Turning museums and historic sites into inclusive spaces often begins with a simple step: becoming more knowledgeable and comfortable interacting with people with disabilities. When museums prioritize inclusive policies, practices and institutional cultures (from staff to visitors), meaningful partnerships can grow. The Partners for Youth with Disabilities offer a myriad of in-person and online services to train and support your efforts to become disability inclusive.
Making your museum more accessible will expand your impact and reach to include people with disabilities and their families. Disabilities can be from the physical, affecting mobility, vision and hearing, or cognitive, affecting how patrons learn and process. The resources below contain many simple, low- or no-cost ways you can make your museum or historic site more accessible.
Published by the Smithsonian as an in-house guide for creating accessible museum exhibitions, this website provides a thorough overview of how you can make your own museum more accessible. The guide includes:
- Maps and resources for wheelchair accessibility
- Resources for staff and families to help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) engage with museum materials
- Visitor services, including sign language interpretation and braille exhibit guides
- Guidelines for assessing accessibility procedures, policies and designs for facilities and exhibits
Many museums and historic sites have web sites and blogs, but many users of these resources could benefit from more accessible design. This guide from the American Foundation for the Blind suggests small changes you can make your web presence more accessible, such as:
- Chosing an accessible web service or platform
- Improving site design to become more compatible with screen readers
- Adding alternative text and instructions for navigating links
- Troubleshooting comment forms and opening new windows from links
This website from the American Alliance of Museum’s Center for the Future of Museums lists resources and approaches for making museums and museum media more accessible.
This Model Accessibility Plan from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University can be used as a model for your small museum for creating a thorough yet achievable accessibility policy at your museum. Their resources include:
- Maps and exhibit features of interest for the mobility- and visually impairs
- Seeing animal policy and sign language interpreter requests
- Special schedules and pre-visit resources for visitors with ASD or with sensory and cognitive processing disabilities
Have a particular question about disability or accessibility? Not finding the resource you need, or need help with troubleshooting a specific issue? Submitting your query to the H-Disability Listerv might be a good place to start.
Resources Specific to the Needs of Visitors on the Autism Spectrum
As of 2014, the Center for Disease Control estimates that 1 in every 59 children are on the autism spectrum. Museums are becoming an increasingly important space for autistic communities because they offer a variety of ways of learning and engaging content. Explore the Autism in the Museum blog and website for a comprehensive review of resources, tools, and models for addressing accessibility and inclusion at your institution.
The Children’s Museum in New Hampshire’s Exploring Our Way Austism Program is a great model for creating weekly programming for children with autism. It also contains its pre-visit resources as downloadable PDFs, and lists its many staff members and community partners with direct contact information for you and visitors to reach out with questions or interest.