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Building a Community to Support Accessibility

Last month marked the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Even though accessibility has improved a lot since then, many museums still struggle with being more open and accommodating.  Just identifying barriers in your museum and deciding how to remove them can be difficult.

What are the legal requirements?  What are the most current and effective best practices for museums?  What do we do if we don’t have the resources to meet requirements and follow best practices?  What does the community need?  These are just a few questions that come up in conversation.

Museum people want to learn and do more for these visitors, but finding the time to dig for these answers can be a problem. Why not work with colleagues at other museums in your area?

Accessibility is relevant to every museum, large or small, so why not team up, and share ideas and information?  We’re doing this in Indianapolis and plan to keep it as an ongoing program.  With guidance from my advisor at IUPUI and a few mentors from museums in town, we established Access Indy, a roundtable that lets museum people help each other by discussing accessibility issues. We hosted five sessions during the school year and had some great guest speakers talk about universal design, inclusive play programs for kids with disabilities, and ADA compliance.

You don’t have to be part of a big museum community or have formal presentations with guest speakers to start this conversation in your area.  All it takes is one person. Consider signing up a representative from each organization in your region to meet for lunch once a month.  Pick a different topic each time, so all of you can share some information, insights and solutions.

By consistently learning more about meeting your visitors’ needs, you’ll strengthen your organization and your local museum community by opening opportunities for everyone.

Kris Johnson has her MA in Museum Studies from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.  Her work focuses on issues of access and inclusion for visitors with sensory disabilities.  Kris has been an intern at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, working on projects related to evaluating accessibility and drafting a museum-wide access plan.  She also established Access Indy, a roundtable for museum professionals in central Indiana to discuss current topics and trends in museum accessibility.

Kris will be presenting on topics of access and inclusion at the Association of Indiana Museums and the American Association of State and Local History in September.

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