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Listening Better, Hearing More: Assisted Listening Devices at the Jewish Museum of Maryland

Posted on November 25th, 2019 by

From Visitor Services Coordinator Talia Makowsky. To read more posts from Talia, click here.

If you’re an avid museum goer you’ve probably encountered something similar. A small device that hangs around the neck with headphones attached. Maybe you type a number and a narration plays, explaining a painting. It might have helped enhance a live program. A tour guide might have used it to amplify their voice to the group of people following them. Many cultural sites have some kind of device to help their guests to hear the content they’re trying to communicate.

The Jewish Museum is pleased to announce that we have similar devices as well! Our assistive listening devices, or ALDs will transmit a leader’s voice to anyone wearing a corresponding device. This can be used on our public tours, during private group tours of the neighborhood, or even in public programs. We know that one challenge of our current lecture space is the way noise resonates, and we want to make all of our Museum programs more accessible. That’s why we’re happy to share this announcement and give you some information about how these devices work.

It’s fun to try out new technology!

These devices are designed to support people with hearing loss or who are hard-of-hearing. However, they can be used by any guest who chooses to wear the device and headphones. Using the devices on a tour enhances a visitor’s focus, allows the docent to speak without yelling, and makes it easier for a group leader to communicate when there’s other guests around.

During a tour, the docent will wear the leader unit, which will communicate through the guests’ devices. The units use a mobile connection, instead of radio channels, so a tour would not be interrupted by any local communication. The devices also allow guests to hear the tour guide over ambient noise, such as cars when we do neighborhood walking tours.

These devices work great with a large group. We can accommodate up to 30 people at one time!

Our units come with over-the-ear headphones that have built in microphones. This way guests can not only hear the leader as they give a tour, but by pressing a button, can ask questions that the whole group can hear. In addition, the units are compatible with most current headphones and earbuds, so guests can choose to use their own for comfort. Just make sure you ask the docent how to speak into the device microphone when you have any questions!

These devices allow groups to have great discussions while on tour.

Along with enhancing our tour experience, these devices will be available for reservation at our public programs soon. By connecting directly to our A/V system, guests will be able to hear the lecture or presentation more clearly, even with our regular lobby echo. Our Program staff are currently setting up all the equipment and will announce they will be available for reservation soon. If you want more information about how the devices will with public programs, contact Laura Grant, our Program Assistant. You can reach her at (443) 873-5169 or

We hope that these devices will support more of our guests engaging in our stories. Our program and education staff, as well as our volunteers, have been working hard to master this new technology to make it available to you.

Our docents have dedicated their time to learn the devices in order to provide them to our guests.

If you’re interested in using these devices during a public tour, simply contact me, the Visitor Services Coordinator at (443) 873-5164 or I can reserve these devices, as well as help you book a group visit. If you have any additional questions about the units or about our accessibility, please reach out. This is just one step to help make the Museum more inclusive and more accessible, and we’re always looking to improve our visitors’ experience.

I’m so pleased to find new ways to increase our accessibility. Please reach out if there are other ways I can help you share our stories!


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Accessibility at the JMM

Posted on April 8th, 2016 by

Creating a welcoming museum environment that takes into account visitor needs is an important ongoing goal at the JMM. Whether this means developing exhibition educational resources for school group visitors or offering programs designed to facilitate conversation among visitors of different religious or cultural backgrounds, we take pride in our ability to serve diverse audiences. Providing access for visitors with physical disabilities has always been a Museum priority and in recent months, our staff has taken steps to improve our services in this area.

Recognizing the need to consider the entire spectrum of accessibility issues, this past October, we hired Ingrid Kanics of Kanics Inclusive Design Services to conduct an accessibility audit of the JMM’s public spaces including both of our historic synagogues, galleries, restrooms and library. As part of her survey, she measured door openings, made use of a wheelchair to navigate spaces and considered all aspects of the visitor experience.

Improved signage

Improved signage

Ingrid then drafted a report with recommendations that she shared with Museum staff. We were pleased to note that our Museum facility scored high in many areas. Having recently added a push button option to open our front doors provides easier access for visitors with limited mobility. Many of Ingrid’s recommendations related to signage and our staff has already produced larger signs to help visitors identify public restrooms. At her suggestion, we have created a checklist of items for our visitor services staff to check on a regular basis to ensure, for example, that the mechanical doors are functioning properly and that doors and hallways are kept clear of debris that can pose tripping hazards. Other improvements, based on Ingrid’s recommendations, are slated soon for implementation and include adding covers to drain pipes underneath restroom sinks to avoid burn risks for individuals in wheelchairs and smoothing out the transition strips between the lobby and coat room/restroom area to make for easier navigation for wheelchair users.

