Putting Together an Access Project
When interviewed in 2001 for this profile,
Liz Adams was admissions coordinator for visitor services at the
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). Here she discusses
building support among OMSI senior management for the Access OMSI
Project. Once it was approved, an interdepartmental team was formed
to work toward improving accessibility in all areas of the museum.
One of my responsibilities as admissions coordinator at OMSI is
to respond to visitor comment cards, forwarding them to relevant
staff and monitoring progress on the changes made. I first became
involved with accessibility when a visitor asked about captioning.
When I wrote back that I would investigate, the visitor sent me
information on how to contact the regional technical assistance
center for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I did so
and received lots of useful material. The question about captioning
and the resources available helped me to see accessibility as
an opportunity to work to open the museum to people with disabilities.
Access OMSI Project
Eventually, I wrote a proposal titled Access OMSI. I began by talking with staff to get a feel for where they were in regard to accessibility and what they thought was possible. I also investigated what other science centers were doing. Additionally, I contacted local disability organizations to make sure that I understood the needs of people with various disabilities and that an audience would come if we made changes.
I admit that early on I thought there were ADA police out there ready to pounce. Would our flaws attract undue attention? Would we get sued? What did we need to do to protect ourselves? Again I called on staff at the regional ADA Technical Assistance Center and local Independent Living Resource Center. They reassured me, and I passed this information on to OMSI staff who had voiced concerns similar to mine.
Besides consulting with colleagues in other science centers, I made good use of several resources. Perhaps the most helpful was Everyone's Welcome (1998) published by the American Association of Museums. Following their "Nine Building Blocks to Accessibility," I outlined a step-by-step process for improving accessibility at OMSI, but with one difference: I wanted an interdepartmental team, rather than one person, to oversee and coordinate the museum's accessibility efforts. I believed that having team members from most, if not all, departments at the museum would not only bring a wide range of expertise and perspectives to the table but also greatly assist in implementation.
Getting the Ball Rolling: Building Institutional Support
Once my manager and OMSI's president, Nancy Stueber, had approved
the proposal, I worked to get the support of department managers.
If they believed in this project, I reasoned, so would their staff.
Leadership from OMSI's president was key in this regard. At a
meeting of senior managers, Nancy introduced the project and I
followed, describing project goals and format in greater detail.
At subsequent staff meetings, she talked again about the project
and how important it was for us to do it.
Access OMSI identifies the following reasons for working toward accessibility:
- Our legal obligation: We needed to look into what we were doing because we didn't even know if OMSI was meeting its obligations.
- Accessibility is part of the science center's mission.
- Accessibility is not only doable, it can also strengthen staff training, enhance customer service, and raise disability awareness among staff, volunteers, and board members.
- New audience can bring in additional revenue.
- Outside support existed: My contacts with people with disabilities and disability organizations indicated that people would be willing to donate their time and/or provide free promotion of our accessibility efforts.
- Increasing accessibility would improve the museum experience for everyone.
Although it took four months to form our team, we've been making
steady progress. On accomplishment is installation of a TTY so people
who are deaf can call the museum. Work in progress includes prototyping
an access guide that describes the accessible features at OMSI and
developing the content for an all-staff training on disability awareness.
So what have I learned from this project? I've learned that changes can begin with a visitor's question; that taking the time to build institutional support is necessary if changes are to happen; and that if you look within your community, there are individuals and organizations knowledgeable about disabilities and accessibility ready to offer their help. And finally, I've learned that each department in our science center has something to offer and something to gain from working toward accessibility.
Click on the links below for more information
with ADA Professionals