Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Accessibility at the Tenement Museum

We love a good conversation here at the Tenement Museum. In fact, we learn something new every time a visitor shares their own family story. To keep the dialogue going strong, we want to make the museum accessible to as many people as possible. This spring, we’re announcing two new initiatives which will go a long way toward this goal.

Starting in May, we’ll be launching a series of Tenement Talks with Open Captioning—a service that provides real-time captions displayed on a large screen in conjunction with the spoken presentation. These captions are great for audience members with any degree of hearing impairment.

Later this year, we’ll also be launching our new Shop Life exhibition, which explores the history of the retail spaces on the street level of 97 Orchard Street. Though the upper floors of the historic tenement will remain inaccessible to wheel chairs and folks who don’t climb stairs, we’ll be able to install a lift for access to the new exhibit—making it the first accessible building tour at 97 Orchard!

These programs and others are coordinated by the Museum’s Education Associate for Program Development, Sarah Litvin. Sarah also oversees the series of ASL tours given by Educator Alexandria Wailes and Touch Tours lead by educators trained in verbal description for visitors who are blind or have low vision. She also coordinates walking and virtual tours for those who use wheelchairs, and she’s currently working on making our school group programming suitable and adaptable for students on the autism spectrum.

Click here for a short video introduction to our ASL Tours with Alexandria.

“Working to create accessible programming in a building that’s dim, cramped, and noisy is certainly a challenge.” says Sarah. “We’re always learning from visitors, advisors, and colleagues and we’ve applied what we’ve learned to improve the museum experience for all visitors.”

For example, our educators now pass around handling objects and offer large-scale images to illustrate tours. They’re also trained not to speak with the lights out. These changes are applied to all tours, not just those with visitors who have told us they’re blind or hard of hearing.

If you have any questions or suggestions about accessibility at the Tenement Museum, post your comment here or send Sarah a note at Slitvin@tenement.org

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