Science, Science Park, Boston, MA 02114-1099; or e-mail her at NMichaud@mos.org
Click on the links below for more information on:
Print Materials, including Braille, audiocassette, large print, and electronic documents
Ten Tips for Making an Access Guide