Thanks to the contributions of docent, Robyn Hughes, for several years, the JMM has worked to improve our services for visitors who are blind or visually impaired. Robyn helps us create Braille text for flyers, exhibition text and programs (we have both Braille and large print exhibition text for Beyond Chicken Soup available at our front desk) as well as create tours and programs designed specifically for visitors with visual impairments including camp groups from the Maryland School for the Blind who regularly visit.

Large Print Brochure

Large Print Brochure

A priority for this coming year is to improve services for visitors who are deaf or have hearing impairments. While we currently make sure that all exhibit videos are captioned and hire sign language interpreters upon request, we do not currently have the ability to offer accommodations for visitors at public programs who have difficulty hearing speakers or presentations. Our staff recently met with representatives from a company that manufacturers assisted listening devices and learned about how this system can improve sound in our orientation space for program participants. We intend on purchasing a system in the upcoming year that would enable visitors to borrow a receiver from the front desk with an over the ear headphone that would amplify sound in our lobby. The same system could also be used by visitors participating in guided tours of our historic synagogues.

The biggest challenge we face for visitors with physical disabilities is the lack of an easy solution for gaining access to our historic synagogues. Many years ago we created a video tour of the synagogues that is available for visitors to view in our lobby as a programmatic equivalent for those unable to climb the buildings’ stairs. We have also started to video simulcast programs that take place in the Lloyd Street Synagogue for visitors to watch in our orientation space. Of course, we recognize that these steps are not enough, and we are exploring different ways for creating access through ramps and possibly an elevator. B’nai Israel is in the process of adding a chair lift to aid congregants (and Museum visitors) in gaining access to its main sanctuary. And we remain committed to continuing to investigate potential solutions for improving accessibility to the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Upgrades to the Visitor Experience

Posted on March 30th, 2016 by

As I was reading Creating Great Visitor Experiences: A Guide for Museums, Parks, Zoos, Gardens, & Libraries by Stephanie Weaver, it got me thinking how we could make improvements to the visitor experience at the JMM.  The book encouraged me to take a new look at the museum from the visitor’s point of view beginning with the moment that he or she decided to visit, through the orientation at the front desk to finding comfort in our facilities and finally leaving with both tangible (such as merchandise from the shop) and intangibles (knowledge and a sense of discovery).

book cover

book cover

I found that a lot of what was mentioned in the book we are already doing. For instance, we always try to welcome visitors with a smile, positive attitude and relevant information.  We also strive to have a clean work space, restrooms and fresh merchandise visible from the entrance. I will also continue to ask our security contractor if we may choose guards with outdoing, service-based personalities to work at our site. Our management has also doing an excellent job investing in the staff by encouraging us to attend relevant conferences and webinars.

Esther's Place - now with signage!

Esther’s Place – now with signage!

However, there were a few things that needed changing or updating. After listening through some of the recorded information on our phone system, I found some outdated information so I got that updated to reflect our current exhibit and upcoming programs. Stephanie Weaver emphasized the importance of having an inviting entrance. Partly as a result, next time you visit, you’ll notice that our front courtyard area has been re-landscaped to include more attractive shrubs and flowers.  I am also going to make some changes to front desk handbook so that all our front desk volunteers know how to effectively provide excellent customer service so that our visitors will want to come back again and again.

A little sprucing for spring

A little sprucing for spring

We have also made a few other changes that tie in nicely with our accessibility efforts. Large-print brochures and Braille text for the Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America ( exhibit, are now available for check-out at the front desk. As I learned that wayfinding is important, we have installed a new ADA restroom sign and welcome sign for the Medicine exhibit in the lobby area. I have also installed new seating to allow our visitors, whether it’s a mother with small children or an elderly couple, to rest while they explore our exhibits.

Accessibility is important!

Accessibility is important!

There are also a few things which we may consider doing in the future such as visitor surveys, upgrades to our restrooms and new graphics by the front desk. As always, if you have any suggestions or feedback, don’t hesitate to contact me at

GrahamA blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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