Accessibility: Breaking New Ground

November 30th, 2012 - Posted in 2012, Dimensions by Alejandro Asin

November/December 2012

In recent decades science museums have made significant progress in meeting the needs of visitors with a range of disabilities—physical, cognitive, and behavioral. But much more remains to be done for the inclusion of people with disabilities to become the norm. In this issue, we explore what it means to be inclusive and how science museums can adopt universal design practices to make accessibility part of their institutional culture. The articles include personal perspectives from two authors with disabilities as well as guidelines, resources, and specific suggestions that any institution can use to provide a successful experience for every visitor.


Changing Practices: Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Science Museums, by Christine Reich
• An Institutional Culture of Inclusion, by Elizabeth Fleming
• Universal Design: Inclusive and Accessible Museum Experiences, by Sina Bahram
• The Adaptive Mindset: Reflections on Accessibility, by Gabrielle Trépanier
• Engaging Students with Disabilities in Accessibility Reviews, by Sheryl Burgstahler and Lyla Crawford
• From Access to Inclusion: Welcoming the Autism Community, by Paula Rais

Download the full issue.

Subscribe/order back issues

Changing Practices: Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Science Museums

November 30th, 2012 - Posted in 2012, Dimensions by Alejandro Asin

By Christine Reich
From Dimensions
November/December 2012

Science museums hold great promise for engaging learners of a broad range of abilities and disabilities in informal science learning. As institutions known for their interactive and self-directed activities, science museums already exhibit many of the principles of universal design for learning that foster equitable learning environments for all (see the Center for Applied Special Technology). Science museums have the ability to present information and content in a variety of ways, they can offer visitors multiple ways to express themselves, and they are designed to foster interest and curiosity. In fact, these very characteristics of science learning experiences in museums have been found to eliminate the performance differences that can exist in the classroom between students with disabilities and those without disabilities.

Science as Child’s Play

November 29th, 2012 - Posted in 2012, Dimensions, From the CEO by Anthony (Bud) Rock

Let me forewarn readers that the next few paragraphs are about science—real science, as defined by such terms as inductive reasoning, hypothesis testing, statistical analyses, and probabilistic modeling. Some people call this child’s play, and, in fact, it is precisely about child’s play that I am referring.

I was struck by an article in a recent edition of Science magazine (September 28, 2012; p. 1623) that discussed new studies concerning scientific thinking in young children. The thrust of the article is that, when even very young children think and learn, they employ intuitive processes that are directly analogous to the fundamentals of scientific inquiry. Children make detailed observations of their worlds, systematically formulating hypotheses, experimenting, analyzing, revising, and making decisions in essentially the same rigorous fashion that defines good science.

Pacific Science Center, Bootheel Youth Museum, Long Island Children’s Museum among 2012 National Medal recipients

November 14th, 2012 - Posted in Featured, Member News by Larry Hoffer

ASTC members Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Washington; Bootheel Youth Museum in Malden, Missouri; and Long Island Children’s Museum in Garden City, New York, were among the 10 libraries and museums selected by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to receive the 2012 National Medal for Museum and Library Service. The National Medal is the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries for extraordinary civic, educational, economic, environmental, and social contributions. Recipients must demonstrate innovative approaches to public service and community outreach.

“Museums and libraries serve as community anchors and this year’s winners—from urban North Miami to Naturita, Colorado, home to just 542 people—showcase the positive difference these institutions make for everyone. Innovative programs are teaching residents how to read late in life, inspiring children to dream, using technology to offer e-books on the go, and bridging cultural differences,” said Susan Hildreth, director, Institute of Museum and Library Services. “This year’s National Medal for Museum and Library Service recipients demonstrate the many ways libraries and museums build strong communities and provide opportunities for individual success.”

Pacific Science Center seeks to go beyond just teaching guests about science. In recognizing this institution, IMLS highlighted several programs and initiatives, including: the Portal to the Public program, which connects the public with cutting-edge science by training scientists to demonstrate and explain their research; Discovery Corps, which gets students excited about the world around them and teaches invaluable job and life skills; and Professor Wellbody’s Academy of Health & Science, which emphasizes not an accumulation of health facts but the impact of personal choices in building healthier lives.

The Bootheel Youth Museum (BYM) is located in a city with a population of 4,277, and has only three full-time and three part-time staff members, and some volunteers. Yet it entertains, educates, and inspires “insatiable curiosity” in 30,000 visitors each year. The museum combines sound science and a thirst for adventure with innovative exhibits like BYM Children’s Village, This Island Mars: A Space Adventure, and Making Tracks on the Lewis and Clark Trail.

