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Accessible PracticesWorkshops

Accessibility begins as a mandate to serve people who have been discriminated against for centuries; it prevails as a tool that serves diverse audiences for a lifetime.
—Janice Majewski, Smithsonian Institution Accessibility Program Coordinator, Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibition Design, 1996.

To support ASTC-member institutions as they work to welcome and accommodate visitors with disabilities, ASTC initiated the Accessible Practices Project 1999.

Parked just outside the meeting room, Betty Davidson's scooter is ready to whisk her away to an exhibit review.

Through regional workshops, information disseminated via the Internet, conference sessions, and networks developed at regional and national levels, the project helped to build and maintain an infrastructure that enables science center and museum professionals to better respond to both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and their expressed mission to open their doors to everyone.


Workshop descriptions explains activities at regional workshops.

Photo album provides photos and descriptions of important events and people at workshops that have already occurred.


Funding NSF logo

The Accessible Practices workshops were funded in part by two grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF), one from the division of Informal Science Education and one from the Program for Persons with Disabilities. Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of NSF.

Purpose

Across the United States, more than 300 science centers and museums, located in nearly every major city and many smaller communities, welcome 115 million visitors annually.

Imagine a typical science center environment with its intriguing science content: pendulums to swing, oversized blocks for building an arch, microscopes for viewing paramecia, a lifelike model of a leaf cutter ant, a simulated dinosaur dig, computers linking visitors to the Internet, video monitors showing scientists talking about their work.

In her wheelchair, Anne Holmblad's knees barely fit below the counter with a Wentzscope. But what if these opportunities to explore and learn about the world are not accessible to persons with disabilities, persons who make up over 20% of the U.S. population? What if there is no captioning displayed on the video monitor? What if the ant mod hel has been placed behind glass? What if the eyepiece of the microscope is out of reach? People with disabilities should not be deprived of the thrill of science exploration and discovery.

Background

In 1997, the National Science Foundation awarded an Accessible Practices planning grant to ASTC and the National Center for Children and Youth (NICHY), a project of the Academy for Educational Development. This grant funded two activities, a survey of administrators at ASTC-member institutions to gauge accessibility among science centers and a prototype workshop for exhibit planners and designers.

Standing behind a low counter, Bob Raiselis leads five youths and Sheila Gorski, a wheelchair user, in a hands-on science activity.

The telephone survey of 25 science center and museum administrators undertaken by ASTC revealed that work still remained to be done by these institutions in regard to welcoming and accommodating visitors with disabilities. A summary of the survey results is printed in the November/December 1997 ASTC Newsletter.

What do exhibit planners, designers, and fabricators need and want to know about accessibility? What would a workshop look like? Who should be involved? To help answer these questions, a half-day workshop was organized at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vermont, in the summer of 1998. Participants in this workshop learned about more than measurements when they went through exhibit halls with people with disabilities.

Mary Flanagan (left), a transition specialist for the Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, joins Montshire staff Joan Waltermire and Liz Claud at Air Play.As stated by Joan Waltermire, director of exhibits at the Montshire:
"There were surprises and good suggestions aplenty. The books that tell you what the law is don't tell you about all the subjective factors in a visitor's experience. It's best to find out from your public what makes an exhibit work, instead of trying to guess."

To read more about what happened at the workshop, see the July/August 1998 ASTC Newsletter.

The results of the survey and the prototype workshop were used to inform the Accessible Practices Project. With a pair of grants from the National Science Foundation, ASTC planned a series of regional workshops, as well as sessions at the ASTC Annual Conference, to promote accessible practices in science centers across the nation. Additionally, a monthly online newsletter, Accessible Practices EXCHANGE, was printed starting January 2003 through December 2003. Issues have been archived for wider dissemination.

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