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Friday, November 1, 2019

The Value of Prioritizing Accessibility for Cultural Institutions

Access Family Programs for children with
developmental disabilities and their familie
Susan Marenoff-Zausner is the president of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, a nonprofit, educational institution featuring the legendary aircraft carrier Intrepid, the space shuttle Enterprise, the world’s fastest jets, and a guided missile submarine. And, the Museum is finding innovative ways to use technology to make this important cultural institution more accessible to all.    

People with disabilities continue to face barriers — physical, attitudinal, communication, social, programmatic, logistical, and financial — to accessing cultural and educational opportunities. The World Health Organization and the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities have outlined how these barriers further disable and isolate individuals, creating obstacles to socioeconomic growth and inclusion in communities, workplaces and online.

Museums and cultural institutions are integral to their communities — they offer opportunities for people to make meaningful connections, share a social experience, and be inspired. We think they bear a special responsibility to be welcoming for all. 
At the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, located on Manhattan’s West Side, being welcoming and accessible are themes that resonate deeply, and we understand and embrace our unique obligation as a cultural institution. 

We are a nonprofit dedicated to the intersection of history and innovation, welcoming more than one million people from around the world each year. The centerpiece of the Museum is the aircraft carrier Intrepid, a technological marvel that once served in World War II, the Cold War, the Space Race, and the Vietnam War. 

ADA requirements are our minimum standard. In 2006, the World War II-era aircraft carrier and national historic landmark Intrepid went into dry dock for repairs. With its knee knockers, ladders, narrow doorways, and steel walls, we had a fierce challenge to make the ship as accessible as possible, while still preserving its character and historical integrity. Despite our significant physical constraints, we restored and renovated many areas of the ship, and made sure our infrastructure could support elements like induction loops and other important access technology.

Beyond continuous structural enhancements to the ship, we also incorporate access and inclusivity at the development stage, in exhibitions and in programming. We prototype, test, take chances, and are not afraid to learn from our mistakes. We form committees of advocates, professionals in accessibility and stakeholders themselves, and we ask how to improve the experience. And we look for partners with shared ideals.

As a prime example, in conjunction with the NYU Ability Project, we were recently awarded an Institute of Museum and Library Services national grant to expand the development of accessibility tools to other historic sites.

We now aim to continuously exchange ideas with similar organizations to help make our respective facilities and interpretation as accessible as possible to the broadest possible audiences, including those who cannot access certain spaces through the use of virtual exhibits. 

It is also vitally important that we collectively help inspire and guide the next generation to advance access. We bring together high school interns to work with children with disabilities, and this work has steered many toward access-related college majors and career goals, which they would not have otherwise considered.

Perhaps, most importantly, the culture of an organization must integrate and weave this emphasis inherently into all that it does. This means training – not just for those delivering the program – but for all individuals who may interact with the public to contemplate all possible audiences and experiences. It must be holistic. 

I leave you with this, if we can do it, all museums can too. And we can help. As I said before, Intrepid is a National Historic Landmark, a 76-year-old aircraft carrier, with significant physical constraints. We don’t let that deter us. In fact, it inspires us to think out of the box. Through the use of technology, virtual experiences, and creative and alternate ways of engagement we can welcome all to visit, to explore, to learn and to enjoy. 

Planning a visit to New York City? Learn more about the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum’s exhibitions, educational programming and the foremost collection of technologically groundbreaking aircraft and vessels. At the museum, visitors of all ages and abilities are taken on an interactive journey through history to learn about American innovation and bravery.


Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing. Knowledge is power and your museum helps society as a whole to embrace differences by acknowledging ways to make inclusion part of the conversation. I hope to bring my grandsons there during the warmer weather. May you have a positive productive day!

Omega said...

Thanks for the informative article and the website is awesome