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Accessible PracticesAccess Survey
The responsibility of providing an accessible environment for all museum visitors is ongoing and must be re-evaluated on a periodic basis.
—John P. S. Salmen, Universal Designers & Consultants, Inc., Everyone's Welcome, 1998.

To strive for compliance in existing exhibits, facilities and visitor services, museums need to know what is accessible and what needs improvement. Conducting an access survey provides that information.

We recommend survey teams composed of museum staff, people with disabilities, and an ADA professional. When looking for an ADA professional, consult city, county, and state agencies, all of which have ADA coordinators. Local colleges and universities are another possibility.

There are numerous accessibility checklists available. The one ASTC uses at its workshops focusing on facilities and visitor services is produced by Adaptive Environments Inc. It is called Checklist for Existing Facilities, version 2.1 (http://www.adaptenv.org/publications/checklist-pdf.pdf). The checklist ASTC uses at workshops focusing on exhibits is based on the Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibition Design (http://www.si.edu/opa/accessibility/exdesign). Another helpful publication is Everyone's Welcome, produced and sold by the American Association of Museums. This book uses text, drawings, and diagrams to explain the reasoning underlying accessibility guidelines.

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It takes time to assess all items on a checklist (rest rooms, path of travel, counter tops, emergency egress, etc.), measure accurately, and take detailed notes. To ensure consistency among teams, train all surveyors together and compare notes frequently. Develop a schedule showing what parts of the institution will be surveyed, when, and by whom. If possible, allow additional staff to move in and out of the process, if only to understand the teams' work. Keep all colleagues informed through informal conversations, progress reports at staff meetings, and internal print and electronic communication.

The next step is to write an access plan. Many successful access plans:

  • identify barriers that limit access
  • prioritize the areas needing improvement
  • explain what will be done to improve each area
  • state who is responsible
  • set a completion date.

We have created some examples of access plans to explain more clearly.

Looking over these plans, you will see that some of the improvements, such as establishing an advisory board, providing written materials in large print and on disk, installing a TTY alongside other public phones, and removing protruding objects, can take place almost immediately, at little or no cost. Other changes can be worked into a museum's general maintenance plan or into the budget for exhibit remediation. Saying that something is "too costly" has proven to be an unacceptable response.

Conducting a rigorous and systematic access inventory and then writing a comprehensive transition/ implementation plan helps museums avoid costly mistakes. Moreover, should a grievance arise, the plan serves as documentation of a museum's good faith effort to comply with state and federal accessibility guidelines. A more accessible museum is a more welcoming museum for everyone.

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Links and Publications Related to Assessment

To speak with a technical information specialist, contact the Americans with Disabilities Act Hotline, 800/514-0301 or TTY 800/514-0383.

Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers (DBTAC)
DBTACs provide public awareness, technical assistance, training, materials, and referrals on the ADA. Funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the U.S. Department of Education, the 10 centers are located throughout the country. To reach the DBTAC in your region call toll-free at V/TTY 800/949-4232. Copies of ADA publications are available at no or reasonable cost.

Among the many useful DBTAC documents are

  • Alternatives to Barrier Removal
  • Resources for More Information
  • Checklist for Existing Facilities, version 2.1: The ADA Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal
  • Title III Fact Sheet Series: Who Has Obligations Under the ADA
  • Title III Fact Sheet Series: Providing Effective Communication
  • Title III Fact Sheet Series: Communicating with People with Disabilities

Design for Accessibility: An Arts Administrators Guide. Washington, DC: National Endowment for the Arts, 1994.
A step-by-step 700-page guide of checklists, resources, and examples designed to assist cultural institutions in making programs and facilities comfortably available to the broadest public. To order, contact the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies at 202/347-6352.

Everyone's Welcome: the Americans with Disabilities Act and Museums. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums, 1999.
A manual for museum professionals to help them better understand and meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Recommendations address concerns for visitors with a range of physical and learning disabilities. Available with supplemental materials through the American Association of Museums (AAM, http://www.aam-us.org).

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Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibition Design. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Accessibility Program, 1996.
A Smithsonian standards manual for accessible exhibitions, publications, and media. To receive a free copy (also available in large print, audiocassette, or Braille) write to the Smithsonian Accessibility Program, Smithsonian Institution, Arts and Industries Building, Room 1239 MRC 426, Washington, DC 20560; 202/357-2700; TTY 202/357-1729; or e-mail viarc.info@ic.si.edu.

U. S. Access Board
The U.S. Access Board is responsible for developing the minimum guidelines and requirements for standards issued under the ADA and other laws addressing accessibility in facilities and communication. Contact the board by phone 800/872-2253, TTY 800/993-2822, fax 202/272-5447, or e-mail pubs@access-board.gov. A complete list of publications and the text of some publications are available at.

Among the many useful Access Board documents are


U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)
The DOJ distributes the ADA statute, Title II and Title III regulations, and technical assistance material addressing specific areas, such as service animals in public accommodations and parking lot requirements. For a free copy of these materials or a list of publications, call the ADA Information Line at 800/514-0301 or TTY 800/514-0383. Automated service is available 24 hours a day for recorded information and to order publications. A complete list of publications and the text of several documents are available on the website as well.

Among the many useful DOJ documents are

  • Public Law 101–336. Text of the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • ADA Title II Regulations
  • Title II Technical Assistance Manual and Supplements
  • ADA Title III Regulations
  • Title III Technical Assistance Manual and Supplements

This web site is not intended to offer legal, architectural, engineering, or similar professional advice. Refer specific questions to an attorney or an ADA authority.

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