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Accessible Practices
Let's design all things, all the time, for everyone.
—Ronald L. Mace, 1941-1998, former Program
Director for the Center for Universal Design,
June 1, 1997, New York Times

With these pages, ASTC seeks to support science centers and museums in their ongoing efforts to open their doors to all people, and specifically to people with disabilities and their families and friends. ASTC is dedicated to "aggressively pursuing equity and diversity" and makes this clear in its ASTC Equity Statement.

The individual and collective experiences of ASTC member-institutions inform these pages; to them we add information and resources from outside the field. These pages will change and grow as we find resources and new ways to help science centers and museums become more accessible.

We start with 11 issues of EXCHANGE, each providing information and resources for improving the visitors experience. We continue with Museums' Legal Obligations, summarizing federal accessibility laws. The Disability Rights Movement section directs you to relevant web sites presenting the issues as well as the people involved in this struggle for civil rights. Access Advisors suggests where to recruit people with personal and professional experience with various disabilities and how to involve them as advisors. Access Survey connects you to checklists and outlines the process for conducting a survey of your facility, its goods and services. Access Plan describes the process of writing a plan for removing the barriers you found during your access survey. Best Practices contains practical advice on how to create access guides; improve conferences and meetings, exhibits, programs, facilities, interactions with visitors, live and recorded media, marketing, print materials, and web page design; and schedule sign language interpreters. Funding provides links to foundations, and federal and state agencies that fund access projects. Behind the Scenes highlights people who exemplify successful practices. The Links and Publications list provides links to topics covered on these web pages.

Just as these pages are intended to support ASTC-member institutions to welcome and accommodate visitors with disabilities, ASTC and 10 science centers and museums co-hosted 16 Accessible Practices Workshops during the period 2000 to 2003. These workshops provided opportunities for museum professionals to learn from ADA professionals and people with various disabilities, and to network with colleagues from other institutions in their region. Continue to watch for workshops and sessions related to accessibility at future ASTC Annual Conferences.

How to Make Your Museum Accessible

Working toward accessibility is neither easy nor simple, and it takes time. Nonetheless, it is a rewarding pursuit. Working toward accessible practices stimulates thinking in new ways, and the creative solutions that often result serve all visitors better.

When making your science center or museum accessible, the key is to match the needs and capabilities of your institution with the needs and interests of your visitors, while remaining in compliance with the law. Following the process below will help you to create that match.

  • Become familiar with museums' legal obligations.
  • Talk to people in your community. Conduct focus groups and surveys, form advisory groups , build relationships with people with disabilities.
  • Consult with community organizations for and about people with disabilities.
  • Call or visit other institutions that have services like those you want to offer.
  • Conduct an access survey
  • Consider what resources you already have available in your museum.
  • Provide staff and volunteer training about interacting with people with disabilities. Additionally, staff and volunteers need to know what services and equipment the museum provides, where to find them, and how to maintain and operate them.
  • Make high priority and low cost changes in accordance with your plan.
  • Seek national and local funding for high cost changes.
NSF logoProject Funder

Accessible Practices was supported in part by two grants from the National Science Foundation: ESI 9814917 and HRD 9906095. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Science Foundation.

Acknowledgments

The materials on these web pages are drawn from the good work of many people and organizations. Among them are Jan Majewski and Beth Ziebarth, Program on Accessibility, Smithsonian Institution; Betty Davidson, Museum of Science, Boston; Kathy Gips and Andy Washburn, Adaptive Environments, Inc.; Paula Terry, National Endowment for the Arts; Larry Goldberg, Annette Posell, and Tom Wlodkowski, WGBH; Katherine Ott, National Museum of American History; Janet Bailey and staff, Sign Language Associates, Inc.; and Ellen Rubin, Laurie Gregorio, Joel Snyder, and Renee Wells, accessibility consultants. Although none of the above are directly responsible for the content of these pages, we sincerely hope it reflects their knowledge and experience as well as their commitment to museum professionals and people with disabilities working together toward accessible practices.

While Johanna Jones laid the groundwork for these pages in 1997-8, Sandy Saluke made the revisions you find here. Her careful research was augmented by numerous contacts with people with personal and professional experience with various disabilities. Wendy Pollock, Director ASTC Research and Publications, offered valuable guidance and Carolyn Sutterfield, Editor ASTC Dimensions, edited the copy. Sally Middlebrooks managed the Accessible Practices projects.

Disclaimer

ASTC is not responsible for the enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The information presented here is intended solely as informal guidance, and is neither a determination of your legal rights or responsibilities under the ADA, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. This web site is not intended to offer legal, architectural, engineering, or similar professional advice. You should refer specific questions to an attorney, and/or national, state, and local ADA authorities.

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