The Long Island Children’s Museum delights more than 250,000 visitors annually with its hands-on exhibits and is a gathering place for the local community. It offers a wide range of programming to meet the needs of its diverse audience. Community focused initiatives provide kindergarten readiness programs to Spanish and Haitian Creole speaking immigrant families; share the Museum’s resources with teachers to engage their students in scientific inquiry; support families in crisis through strategies encouraging healthy parent and child interactions; and engage teens to teach “green” lessons to visitors in the Museum’s popular outdoor exhibit, Our Backyard.

The National Medal was created to celebrate the vital role museums and libraries play in American society, and is awarded to institutions that have developed innovative ways to serve their communities. In addition to the Pacific Science Center, Bootheel Youth Museum, and Long Island Children’s Museum, 2012 recipients included: Contra Costa County Library, Pleasant Hill, California; Cumberland County Public Library, Fayetteville, North Carolina; Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago, Illinois; Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, Florida; Naturita Community Library, Colorado; Park View High School Library Media Center, Sterling, Virginia; and Shaler North Hills Library, Glenshaw, Pennsylvania.

Medal winners are selected from nationwide nominations of institutions that demonstrate innovative approaches to public service, exceeding the expected levels of community outreach. The National Medal will be presented during a celebration later today in Washington, D.C.

To learn more about this year’s winners, visit

ASTC Update: Three ASTC members receive IMLS/MacArthur Learning Labs grant, four more to partner with awarded libraries

November 13th, 2012 - Posted in ASTC News, Featured, Member News, Professional Development by Larry Hoffer

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced November 8 that three ASTC-member institutions—the Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley, California; Madison Children’s Museum, Wisconsin; and the Science Museum of Virginia Foundation, Richmond—were among the second round of winners of a U.S.-wide competition to design 21st Century learning labs in museums and libraries around the country.

The winners—five museums and seven libraries—will receive a total of $1.2 million in grants to plan and design the labs. Inspired by YOUMedia, a teen space at the Chicago Public Library, and innovations in science and technology centers, these labs will help young people move beyond consuming content to making and creating it.

In addition to the three ASTC members that received Learning Labs grants, four additional ASTC members—Carnegie Science Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Las Vegas Natural History Museum, Nevada; Lied Discovery Children’s Museum, Las Vegas, Nevada; and Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas, Texas—will partner with awarded libraries in their communities.

Each Learning Lab will be designed to facilitate a research-based education model known as connected learning–one that promotes discovery, creativity, critical thinking and real-world learning through activities and experiences that bring together academics and young people’s interests, often facilitated by digital and traditional media. The labs will connect teens to mentors and peers, as well as anytime, anywhere access to information through online social networks, so they can pursue their interests more deeply and connect these new skills to academics, career, and civic engagement.

ASTC CEO Anthony (Bud) Rock remarked, “We are very excited about the continued success of the Learning Labs program. Science centers and museums nurture the innovative spirit so crucially needed for success in today’s world, and using digital media to further ignite the excitement of our nation’s youth about lifelong STEM learning will ensure that future generations cultivate the skills they need, such as problem solving, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. The fact that three of the five museums named as grant recipients are science centers is an exciting testament to the strength of our field as an incubator of innovation in our communities.”

The 12 recipients of this round of grants were selected out of a pool of 105 applicants from 33 states. Applications were evaluated by professionals with relevant expertise in digital media and learning. Winners will participate—in-person and online—in a community of practice that will provide technical assistance, networking, and cross-project learning. In addition to the Lawrence Hall of Science, Madison Children’s Museum, and the Science Museum of Virginia Foundation, those institutions selected as grant recipients include: University of Alabama/Alabama Museum of Natural History, Tuscaloosa; Rochester Public Library, New York; City of Lynn, Massachusetts (Lynn Public Library); Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, Nevada; Parmly Billings Library Foundation, Inc., Billings, Montana; Pima County Public Library, Tucson, Arizona; and Poughkeepsie Public Library District, New York.

These grantees join 12 other communities also planning new learning centers in libraries and museums as a part of the Learning Labs in Libraries and Museums project. The initiative was first announced in September 2010 in response to President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign, an effort to foster cross-sector collaboration to improve America’s students’ participation and performance in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Since then, MacArthur and IMLS have committed to invest $4 million to support knowledge-sharing activities for museums and libraries nationwide, and work together to create new Learning Labs across the nation.

For more information about the Learning Labs project, visit or

© Association of Science - Technology Centers Incorporated