everyday SCIENCE Culturally Relevant Exhibits for People with Disabilities
The Museum of Science, Boston, has a long-standing commitment to developing exhibits for people with disabilities. More than 20 years ago, Betty Davidson, a museum exhibit planner who was in a wheelchair herself, paved the way by working with a team to redesign a diorama exhibit with multisensory components. Christine Reich, manager of research and evaluation, drew inspiration from that early work during the design of Making Models. The goal of this exhibition is to explain what a model is, present examples of different models, and give visitors the opportunity to experience how to make models. Their hope was to ensure not only that people with disabilities would have access to the exhibition, but also that they would be able to learn the science behind making models, largely because the material was presented in a culturally sensitive way.
Reich and the other members of the Making Models team set the bar high. They wanted to create some exhibits for people with many disabilities: wheelchair users, those who are blind or have low vision, and people who are deaf or hard of hearing. To accomplish this goal, they organized a community advisory group that consisted of people with various disabilities who were also experts on access, representatives from state agencies, or activists in the field. One member of the group, a science illustrator, had some expertise about modeling and also had multiple sclerosis. Another member had low vision and worked at a community services organization for older adults with low vision. Another, who was in a wheelchair, could move only his hands; this individual had extensive knowledge about psychology and the arts. Each advisory group member brought a much-needed perspective to the conversation.
The elements in the exhibition ended up incorporating many of the ideas discussed by the advisory group. For example, the human models were not just of able-bodied people. One of the male models was a tall African American with a prosthetic leg. The leg shown was not state of the art, either; it was the kind of prosthesis that ordinary people would probably purchase. And three models of hands showed them signing the letters A, S, and L, which stand for American Sign Language.
Interactives also were a part of the exhibition, and the key to designing them was to ensure that visitors could access them using multiple senses. “At
Making models by placing beaded metal chains on to magnetic boards allows visitors with physical disabilities to interact with exhibit materials.