Why should I provide accommodations for people with disabilities?
It’s actually the law! The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (A.D.A.) did many things, including defining museums, galleries, and libraries as public spaces. Therefore, these institutions have to accommodate people with disabilities. You can read up more about Title III of the law, the part that talks about museums, on the A.D.A. website, found here.
My institution is wheelchair accessible. Am I A.D.A. compliant?
Not necessarily. Remember that there are more disabilities than physical disabilities. People with sensory impairments – those who are d/Deaf, hard of hearing, and/or blind – along with people with intellectual disabilities, sensory processing disorder, Autism, and P.T.S.D. and other psychiatric disabilities exist, and many times intersect one another. These disabilities need to be taken into account as well. Likewise, just because someone has the ability to enter a space, it doesn’t mean that it is fully accessible. Are there accessible restroom stalls in your institution? Automatic doors? Are hallways and galleries wide enough to fit a wheelchair through comfortably? At what height are vitrines and object labels? Are there elevators (if applicable), and are they reliable? These are all questions to ask yourself when determining if your institution is compliant. Web accessibility is also important. You’ll notice that this website has options to make text larger or smaller, as well as color contrast options. This is to make the text easier to read for people with vision troubles. Image descriptions, color choices, and font choices can make a difference for web visitors who are blind, color blind, or dyslexic. You can read more about web accessibility on the Web Accessibility Initiative website.
Where can I get funding to make the changes necessary?
Grants. I hate to oversimplify matters, because as we all know, grants are hard to come by and take a lot of effort to apply for. However it is the best way to fund your project. A number of accessibility grants exist, as well as accessibility grants that are specifically meant for museums, galleries, and libraries. See the next question for more resources on how to fund your accessibility project.
What other resources can I check out to help me figure out what accommodations I need to put in place?
I really like the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium (C.C.A.C.). Their website has a digital archive of past sessions that address many of the questions found here. It’s not necessarily Chicago-specific, many of their suggestions can be applied to museums across the country. There’s also the Museum Access Consortium (M.A.C.) that operated out of New York City. It doesn’t look like they update anymore, but there’s still good information there. See the “Additional Resources” tab for more websites.
How do I get people with disabilities to attend my programs and utilize my accommodations?
This is a tricky question. There’s the thought of “If you build it, they will come.” This is not necessarily the case. There may be aversion to attend such programs because of anxiety that the needs of a person may not be met. My suggestion is to involve the community in planning and implementation of your programs. Reach out to independent living organizations in your city or county, to schools and other social programs or non-profit organizations that may serve people with disabilities and let them know that their needs are being considered and addressed, and that they are welcome in your institution. It may take time to build your audience, but take the Art Institute of Chicago’s A.S.L. tours as an example. They regularly have upwards of 50 people attending their tours, who are both hearing and Deaf. There is tremendous potential for growth of these programs. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate results.
How did you get all of these ideas for accommodations?
Mostly through surveys. I highly suggest focus groups as well to judge what accommodations your community needs. Keep in mind that all of my suggestions are starting off points. There’s so many possibilities for creative programming for people with disabilities, and the disabled community should be part of this process. The exciting, and perhaps also frustrating, part about accessibility is that it’s continually changing and there’s always more you can learn or do. Keep this in mind when creating your programming, and be patient, because it’s a continual process. I also suggest holding a focus group after you’ve put your accommodations in place to see if they’re effective.
Where can I find web accessibility features on this website?
On the right side of the screen, there is a blue icon with a figure of a person with their arms raised and the word “Panel” written underneath it. Click on this for various web accessibility features, like increased text size, readable font, and increased contrast.