Mu­se­ums wel­come peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties

Treat your­self to a va­ca­tion with flights as low as 369!

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - TRAVEL - By Ula Ilnytzky

NEW YORK — On a re­cent Sun­day, a group of mu­seum vis­i­tors sat in front of a large can­vas by the French artist Jean Dubuf­fet as their guide de­scribed the work — an ab­stract paint­ing cre­ated with crum­pled alu­minum foil tinted with oil paint.

The guide then in­vited them to cre­ate their own art­work us­ing tin foil — a task the group en­thu­si­as­ti­cally em­braced, cre­at­ing an ar­ray of three­d­i­men­sional sculp­tures. The group was par­tic­i­pat­ing in a pro­gram at the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art called Cre­ate Abil­ity for peo­ple with learn­ing and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties.

It is one of many pro­grams the mu­seum of­fers to en­gage au­di­ences with dis­abil­i­ties, in­clud­ing those with mo­bil­ity, hear­ing and vis­ual im­pair­ments.

This year marks the 25th an­niver­sary of the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act, which pro­hibits dis­crim­i­na­tion based on an in­di­vid­ual’s dis­abil­ity and re­quires that fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tions, be read­ily ac­ces­si­ble and us­able to them. A Cen­sus Bureau sur­vey found 12 per cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion, or 39 mil­lion peo­ple, had a dis­abil­ity in 2013 — a num­ber ex­pected to grow due to aging baby boomers. Since 1990, the breadth and scope of cul­tural-arts pro­gram­ming for in­di­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties has greatly ex­panded and can be found at mu­se­ums large and small.

For ex­am­ple, the Frost Art Mu­seum in Miami last week held a day­long event for fam­i­lies with chil­dren with spe­cial needs that fea­tured wheel­chairs with at­tach­ments for paint­ing on large-scale blank can­vases and other art-mak­ing adap­tive tools. The aim of such pro­grams is to help chil­dren de­velop mo­tor skills, con­cen­tra­tion, so­cial in­ter­ac­tion and self-es­teem.

Those kinds of skills were in full view at MoMA dur­ing the art-mak­ing com­po­nent of Cre­ate Abil­ity.

Sa­muel Desiderio took great plea­sure in shar­ing his cre­ation of peb­bles, sticks and sand with the oth­ers.

The pro­gram is “an­other av­enue for them to share who they are,” said Sharon McCann, the 28-year-old’s home tu­tor who ac­com­pa­nied him to the mu­seum.

Many cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions have of­fered some level of ac­ces­si­bil­ity pro­gram­ming long be­fore the ADA be­came law. To­day, many go above and be­yond com­pli­ance. Touch tours for peo­ple with low vi­sion, pro­grams for chil­dren on the autism spec­trum and as­sisted lis­ten­ing sys­tems for the hear­ing-im­paired can be found at many mu­se­ums. Mu­seum web­sites of­ten fea­ture vir­tual tours of their col­lec­tions and al­low blind peo­ple to nav­i­gate the sites via screen read­ers.

Among the big­gest mile­stones in the past 25 years is the avail­abil­ity of au­dio de­scrip­tions pre­sented by guides trained to vividly con­vey an im­age for the vis­ually im­paired via a recorded de­vice or spe­cial tour. Ad­di­tion­ally, some mu­se­ums are equipped with a “loop,” an as­sisted lis­ten­ing de­vice. It’s a cop­per wire em­bed­ded usu­ally around ex­hi­bi­tions fea­tur­ing an au­dio com­po­nent. All a per­son has to do is turn a switch on their own ear­piece and the sound is am­pli­fied — with­out any­one else know­ing they have a dis­abil­ity or us­ing the sys­tem.

“When you make ac­com­mo­da­tions for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, you’re bet­ter serv­ing ev­ery­one,” said Francesca Rosen­berg, MoMA’s direc­tor of com­mu­nity and ac­cess pro­grams. For in­stance, mu­seum of­fi­cials dis­cov­ered sighted peo­ple also were lis­ten­ing to the au­dio guide that was spe­cially de­signed and de­vel­oped for the vis­ually im­paired.

Peo­ple with de­men­tia or chil­dren on the autism spec­trum ben­e­fit from less crowded gal­leries or by at­tend­ing spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tions, but most peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties en­joy tour­ing the gal­leries along­side other vis­i­tors. Blind peo­ple, for ex­am­ple, “like to eaves­drop on what other pa­trons are say­ing about a work of art,” said Rosen­berg. “That’s an im­por­tant com­po­nent of the pro­gram be­cause most peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties don’t want to be sin­gled out and sep­a­rated.”

Luz Cantres, 32, who has spina bi­fida, loved the Cre­ate Abil­ity pro­gram.

“I’m try­ing to copy what I see but let­ting it flow,” she said of a totem-like twig sculp­ture by Dubuf­fet.

Art shows her “it’s not about fit­ting in but stand­ing out and recre­at­ing your­self.”


Mark Paul Ser­ruto of Short Hills, N.J., with his art­work at New York’s Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art’s Cre­ate

Abil­ity pro­gram for in­di­vid­u­als with learn­ing and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties.

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