Accessibility

Making your museum more accessible will expand your impact and reach to include people with disabilities and their families. Disabilities can range from the physical, affecting mobility, vision and hearing, to the cognitive, affecting learning processes. The resources below contain many simple, low- or no-cost ways you can make your museum or historic site more accessible to visitors with disabilities.

General Resources

Published by the Smithsonian as an in-house guide for creating accessible museum exhibitions, this website provides a thorough overview of the many ways you can make your own museum more accessible to visitors with a variety of disabilities. Topics covered include:

  • Maps and resources for wheelchair accessibility
  • Resources for staff and families to facilitate children of the autism spectrum engaging with museum materials
  • Visitor services, including sign language interpretation and braille exhibit guides
  • Guidelines for assessing accessibility and 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 to your web presence to make it more accessible, such as:

  • How to choose an accessible web service or platform
  • Improving site design to become more compatible with screen readers
  • Guidelines for adding alternative text and instructions for navigating links
  • Troubleshooting comment forms and opening new windows from links

Part directory, part toolbox, this website from the American Alliance of Museum’s Center for the Future of Museums lists a myriad of resources and approaches to for making museums and museum media more accessible. For those seeking a community of museum experts who offer insight into how they tackle accessibility issues at their institutions, check out the first section of the website. For those who are tech-savvy, scroll down to the second section to check out digital tools and devices. 

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 visitor on the autism spectrum 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.

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.

Subversive Access: Disability History Goes Public in the United States by Catherine Kudlick of San Francisco State University

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, and that the autism rate is growing. 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 inclusivity at your institution.

The Children’s Museum in New Hamshire’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.