Posted on August 31st, 2015 by Rachel
Did you know that more than 56 million Americans (about 1 in 5) have some kind of disability? This month’s issue of the American Alliance of Museum’s (AAM) magazine focuses on Museums and Accessibility and got me thinking how the Jewish Museum of Maryland can better engage with our visitors. I was excited to read about new partnerships between museums and organizations that serve individuals who have autism and Alzheimer’s and efforts that have already been made in other institutions to increase access. For people with visual disabilities, museums are using audio guides, large-print labels as well as tactile tours. For those who are hard of hearing, institutions offer sign-language interpreted tours or assistive listening devices. I agreed with many of the points in Beth Bienvenu’s article such as the importance of incorporating universal design principles throughout the Museum, partnering with local disability organizations to develop new audiences, training all staff on how to provide proper accommodations and taking steps to recruit staff and volunteers with disabilities.
Cover of this month’s AAM Museum magazine.
Another article in the AAM magazine discusses how museums need to include a wider range of narratives in their exhibitions and programs to reflect a more diverse community of ethnic minorities as well as individuals with disabilities. For instance, at the NPS’s Lowndes Interpretive Center located along the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama, there is a statue of Jim Letherer, a one-legged Jewish man who marched with Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery. The exhibit is about the march and voting rights, but also includes disability as part of the story.
NPS’s Lowndes Interpretive Center
I learned that accessibility does not have to be limited to those with disabilities. In Philadelphia, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance worked with local teens to form Students at Museums in Philly (STAMP), which provides free museum admission to Philadelphia teens. This program aims to increase access to all the arts and culture Philadelphia has to offer while removing any financial barriers that may prevent teens from visiting a museum.
At JMM, we have recently made some progress on accessibility issues such as adding automatic doors to our front entrance and by developing Braille program materials. Robyn Hughes has done an amazing job trying to make the Museum more inviting to those with special needs, such as by arranging a visit for the National Federation of the Blind’s Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning. We also have a wheelchair available for those who have mobility issues, can offer a closed-captioning video of the Synagogue tour for those who are unable to climb the steps of Lloyd Street or B’nai Israel Synagogues and have tactile elements within our exhibits.
Museum Educator and Docent Robyn Hughes hard at work.
We are about to bring on a consultant to conduct an accessibility assessment at the Museum to determine how we can enhance accessibility on multiple levels including physical and programmatic access. Other possible improvements include developing new tours for people with learning disabilities and improving Museum signage. We are committed to ensuring that JMM remains a place where all feel welcomed and that everyone is able to find a part of themselves here. We are eager to begin this dialogue. Please stay tuned for updates!
A blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.
Posted on July 23rd, 2015 by Rachel
On Tuesday, the JMM interns made a trip to the National Federation of the Blind. It was an awesome experience for all of us!
A happy bunch of interns!
The first stop on the tour was their room full of technology that can be used to assist blind people. It was amazing how many different options the blind have when it comes to using technology! They showed us different styles of note takers, accessibility options on iPhones, and even calculators that can speak out loud.
These devices speak out loud and allow the blind to listen to newspapers and books.
Here the interns are learning about a binder that can read the text on the page out loud.
The next stop on the tour was their library. There were books in Braille for the blind, and books in print that related to the blind experience for sighted people to read. As well as books, there were also exhibits in the room as well.
Intern Wrangler Rachel and some of her interns look at (and touch!) art displayed in the library. The pieces are tactile so that you don’t need to see the art with your eyes in order to enjoy it.
This is a project that was completed at a STEM summer camp for blind high school students. Students worked together to solve a problem—in this case, an asteroid plummeting toward Earth—and built this solution, some sort of spacecraft.
This exhibit, about galaxies, is tactile; it has raised graphics and paragraphs in Braille so that the blind can understand the information that it conveys.
What does this trip mean for the JMM? It has widened our options to make our institution more accessible for those who cannot see, or with other disabilities. For example, this trip has motivated us to make our website more user friendly for those who are not necessarily able to see it and rely on technology to read it for them.
Now that we have gained more insight into how to make our institution more blind-friendly, we can begin to take steps to achieve that.
A blog post by Marketing Intern Carmen Venable. To read more posts by interns click HERE.
Posted on December 2nd, 2013 by Rachel
Dear Abby is at it again!
My dear friend, “S” has put himself into a bit of a pickle. He has a reputation for being a know-it-all, and now he’s made an ill-advised bet with his archenemy (let’s just call him “M”) that he knows everything about the Jewish Museum of Maryland. He even wagered his prized violin! There’s only one problem: “S” has never been to the JMM! Obviously, he needs to visit the museum as soon as possible. When is the soonest that he can go on a tour? Do your tours cover the whole museum? Another potential problem is that “S” has lived a long, full live, and his knees just aren’t what they used to be, so he is not comfortable using stairs—even with railings. Will this be a problem?
Dear Dr. W.,
A wager is very serious business, so I will try to do everything I can to help your friend learn what he needs to know in order to keep his violin! First of all, we offer five tours a day, Sunday through Thursday, so there are plenty of opportunities for “S” to go on a tour. These tours go out at 11:00am, 1:00pm, 2:00pm, 3:00pm, and 4:00pm. I would recommend that he come for the tours earlier than 3:00pm because the 3:00pm tour talks more about the Civil War than about the history of the synagogues, and the 4:00pm tour is abbreviated because we have to close up the synagogues at 4:30pm. For future reference, you can always find our tour schedule on our website, here: http://jewishmuseummd.org/visiting/.
The tours do not cover the entire museum. They only cover the two synagogues—Lloyd Street Synagogue and B’nai Israel Synagogue. The exhibits inside the museum, and in the basement of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, are all self-guided.
Unfortunately, while the main museum building is handicap accessible, both synagogues require our visitors to climb a lot of stairs, and because they are historic buildings, it’s very difficult to install ramps or elevators that still comply with the historic trust’s rules. Hopefully, in the near future, we’ll have a solution to the problem of ensuring access while preserving the historic character of these buildings, but for the time being, we’re stuck with what we’ve got.
Generally, I assume that each visitor knows his or her own abilities best, but if “S” is uncomfortable with stairs, even when they have railings (as ours do), then he will not be able to see the sanctuaries of the synagogues…in person. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t go on a tour! Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we have a DVD version of the synagogues tour that we can set up in as little as five minutes! If “S” asks for it at the front desk, we will have him set up in no time at all.
Have a question of your own for Abby? Click HERE to email her! Make sure to put “Dear Abby” in the subject line!