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Accessible PracticesWorkshopsPhoto Album

Photo Album for Southeast Facilities & Visitor Services Workshop, September 2000


The North Carolina Museum of Life and Science (NCMLS) and ASTC co-hosted an Accessible Practices Workshop focusing on facilities and visitor services on September 15, 2000.

This album includes a brief overview of the day as well as photographs and captions that introduce the participants and show the flow of various activities during the day. Separate pages at the end describe the work of each survey team in more detail.

Museum professionals attending the all-day workshop came from North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida. Most came in teams of two and three people. The science centers and museums represented were SciWorks, Battleship North Carolina, Catawba Science Center, Historic Bethabara Park, Discovery Place, Virginia Living Museum, and Fairchild Tropical Garden.

Eight people sit around a rectangular table piled with checklists, books, and lunches.

Participants worked in five groups of eight to 10 people. Facilitating each group were people who provide technical assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Three worked at state and regional government agencies, and two were affiliated with a local university.

In addition to the museum and ADA professionals, two or more people with personal and professional experiences with disabilities joined each group as advisors. By demonstrating what worked for them and what didn't, they helped make barriers visible. Diverse physical and sensory disabilities were represented, as were a range of occupations. Among these advisors were the owner of a communications company, a chemist, an orientation and mobility specialist, an architect, a therapeutic recreation specialist, two transition coordinators for high school students with disabilities, and a middle school student and his mother.


Getting to know each other

Roy Griffiths (below, standing center), vice president for exhibits at NCMLS, and Mary Flanagan (beside Griffiths), transition coordinator for the Division of Early Intervention and Education with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, led the group in getting to know each other. They asked participants to give their names, tell where they work and what they do, and then complete this sentence in three or four words, "I am here because I want to…" Responses included "learn," "be a resource," and "make a difference."

Two people stand center facing the photographer and two square tables with people sitting around them.

Museums' obligations to visitors with disabilities

Andy Washburn faces right in his wheelchair.  A sign language interpreter in the background translates for workshop participants.

Andy Washburn (left), information specialist for Adaptive Environments, Inc., reviewed museums' obligations to Section 504 of the1973 Rehabilitation Act and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He reminded the group of the parallels between the disability rights movement and other civil rights movements of this century.

Compliance with state and federal accessibility laws requires that museums know what barriers should be removed in existing facilities to allow visitors with disabilities to enjoy full participation. Equal opportunity for full participation also means that visitors with disabilities can obtain materials and services without assistance.

Because of the complexity of the museum experience, it is not surprising that an accessibility checklist for facilities and services would be long and thorough. A comprehensive survey should include parking, entrances, ramps, doors, path of travel, permanent signage, floor surfaces, seats, tables, counters, elevators, drinking fountains, emergency egress, telephones, and restrooms. The goal of the workshop for participants was not to do a complete access survey but to experience the process, use the tools correctly, and understand and appreciate the team approach.

Conducting access surveys

Dean Briere measures trash can in the restroom, while three other group members pore over their checklists.  Next to Dean, Ednetta Ellis sits in her wheelchair gazing to the right. A team member (left) read from the accessibility checklist as others measured, took notes, and recorded specific areas to be addressed with a disposable Polaroid camera.

Measuring heights of sinks and grab bars, widths of doors, and so on, down the checklist, makes tangible how important it is to a visitor with a disability for museum restrooms to be in full compliance.

All teams surveyed parts of a bathroom and considered horizontal circulation (path of travel). Other areas surveyed included the parking lot, the café, the gift shop, the railroad, and the front desk. Completing their surveys, each group made a list of areas to be addressed.


Reporting areas to be addressed

Renee Wells, workshop facilitator, asked someone from each group to talk about one area on their list. Two groups reported the need for new signage to designate the accessible restrooms next to the café and the parking space reserved for vans. Also reported as areas to be addressed were changes in restrooms and pruning of low-hanging tree branches.


Writing a transition / implementation access plan

Four women sit smiling along one side of a rectangular table, facing left. The next step in the process was to practice writing a transition/ implementation access plan. For this activity, participants worked in pairs, each pair choosing one item from their group list. As pairs worked, they turned to various reference materials available to them at their table, including the American Association of Museums' publication Everyone's Welcome. Pairs also consulted with the ADA professional leading their group.


Opportunities for networking

Throughout the day, there were opportunities for participants to make connections for the future. For example, museum professionals talked with both ADA professionals and advisors about leading staff trainings or coming to speak with the director at their museums.

About a dozen people stand throughout the large room, conversing in pairs or small groups. A table piled high with free booklets and fact sheets produced by organizations and agencies around the region became a place for finding resources and making new friends and allies.


What museum professionals said about their workshop experiences:

The mix of ADA professionals, people with disabilities, and museum professionals was excellent.

Working as a team made the assessment process easier to complete and understand.

The resources available made this an exceptional experience.

Now I know that small improvements can be made and can make a difference.

I used to think accessibility at my institution was impossible, but now I feel better armed for the fight.


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