(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.
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.