One of the aims of the Museums for Us project (as part of my Smithsonian Museum Practice Fellowship) is to create connections between more theoretical questions and the very practical issues of access and inclusion. All these thoughts will all be at www.accesspraxis.wordpress.com. In this ‘What is access?’ post I explore the idea that ‘what’ we are giving access to might need to be rethought.
From Michelle Hawkins who, with her son Deion, is involved in the Museums for Us project:
After meeting Helen on Saturday, I was talking to my sister about the project and thought visuals would be helpful. I remembered News-2-You (‘Special Education’s Online Weekly Newspaper’) his teacher shared with me. My thought was to have something similar at the various exhibits for parents and children to take when they are at a particular exhibit.
If Deion went to a museum it would be useful if:
(1) He was able to look at and bring home visuals about an exhibit he saw. Parents could read with them to help them fully understand what they saw. If it was a school outing teachers could review again the next day.
(2) Could make a visual slide show of the exhibit, which he could show while talking about the exhibit to teacher or parents.
(3) The slide show could be set to a particular type of music that would also help keep the child focused and interested. All children love music.
There is a program called Boardmaker that has pictures. As you type words, pictures pop up on the paper.
Why did you want to get involved in the project?
I like photography. I been doing photography at New Vision for six years. I like the museums. I’ve been to mostly all of them. Not only is it good for regular people, but also good for people with disabilities to see all the good things they’ve got there. All the history, and everything. But they don’t have Dr Who (from British TV) exhibits!
For the project, I want to go and visit the National Portrait Gallery. I like paintings and sculptures. I like to draw too. I draw on my own but trying to go to art school. In Prince George’s County. I went to the portrait gallery a long time ago. But they’ll have some new things in there.
Best museum visit: Air and Space. They got rocket ships and all that and they’ve the imax in there. I’ve not been to imax but I want to go in there and watch them on the imax but they’ve usually got pretty good shows. Not too expensive just the same as a regular movie. It’s the lines I worry about.
Mostly I like museums. I haven’t seen one I didn’t like. Before I go I make sure it’s one I’ll like. The National Museum of the American Indian is good but they could make it a bit better, by having a few more floors.
Mainly I go to museums with New Vision. I have been to Air and Space on my own and the sculpture garden and the portrait museums. When you go on your own you can basically see all the exhibit. If you go with the group you have to follow everyone else so you don’t get lost. And if we go with New Visions then we have to be back by around 3.30pm because the van comes. But if I go on my own I can stay the whole day.
I’d be more likely to come on my own if they don’t charge for them. People might pay for Air and Space if they had more simulators in there or video games.
With many thanks to the D.C. intellectual and development disabilities self-advocacy and professional networks who have been just so incredibly open and welcoming, I’ve been able to meet many of the people who will be exploring the museums over the next couple of months.
The methodology of the Museums for Us project was imagined in three parts when I initially did the Museum Practice Fellowship proposal. The first meeting would be somewhere convenient for the person or the family. At this meeting we would get to know each other a bit, explore the best ways of communicating and interacting, discuss how they like spending their time, reflect a bit on good day trips and bad day trips and then, where relevant, good and bad museum visits. We’d then look at photos of different things you can see in each of the Smithsonian’s 12 D.C.-based museums/gardens and then from there pick a site to visit.
Then would follow a visit where, depending on how people like to communicate, we’d use drawing, photography and voice/sound recording to document the trip. This would be followed by a reflective discussion. For this – again a few options were imagined depending on the person – we’d possibly begin with what sticks in people’s minds, key good point and bad points and then go on to talking through the photos and picking out key moments from the audio recorder. A second option would be to use all the material to put together a digital story film – with the aim of making the process of reflecting on the visit as engaging as possible. The final phase would be to draw together the families and then young people and adults to discuss the project and suggest some things the Smithsonian and museums in general should think about from the future.
That was the plan – conceived 3500 miles away from where I am now in the UK where I usually live and work – …but the plan always aimed to be very flexible and adaptable and to work in a way which suits those involved.
I have my first proper meetings with people over the next few days… the plan might look very different soon!
On Thursday was invited by the ARC of D.C. to come and meet a group of people who are currently on a jobs program to see if anyone would like to get involved in the project. Went armed with 40 or so images – mostly nicked from Google Images – which represented in various ways things that can be seen at the Smithsonian museums. So everything from lions, elephants and giraffes (National Museum of Natural History), to space shuttles, fighter planes and commercial airlines (Air and Space Museum), to mail vans (National Postal Museum), Obama’s ‘Hope’ poster (National Portrait Gallery), Michelle Obama’s dress, a steam train (National Museum of American History) and Jackie Robinson getting a home run (Anacostia Museum). The idea was that everyone in the group picked a favourite or most interesting image and then said why they’d chosen it. Some great stories came out… the images acted as a prompt to all kinds of memories of holidays (going on a plane), not liking planes and preferring trains (steam train), being a fan of elephants and voting for Obama. All just a reminder that museums are about ideas and about personal connections which make those ideas real.
Like a fantastic visit to a D.C. self-advocacy group ‘Project Action’ on 19th November, what was clear on Thursday was that in D.C. people know about the museums, have visited the museums and are proud of the museums. They are the museums ‘down town’. A couple of self-advocates I was chatting with the other day immediately raised the issue – currently proposed by Obama’s deficit reduction commission – to charge for Smithsonian sites. Both very much against… they should be for everyone, was the argument. Oh and the cafés are already too expensive. Always a key point.
The Museums for Us project is about working with people with intellectual disabilities to explore museums and to make suggestions about how museums could be better in the future.
The project is only just starting this week – so it’s still very early days.
We will update this website through blog posts as we go along.
If you’d like to get involved in the project let us know or sign up for updates about the project using the link on the right. Be great to hear from you.