National Gallery of Art, National Museum of American History

DC Day 5

Accessibility in museums was the focus of today’s discussions. We visited the National Museum of American History and the National Gallery of Art. The National Gallery of Art visit was not focused on accessibility, but it was discussed a small amount. It is interesting to learn about accessibility in cultural institutions because it is not something I personally have to think about. The museum field is moving towards accessibility for everyone by moving past the minimum standards required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Accessibility is more than ramps and physical inclusion; it also involves intellectual and communication inclusion.

The Smithsonian Institution has an Accessibility Office with a very small staff who works with units at each of the Smithsonian museums on accessibility. The Spark!Lab at the National Museum of American History has just forayed into intentional accessibility for visitors with intellectual disabilities. Spark!Lab is a hands-on space for the invention process activities for 6-12 year old children. The motto of Spark!Lab is “Everyone is inventive.” The staff wanted to ensure that the term “everyone” actually means “everyone,” and that the space is inclusive for visitors with disabilities. The staff worked with the Accessibility Office to create resources for families with children with disabilities, which are made available both onsite and online. This discussion was very eye-opening for me because I have never worked with visitors who have disabilities. I can make connections about the discussion with the museum I work at and the areas that could be improved at my museum.  I can take what I learned from today’s discussion and take those ideas back to my museum.

Spark!Lab activity with motto
Spark!Lab activity











The National Art Gallery is the typical art museum where the space is physically accessible, but other aspects of accessibility could be improved. The artwork has tombstone labels with little description. Accessibility can be increased with programs and communication tools. Increasing accessibility and working with the community is an important for task for museums today.