Museum boosts access to exhibits

June 2, 2011 10:13:10 AM PDT
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires nonprofit entities -- including the arts, education, recreation and human services -- to be accessible for people with disabilities.

Keeping this commitment is essential, and the Chicago Community Trust helps with a guide called "Renewing the Commitment"

Even thought the ADA was implemented 20 years ago, there's still work to be done. The Museum of Science and Industry is one example of a nonprofit facility that has found creative solutions for extraordinary exhibits.

More than 1.2 million people visit the Museum of Science and Industry every year.

"We have worked very hard at making our exhibits as accessible as possible as well as entry into the building and the various floors with the addition of elevators and other means of getting to these floors other then stairs," said the museum's Director of Exhibit Projects Ed McDonald.

The hottest exhibit is "Science Storms." It's a visual, active and educational experience that allows visitors physical and hand-on opportunities.

"First of all, to be able to walk into a space like this and see 40-foot tornado up close to be able manipulate the airflow, while sitting in a chair or while they are in a walker; or, to be able to sit under a machine that creates lighting, being able to see the videos with the captioning, it's very popular," McDonald said.

To create this accessibility amount of accessibility required some creative solutions.

"We've purposely put that ramp at the very beginning so it was a gradual increase so that you could maneuver yourself around, and we've raised the floor so that we could get all of our mechanical things that we needed underneath so that there was no tripping hazards or wires coming from anywhere," McDonald said.

McDonald says they try to modify older exhibits.

"Let's take the USCO5, for example, which has been here for over 60 years. While we can't really widen the boat itself for wheelchairs to go through we have ramped it so that people can walk up," McDonald said. "For those who are not, we have created an interactive video experience at the back end of the boat and we're recreated what it would have been like for the boarding party to have gone through."

The Chicago Community Trust's "Renewing the Commitment" guide is useful with practical steps on how to comply, says Executive Committee Member Jack Catlin.

"The guide goes beyond what the law requires and informs non-for-profits about things like how to communicate with somebody with a hearing impairment, how to communicate with somebody that has cognitive disabilities. The law doesn't do that, it just says you need to figure out ways to do it," Catlin said.

"I love the checklist in there because as you're looking in front of a particular drawing, and we looked at a lot of drawings for this exhibit, thousands of pieces of paper, it gives you a checklist to check off," McDonald said.

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