When we think about the need for accessibility to all visitors in museums, our first intentions are to assure that all needs are met for visitors with physical disabilities or impairments. However, the need still exists to provide accessible experience to young visitors who may have intellectual disabilities or special needs.
With approximately 11.2 million children in the United States with special needs, there needs to be discussion about how to provide a profound experience for these households. Children with special needs are defined, as “those who have or are at risk for a chronic physical, developmental, behavioral, or emotional condition and who also require health and related services of a type or amount beyond that required by children generally.”
In order to create a more accommodating experience for children with special needs, museum professionals should look beyond the American Disabilities Act to create a more interactive experience for this audience. Households with children with special needs could become discouraged from visiting museums if the experience is not inviting.
Relationship to Museums
It’s the obligation of museum professionals to be inclusive to the public in everything we do, and this includes all children regardless of their need. Children with special needs may gain anxieties in large crowds, respond negatively to bright light and loud sounds, become stressed, or be at a disadvantage to what is being offered within the museum due to communication and or mobility issues.
These issues are a concern of parents and should be at the forefront of the attention of museum professionals everywhere. Making comfortable, inclusive programs for these families can inspire confidence in the museum experience, and encourage future visits. This is the ultimate goal of museum educators.
Museums have done an extensive research on how to provide to the best experience for children with special healthcare needs. Some have even expanded their programs to reach these families. The Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore, Maryland has built their design principles to ensure children at different developmental levels can assess each area. They also have a series of programs specialized for children with special needs, which hosts weeks of facilitative experiences.
Another museum that has embraced this audience is the DuPage Children’s Museum located in Naperville, Illinois. Every third Thursday of the month, the museum extends their hours for visitors with special needs. The extend hours provide children with special needs a more comfortable experience with less crowding, lower crowd levels, and mild activity.
Overall, museum professionals are making great strides forward towards making museums more inclusive to everyone, including special needs children. By continuing to make museums more accommodating, we can reach a new audience that may once have been skeptical.