How to Make Educational Programs Accessible?

Added to Medium, August 31, 2017

Museums prepare school programs for the upcoming year, and we figure out how to make these programs accessible for all students of various capabilities. There are different ways museums have developed programs that are accessible for all learners. For instance, museum programs are developed to be easily adapted to all ages and capabilities. Another way is specific programs can be developed to be geared towards specific capabilities. Many museums have a combination of programs geared to be easily adapted and towards specific capabilities.

 

It is important to be able to have different types of programs that can be adapted to all individuals with various capabilities as well as those geared towards different capabilities because each individual learns in different capacities and there should not be limitations to what they can participate in. Also, not many museums have the resources to create costly programs geared to people who need to learn in different ways including, not limited to, those with visual impairments, hearing impairments, and memory loss.

 

I learned additional information about accessible programming at this past year’s New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) conference. The theme of the conference was “Inclusivity: From Within & Beyond”, and it was located at the School of Visual Arts.
When I was at this past year’s NYCMER meeting, I attended a session that discussed various accessibility programs. This session was called “Resource Workshop: Designing Accessible Materials”, and it was presented by Miranda Appelbaum (from the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts), Lara Schweller (from The Museum of Modern Art), Beth Ann Balalaos (from the Long Island Children’s Museum), Ellysheva Zeira (from the Lower East Side Tenement Museum), Charlotte Martin (from the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum), Emmanuel von Schack (from the National September 11 Memorial & Museum), and Roberto Chavez (from the New York Transit Museum). It was a workshop in which I participated in various micro-workshops where I learned more about designing social narratives and visual schedules, tactile objects, training resources, and digital resources.

 

During the Resource workshop, the presenters handed out various documents to assist participants in learning about how to create our own programs. For instance, one of the handouts we received was called “Creating Resources for People who are Blind or have Low Vision”. On the handout, it gave advice on verbal descriptions including having a plan in which the programs provide a verbal description interwoven with a story; use specific words in the description including composition, color, texture, pattern, and relative size; and be able to choose a few important features and consider the best way to order the information to not overwhelm the audience.
The handout also shared the best practices for objects. According to the handout, the best practices for objects are show and tell, give clear instructions, connect to the object’s physicality by asking the visitors feel an object’s weight and texture for instance, set a time limit with the kids, and be selective. There was also a DIY Object Ideas section in the handout that provides ideas to assist in teaching these programs.

 

These ideas include the use easy to find craft/household supplies including puffy/fabric paint, plastic lace, and restaurant squeeze bottles, jars and mesh (for smells). Another idea on the handout was to check out the Lighthouse Guild Shop where it has items such as bump/locator dots which can be used for all sorts of things and ‘High Mark’ tactile pens. One of the most important advices the presenters and handout provided was to not be afraid to try new things since one can always ask for feedback from participants with new methods and materials.

 

In addition to programming, it is also important to be able to provide resources easily accessible for all visitors. One of the ways to provide resources easily is an accessible website that make accessibility information easy to find on your institution’s homepage; it is also important to include a statement about your institution’s accessibility commitment, highlight the resources your institution provides, and to keep your website up-to-date with accessibility web standards.

 

Also, it is important to have visible signage about accessibility features visible to the public. In addition to visible signage, it is especially important to train staff to share information about accessibility features and to train staff with disability equality awareness in mind.
There should also be universal options provided for visitors when they come to the museums or institutions. In other words, it is important to integrate accessibility into every museum resource, to make accessibility options available to all users when possible, and to create kits and content for exploring exhibitions and object information in different ways. It is also important to opt for a Universal Design for every individual to be able to use to comprehend the material museums offer.

 

There are ways to have cost effective programs for accessible programming.

 

At the Long Island Museum, for instance, there is an In the Moment program that uses limited resources to educate individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and memory loss on the museum’s collections as well as help them with their memories. Each booked program is changed depending on which exhibit a group is interested in seeing. For instance one program would be interested in viewing an exhibit in the Carriage Museum building while another group would be interested in seeing the latest exhibit in the Art Museum building.

 

When the program is booked for inside the Carriage museum, various props representing the parts of a carriage from the collections are shared with participants. By allowing the participants to feel the props they will be able to begin to understand the significance of these items. For instance, they understand how heavy the materials made for the carriage and why these materials have to be the best quality.
In the Art Museum, some participants viewed the Long Island in the Sixties exhibit. Songs from the 1960s were selected and downloaded based on the different parts of the exhibit. They were also able to sit and look at pre-selected displays to view and discuss about. During both experiences, participants were able to bring pictures home of what they saw at the museum to share with loved ones and inspire continued discussion about what they saw during their visits.

 

Both types of In the Moment programs encourage participants to discuss what they see and remember from the past. When asked questions, participants share sometimes personal memories and observations. The purpose of these activities is to inspire them to talk and interact with their surroundings.
As we continue to keep up to date on accessibility standards, we should also be able to appeal to a wider audience through programming accessible for all types of learners.

 

What kinds of accessible programs have you learned about? Are there any methods that your institutions have practiced? What worked and/or what were the lessons learned from those experiences?
Announcement: On my website, I have included more resources especially about how to prepare for natural disasters and museums reactions to Hurricane Harvey. Take a look at https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.wordpress.com/resources/articles-I-am-reading/

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