The cool ways museums accommodate disabled visitors

The nation's most-visited national park is also one of the best for leaf peeping. The fall colors in the Great Smoky Mountains arrive as early as mid-September at higher elevations and work their way down. Take a drive along Clingmans Dome Road or the Blue Ridge Parkway for a good look.
America’s national parks offer visitors inspiring and affordable ways to unplug and reconnect with nature. Although not every state has a national park, the National Park Service also oversees national monuments, national historic sites, and national rivers, among other areas. Some parks are iconic, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, and others are underrated and lightly visited. This list highlights 50 must-see destinations — the best the country has to offer. National parks often charge an entrance fee that grants seven days of access and costs up to $35 a vehicle. An interagency annual pass provides access to all the national parks and other federal fee areas for $80. Seniors 62 or older can buy a lifetime passes for $80 and annual passes for $20. Members of the military are eligible for free annual passes. Fee-free days also are offered occasionally during the year, including Sept. 22 for National Public Lands Day and Veterans Day on Nov. 11.
Slide 1 of 15: For years, accessibility was an afterthought at many major art and culture museums around the world, making people with mental or physical disabilities feel unwanted or unwelcome at these institutions. Thankfully, some museums are seeking to rectify this by partnering with experts and organizations to make their exhibits uniquely enjoyable for disabled visitors. Some of the resulting innovations actually make museums a more engaging experience for everyone.
Slide 2 of 15: iBeacons are tiny Apple transmitters that allow devices to send and receive location-based information via Bluetooth. A patron passing an iBeacon would receive a notification on their iPhone or iPad connecting them to interactive content such as an audio or video clip pertaining to the piece of art or object they’re standing in front of, which could be especially useful for visually impaired users. The Brooklyn Museum and Leicester Castle are just two of the museums and heritage sites developing this idea.
Slide 3 of 15: Touch is the most common sense museums use to communicate visuals to blind or visually impaired visitors. Some museums such as the Louvre have commissioned either full-scale or miniature replicas of famous statues that people are allowed to touch. The Art Institute of Chicago has a “touch gallery” in which sculptures have been treated with a protective wax so that blind as well as sighted guests can experience an artwork's form, scale, temperature and texture in a non-visual way. The National Air and Space Museum has special discovery stations for blind visitors with models and tactile components.
Slide 4 of 15: For many blind and visually impaired people, 2D works such as paintings or photographs can best be understood in 3D. To convey depth, brush strokes and composition, museums have begun using 3D printing to make replicas of paintings that communicate how the materials sit on the surface on the canvas. Others are commissioning reliefs made using special paints and scanners. Regardless, the result is paintings that can be experienced by getting up close and touching them.
Slide 5 of 15: Sometimes touching the object itself doesn’t communicate its meaning or the feelings it instills. That’s why many museums have turned to props in order for blind and visually impaired patrons to have the same emotional reaction as a sighted visitor would. When Jeff Koons’ 10-foot-tall metal sculpture “Play-Doh” was at the Whitney Museum in 2014, museum educator Georgia Krantz handed out actual Play-Doh so that blind patrons could experience childhood nostalgia from the iconic smell. A staff member at the Metropolitan Museum of Art used a silicone breast implant to communicate the Surrealist, melting bodies of Salvador Dali.
Slide 6 of 15: Loud noises and crowds can induce stress in people with developmental disabilities such as autism. Museums from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore to the Smithsonian offer exclusive early entry for families with a member on the autism spectrum, while others designate sensory-friendly hours where lights are dimmed or other stimuli are reduced.
Slide 7 of 15: The Met and other museums have created guides for visitors on the spectrum, which include social stories and sensory maps, and even provide fidget toys, weighted blankets and noise-reducing headphones. Beyond making it possible for people on the spectrum and their companions to enjoy the standard attractions at a museum, many organizations have designed specific workshops and activities for children on the spectrum. The Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York City hosts sensory-friendly, hands-on workshops that explore different art mediums.
Slide 8 of 15: Museums across the country host workshops for a variety of disabilities, from dementia to hearing loss. Patrons are able to explore art, history, science and more hands-on through sensory experiences that work best for them. This allows them to learn about certain topics as well as widen their concepts of what they’re possible of doing and creating.
Slide 9 of 15: Research has shown that people with dementia and Alzheimer's benefit from the mental stimulation museums can provide. In particular, interacting with and handling art and heritage objects can prompt memories of people, holidays, cultural meanings and history, according to Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery’s Dementia Tool Kit. New York’s Museum of Modern Art began developing its extensive Alzheimer’s program back in 2006. Staff would lead demonstrations in the museum as well as at care facilities, and the MoMa shared their curriculum among other museums, educators and caregivers.
Slide 10 of 15: Many disabled visitors are dependent on tour guides to lead them throughout a museum or site, who choose what they are able to see or experience. According to the Museum Association, disabled visitors can be empowered to choose what they want to explore and discover through a simple “buddy system.” By pairing a guest with a volunteer or staff member whose interests or expertise matches that of a visitor, they can have a more “typical” museum experience where they have autonomy to choose what they want to do and where they want to explore.
Slide 11 of 15: For public events such as lectures or presentations without pre-written scripts, museums such as the 9/11 Museum and Memorial and the Met offer real-time captioning. An on-site or remote captioner uses a special software to type shorthand phonetic symbols that their computer instantly translates into words that appear as subtitles on screens or devices for deaf or hard-of-hearing visitors.
Slide 12 of 15: Many museums offer American Sign Language interpreters or tours completely in ASL for deaf, hard of hearing and signing patrons. Sites like the Vatican also offer lip-reading tours for oralist deaf people who don’t understand sign language. Captions or transcripts are also provided at many locations for audio or video elements.
Slide 13 of 15: Certain conditions could easily be overlooked by museum staff. Most exhibits nowadays are designed for wheelchair navigability and feature Braille captions, but museums also have to be conscious of visitors with dyslexia, color-blindness and types of vision impairment. Museums such as London’s Tate Modern provide large-text captions, colored overlays and magnifiers.
Slide 14 of 15: Certain typographies are difficult to read for those with low vision, color blindness and dyslexia because of size, space between letters, color and shapes of letters being overly similar. According to the Stanford Archaeology Center, museums must consider not only typeface but also paragraph, column and sentence length to ensure texts are dyslexia-friendly.
Slide 15 of 15: Making a museum accessible starts at the conception and design phase not just of the space it's in but of the art itself. Some artists are stretching their creativity through considering how someone with a disability might interact with their piece. Museums are also looking to exhibit pieces made by artists with disabilities themselves, who are uniquely situated to provide unique perspectives and ways of engaging with the world and are able to open the world of painting, sculpting and more to an underserved audience.

The cool ways museums accommodate disabled visitors


Tactile tours

3D printing


Quiet hours

Activities for autism


Object handling

Buddy system

Real-time captioning

Sign language tours

Visual aids


Creating art with accessibility in mind

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