(Please see below the article text for a transcription of the audio.)
RALEIGH – The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences exhibit on race in America has a mixed scorecard for its accessibility to patrons with disabilities and functional limitations.
The exhibit, titled “Race: Are We So Different?,” currently is in Raleigh as part of a cross-country tour. The goal of the exhibit, according to the museum’s website is to “[look] at race through the lens of science, history, and personal experiences to promote a better understanding of human variation.”
Museums are required to make accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to the National Service Inclusion Project, around 19.4 percent of non-institutionalized Americans have a disability. Yet, the NEA reports that fewer than seven percent of museum visitors each year are people with disabilities. The American population is aging as 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day. Aging coupled with the increase in wounded veterans from the war on terror means an increasing population beset by a functional limitation.
Accommodations may include spaces wide enough for people with mobility disorders to maneuver easily in wheelchairs or walkers. For people with hearing difficulties, exhibits should have a written version of audio available or sign-language options available when possible.
Many options exist for people who have visual impairments, according to a report from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), such as offering visual markers with descriptions of visual arts displays and using simple fonts for explanatory placards.
“This one is very…let’s say reading heavy,” said Robert Johnston, who serves on the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities in Raleigh. Johnston, who is African American and has a visual impairment, has worked to schedule interpreters who can visit the exhibit with people who cannot read the plaques and see the visual arts representations. “This exhibit is really important, but it’s not tactile. We really need someone to help us understand everything in this important exhibit.”
The exhibit will remain in Raleigh until Oct. 22 and is open daily with varying hours.
TRANSCRIPTION OF AUDIO:
SLIDE 1: “Race: Are We So Different?” currently is in Raleigh, North Carolina. The exhibit does well in addressing mobility issues but falls short in addressing for people with visual impairments.
SLIDE 2: Typical mobility challenges at museum exhibits include the space to maneuver wheelchairs and the ability to reach tables and other exhibit spaces comfortably.
SLIDE 3: The photo on the left shows the large open spaces in the main thoroughfare of the exhibit making it accessible for people who are in wheelchairs and walkers. The “privilege” room in the photo on the right was the only accessibility problem because it required stairs to enter.
SLIDE 4: Viewing rooms scattered throughout the exhibit, such as on the left, were wide enough for wheelchairs to enter, and the low counters demonstrated on the right had placards to read that were accessible to people in wheelchairs.
SLIDE 5: The museum's exhibit proved more difficult for people who are visually impaired which includes people who are blind, who are colorblind, and who have difficulty discerning shapes.
SLIDE 6: The replica pharmacy was a good station for the visually impaired because it had excellent light and easy-to-read screens with important information.
SLIDE 7: Computer screens typically have user controls that make an adaptable for people with visual impairments.
SLIDE 8: The photo above shows two difficult portions of the exhibit. The first, a visual arts marker, is a thin strip of paper adhesed to the wall. The photo on the right shows a handwritten note that is part of one of the pieces of art. It does not have an easy-to-read typeface translating the handwriting into print.
SLIDE 9: Although the exhibit does have subtitles for any video stations, the National Endowment for the Arts suggests excluding colloquial or complex speech for better comprehension.
SLIDE 10: In summary, the exhibit gets a mixed scorecard for being accessible to people with mobility and visual disorders. There are a number of simple improvements that could be made to help make this exhibit available for all.
RALEIGH – Parks and natural spaces development is an important element of a growing city, and a local nonprofit is working to aid in that effort.
The City of Oaks Foundation, started in 2009, is a private nonprofit that works with the Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department.
“We have a mission of trying to get people outside and active,” said Chris Heagarty, executive director of the foundation. “Raleigh has wonderful green space. Visitors to Raleigh always comment on the amount of trees, the parks, everything we have here.”
Heagarty’s job, and the foundation’s mission is to work to aid the city with parks-related project as well as create original programming for nature-related education and experiences. While City of Oaks works with a variety of city staff from parks around the city, Heagarty points to the recently renovated Sassafras All Children’s Playground in the northern portion of the city.
“That’s a park that we will help to raise awareness about, program, and get more people to know about the Sassafras story” Heagarty said. The foundation also works with other city parks to aid in summer camp planning for children. Raleigh strives to have affordable summer camp programs throughout the city.
The City of Oaks Foundation also hosts events at the Joslin Garden, a 4.5-acre tract of land donated for public use. Part of Heagarty’s job is developing the garden, and the house that sits on the property, to make it a space available for visitors. The property will not be fully accessible, Heagarty said, because doing so would necessitate the destruction of some of the trails, natural plants, and other facets that make up the garden.
“What we want to do, then, is concentrate and say ‘if 100 percent of the property isn’t accessible, what can we do to make as much of it accessible as we can?,’” he said.
Looking forward, there are plans to create some low-grade areas accessible to people with mobility challenges to see the trellises and topiaries nearer the front of the property.
One principle Heagarty keeps in mind is to notify participants if portions of an event may not be accessible to everyone. That gives people advanced notice to make plans, which he said is something advocates for and within the disabled have shared is beneficial in planning.
“When we host events at a site without full accessibility, we think it’s our obligation to make that known on the front end,” he said.
