Accessibility and The Empathetic Museum

Today was day seven of the Museum Studies seminar.  The morning began with a visit to Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian’s Accessibility office, followed by a visit to the National Museum of Natural History where we met with a few people from the exhibit department, then we went back to the JHU DC center to meet with Gretchen Jennings.  Yes, the same Gretchen Jennings I mentioned in yesterday’s post, so I basically felt like I met someone famous today — museum studies famous!

At the end of the day something struck me.  There is something similar between accessibility in museums and The Empathetic Museum’s Maturity Model approach.  Both are not things that can be done ad hoc, they need to become incorporated into the day-to-day operations of the museum.  Both can seem so huge and daunting that you don’t know where to begin.  Also, a similarity that might help if the institutional shift seems too hard, you have to start somewhere.  It may be small things at first, but if you continually work to build you can enact real and meaningful, change.  Things like a noted increase in the diversity of the museum’s audiences and developing targeted programing might not be be the first step for your museum.  Simply starting the conversation, and keeping it going might be the right place to start.  It is also important to note, accessibility is different from the Maturity Model in that many things are legally required, but the legal requirements are the bare minimum. 

One unexpected thing keeps popping up here and there throughout the seminar.  It is the tiniest thing, so seemingly insignificant that I wonder if anyone else has noticed.  Over the course of the seminar, museum professionals working at a few of the different museums we’ve visited keep mentioning the importance of working with and bringing front line security staff into your storytelling and visitor experience.  This is one of the small challenges I am facing at work — a disconnect between the museum and security staff.  I will return next Monday armed with this knowledge, that there are other museums in the DC area do work with their security staff.  I hope this is helpful when my work team tries to push for some sort of cross-training to work with security staff to bring them into the fold.  

I did not take many good photos today so I leave you with a photo of my dog, Bandersnatch.

Bandersnatch sleeping while I shove my phone in his face. 


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