Deborah Cardin, Education Director, Jewish Museum of Maryland,  Baltimore, MD Creating a Museum Accessibility Program  4:43

I would say that one of the key steps for us was to create an Accessibility Policy Committee that included members of staff, including our museum’s Executive Director, Board of Trustees, volunteers, also just experts form various fields in the field of accessibility. This was very critical for me because it meant that I wasn't just working on this by myself.  I really did not have a background working in those areas, and I felt that I had at my disposal some experts.  Also it meant I had a buy-in from our Director and Board of Trustees, which was critical before really doing anything beyond that, and there was a real recognition that we needed to start including, in our budget, funding for improvements to our facilities and accessibility. I also started communicating with our volunteers, which of course as a small museum, it is our volunteers that provide the only contact with our visitors. Then I was connected with ABS, and that was tremendously helpful because there was a real recognition that we didn't have a huge budget to dedicate to this initiative. At Nina's suggestion I starting doing a survey of what we currently offer, particularly for school groups, and so many of our programs for school groups include reproduced objects that can be touched, textiles, Jewish ritual objects. So we’ve started incorporating some of these materials in our tours, so that was helpful because we didn't have to start anything from scratch. I also hired an intern to work on research projects in the education department. She herself has a visual impairment, so she expressed interest in working on this initiative with me and she was very eager to help us get started and that provided another huge impetus. She also worked very closely with Nina to develop a series of training programs for docents. Before she did this she was very ingenious and used some of the local resources, and at her suggestion we had several school groups come from the Maryland School for the Blind and visit our facility over the summer. That really gave us a lot of feedback about how we can improve our services. Our intern brought in her Braille writer and created some wonderful labels to put on the back of photographs that we can now make available. We actually thought about how we can incorporate touchable items at different times during the tour, and then we worked with ABS to create two training workshop, and in the interest of our budget we had our intern run the first workshop session and she provided an overview of disability awareness and she also brought in simulators and canes so we were really able to practice our techniques with guiding visitors and [gain] an understanding of the different kinds of disabilities. Then we brought in ABS to lead the second part of the training, and the one thing that I would say was an unintended consequence of the training is I opened it up to the entire staff—to our security guards, custodians and all of our volunteers, and I would say that about seventy-five percent of our staff chose to attend, even people that don't have much contact with the public. That was so validating because it sent a message that everyone on staff is on board and that it is important for everybody to be well versed in this. If it’s someone answering the phones, working in the gift shop, that everybody has a certain level of comfort. That was something that was really exciting. Then in our second training session we focused almost exclusively on verbal descriptions. We actually went into the synagogue and tried to describe the physical space, how to describe the various architectural elements of the buildings. ABS provided us with tactile diagrams, which were very helpful in terms of thinking about architectural elements.

 

 

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