One of my job responsibilities at the Museum is to ensure accessibility for all visitors, regardless of their medical conditions or abilities. We work toward this goal in a number of ways at Boston Children’s Museum, most notably through our Morningstar Access program in which visitors with any special needs or medical needs can have a quieter, safer visit to the Museum during set hours. Although this program is often highlighted and is great for those whose main concern is the crowds that visit the Museum at peak times, we put every effort into making the Museum environment, exhibits, and programs more accessible for everyone at all times. If certain needs are not addressed by design, then with advance notice, reasonable accommodations can always be made anytime the museum is open.
When we talk about accessibility and why it’s important, one of the common arguments is that accessibility isn’t just for people with disabilities. Everyone benefits from easier and various ways to access information, materials, and/or environments But let me try to add a different spin on why I think accessibility is important.
When you look at the visitors in the Museum, it may seem that the number of visitors with special needs isn’t high. You may see them occasionally, but not regularly. Of course not all disabilities are visible. Even so, many people would at least “appear” to be typically developing. Now let’s take the perspective of the person with special needs. What’s considered “just an occasional encounter” for the Museum is a daily experience for the visitor with special needs. How would it feel if every time you went somewhere, you experienced difficulties just to get through what may seem to be an easy task to a majority of other people? Perspective taking is an important part of the social-emotional skills that we teach children, and we, as an organization, should be taking the perspectives of different visitors that come to us. To a person with a disability, the experience of inclusion really matters.
The notion of disability is not just coming from the individual – it’s coming from the environment that’s created for the majorities. In other words, the environment is disabling certain people with differences. If we are willing to think more creatively and inclusively, the preconceived notion of “disability = person who cannot perform certain tasks” will no longer be true. Rather, it will be “disability = person who approaches tasks differently”.
Yes, it’s difficult to be perfectly inclusive for everyone. One accommodation or design that works for someone may pose a greater barrier for others. But it doesn’t mean that we stop taking the perspective of the “one person” whose day-to-day experiences can be improved by inclusive practice. If we meet the needs of 100 people now, we want to try to meet the 101th person’s needs. The same can be said for other access issues of social/cultural barriers. How are various cultures represented in the Museum? Do people with various gender identifications/orientations feel welcome and comfortable to be part of the Museum community? Inclusion shows that we care and want to be better about welcoming everyone. So, come to Boston Children’s Museum and play with us! We want to get to know you and learn from you.