You also can view this photo essay on Adobe Spark.
RALEIGH – In this growing city, the needs of people with disabilities can be overlooked, prompting leaders in the disability rights community to demonstrate mobility needs.
Wake County, and its county seat Raleigh, North Carolina, is one of the fastest-growing areas in the United States. Growing more than 9 percent over the most recent decade, the city’s sprawl is poised to continue as increasing numbers of large tech and pharmaceutical companies locate their headquarters in the area.
“Our top three needs are housing, transportation, and employment,” said James Benton, who serves as the chairperson of the Mayor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. Benton said the transportation and public access issues are vital to the disabled community’s ability to partake fully in city life.
This issue came to a head in March 2016 when a driver in a growing section of town hit and killed a man in a wheelchair who was crossing the street.
Alexander Rhoades, a middle-schooler who lives in Raleigh with his family gained a new perspective on getting around when he developed a medical condition requiring frequent use of mobility aids.
Brian Rhoades, his father, said navigating the city using wheelchairs has been a learning experience. "We can manage, but it's been eye-opening to see what it's like and what places are difficult to travel with the chair. Our family likes to go to downtown events, but we have to avoid some of them."
“Sometimes, it’s okay, and I can get around if I have people to help me,” he said. “But sometimes it’s really hard. Like when I’m trying to see something that everyone else can see or if my wheelchair gets stuck.”
The City of Raleigh's response to sidewalk accessibility concerns has been to open a portal for residents to request sidewalk repairs. While the program works largely with residential areas, some downtown streets are included in the request plan. Residents ask for sidewalk construction or repair, and the city uses a formula to prioritize that repair, but there is no guarantee of the timeliness of the work.
For the Rhoades family, even attending family outings can be difficult. Pullen Park, a destination park in Raleigh that draws more than 1 million visitors per year, has added heavy-duty fencing around the park's water amenities.
"It is to keep people safe, but now I can't see anything," said Alex. "Plus, it's harder to get around the rest of the park sometimes."
The city's efforts to address this issue include the aforementioned Mayor's Committee, which meets monthly to discuss issues facing city residents with disabilities. The city employs a staff to address accessibility concerns and is working to make its public transportation system more accommodating.
As for Alex, he agrees that all is not bad. "People offer to help me, and I can still enjoy doing things with my family, even if it's a little harder sometimes."
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, requires that people with disabilities can access most buildings physically, but recent trends seek to address barriers to complete accessibility.
Imagine going to a play or movie and being unable to see the action well enough to understand what is happening in a scene or to follow along with a presenter’s on-stage antics. That problem presents itself often for people who have visual impairments.
A recent lawsuit against the producers of the hit Broadway show Hamilton has brought the issue of audio description to the fore. The lawsuit, filed by Mark Lasser, argues that the ADA requires that the show be accessible to people who have visual impairments.
The use of audio description services started in 1981 and is becoming increasingly common in live-action theaters and movies, according to the American Council of the Blind. The user borrows a headset or earpiece from the theater, and someone narrates the action on stage, including information about the set and lighting, for people with the earpieces to hear.
“All of our shows have an audio description for at least one performance of the show,” said Meredyth Pederson, Director of Education for Raleigh Little Theater. The theater, which has plays throughout the year, partners with Art Access, a Raleigh-based nonprofit that uses volunteers to provide audio descriptions.
“Art Access is in touch with the community of people needing this service,” Pederson said. “We saw the need for the service, and we’re very happy to provide this service for people to attend our shows. We also have sensory-friendly evenings and make other efforts to be accommodating to people who need it.”
According to the National Federation for the Blind, around 2.3 percent of adults in the United States qualify as blind or visually impaired. That equals 7.35 million people who either cannot see or discern light from dark or who need assistance with basic visual tasks. Depending on the outcome of Lasser’s suit against Hamilton, audio description may become soon more than simply a luxury forward-thinking theaters offer and something required to assist people living with visual impairments.
Another common – and increasingly acknowledged – need is for low-sensory events at museums, movie theaters, and live action entertainment venues. The STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) states that while numbers are difficult to pin down, estimates suggest that around five percent of children suffer from some difficulty with sensory processing.
Laura Speer, the accessibility specialist for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, worked with the museum’s staff to create sensory-friendly nights for the museum. These events, first in August 2016 and again in May 2017, have lowered sound and increased lighting for IMAX movies, that allow people with sensory processing difficulties to enjoy the museum.
Speer said that numbers are not the sole gauge for such events. “We are not using crowd as a measurement of success,” she said of the museum’s foray into another important accessibility option, low-sensory events. For Speer, deciding to provide accessibility services is about broadening the appeal of cultural venues. “We know there are so many people in our community that could benefit from a modified environment,” she said.
Audio descriptions and sensory-friendly events are two of the ways that organizations are beginning to increase their understanding of accessibility for people with disabilities, but they represent a growing trend around the country.
I'm a recovering journalist now living a Renaissance life working as a writer & political strategist. I also am the mom to 2 children, one of whom has autonomic dysfunction & Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder, I write about politics and healthcare in North Carolina.