Accessibility and Inclusivity Forum

By Gin Wachter, Docent, St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri, President of the Docent Council of Metropolitan Saint Louis and Advisor for the NDSC (June 2018)

On March 26, 2018 the Missouri Historical Society (MHS) presented "Accessibility and Inclusivity Forum" with the Docent Council of Metropolitan Saint Louis. The Historical Society was the first recipient of the Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Award from American Alliance of Museums (AAM) in 2017. That same year MHS was also honored with the Shine the Light Award from Paraquad, a local nonprofit that supports people with disabilities. The MHS is modest in saying that there is still work to be done, and that their accessibility committee is continually advancing their efforts to make history available to all.

 The Forum started with a lecture by Sharon Smith, Curator of Civic and Personal Identity. As a long time staff member of the MHS she led us through the Missouri Historical Society's Journey to Inclusivity. It was not an easy task to do on their own so they worked with many local organizations to help them reach their goals. Some of those organizations include the Alzheimer's Association, local Visually Impaired organizations, the Anti-Defamation League, Hearing Loss societies and other disability groups and many more.

Attendees were then divided into groups and enjoyed workshops on many of these important areas. We learned how to work with a Sign Language Interpreter, had audio description training, memory loss tour training, as well as discussions on how to greet visitors with disabilities and on how to recognize bias in museum spaces.

This great event ended with roundtable discussions on the following topics: measuring accessibility, making your current tours more accessible, interacting with kids with disabilities, analyzing the MHS site survey, and discussions with different groups in Saint Louis, Alive and Well STL, the Alzheimer's Association Greater Missouri Chapter and both the English as a second language and English language learners.

Inclusivity forum St. Louis

When leaving the History Museum, it seems everyone I talked to wanted to express appreciation for the inspiring and extremely helpful presentations. Their years of focusing on the topic of Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion were evident. The MHS's depth of understanding the needs of others is impressive. This is now the "hot" topic today, but they have been focusing on it for years – hats off to the Missouri Historical Society!

What was the take away from the Forum? Right after the Forum many of our members put these ideas into immediate practice. Here are a few examples:

• The Humane Society contacted a memory care facility and began a new program for those interested in a touch program with the animals.
• The National Blues Museum now offers off-site activities with music.
• The St. Louis Public Library said that they had sought an interpreter for the hearing impaired for an upcoming program.
• Several other museums/organizations were planning to offer "language cards" that welcome visitors and offer introductions for those who do not speak English.

The MHS is so pleased about the huge success of their Forum that now there is conversation occurring within the MHS's accessibility committee of hosting this event on a regular basis; no decision has made as to how often it would occur, but things are happening!

Thank you MHS for your valuable contributions.

The mission of the Docent Council of Metropolitan Saint Louis is to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas among docents and staff who work with docents from cultural institutions in the Saint Louis area. In addition to holding three meetings and sponsoring two exchange tours each year, the Council hosts a biennial Symposium as well as Forums or other programs in-between. They are open to all docents from member institutions.

We welcome your docent ideas and experiences. Share them by:
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