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January 13, 2011 / helengraham

The GU University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities’ Consumer Advisory Council imagines an inclusive museum – and it begins with feeling like you belong

Consumer Advisory Council meets and discusses

The Georgetown University University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities invited the Museums for Us project to attend its Consumer Advisory Council meeting yesterday.

After introducing the project and the ideas suggested so far, I then took the opportunity to tap into the fantastic expertise of the Council’s self advocates, parent advocates, professionals and researchers.

Lots of very useful and inspiring ideas and opinions were shared but a key theme was a sense of being welcomed and that you – and your way of being in the world – was understood and accepted both by staff and by other members of the public.

A welcoming atmosphere is key
Nothing is less accessible or inclusive than being asked to leave the exhibition or the museum! Some museums were thought to already be very welcoming of noise and interaction. The National Air and Space Museum was given as an example of a museum where no-one worries too much and you don’t feel like Security is going to intervene. However, a more welcoming understanding of the multiple ways people interact in the world was thought to be essential in museums which have traditionally been more exclusive, such as art museums.

Staff training was mentioned by a number of people. As was the importance of exposure: that museum workers get to meet people with intellectual disabilities and that people with intellectual disabilities get used to being in, and interacting in, lots of different situations.

Universal design: Tours, speed and language levels
We discussed the issue of special tours aimed at people with intellectual disabilities. One of the self advocates in the room strongly argued against this and instead argued that tours should be pitched at a language level and at a speed which works for as many people as possible. It was noted that this might also work for people who have English as an additional language. We went on to discuss this as a ‘universal design’ approach. This would mean that rather than creating special tours for people with intellectual disabilities, differentiation would be better introduced through offering a standard inclusive tour but then with extra options for more in-depth tours.

Virtual reality: Multisensory and Interactive (might work for pre-visit resources and ‘social stories’ too)
I shared with the Council one of the findings of the project so far – that the Smithsonian’s simulators are not at all an ‘add on’. They are rather one of the experiences which are remembered most – and perhaps act as a key to rest of the visit.

Taken by Steven. A simultator ride at the National Museum of American History.

The Council responded strongly to this and suggested the possibility of deploying more virtual reality approaches. This could work in the displays themselves but one of the Council members also suggested that this could tie into pre-visit recourses. One of the ideas that is emerging is the importance of museums offering ‘social stories’ to help prepare people on the autism spectrum for the visit.

We discussed that the social story approach could well deploy online opportunities so that people could practice navigating the exhibition virtually and even use a pre-visit website to help practice with interactive interfaces.

Building in calmer, quieter alcoves into exhibitions was also thought to be helpful for visitors on the autism spectrum.

Involvement in displays: Use the resources in the community (and think about Spanish speakers)
Finally, get people involved. One of the Council members suggested getting families involved in sharing plans for the exhibitions and in developing aspects of the display. She suggest that this might be especially useful for reaching out to D.C.’s Spanish-speaking community and that individuals and groups might be interested in getting involved in developing appropriately-pitched Spanish language resources.

Thanks to you all – and do keep the conversation going by posting below!

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