Museums as Advocates for Children with Special Healthcare Needs.

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Introduction

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.

Audience Selection

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.

Museum Advancement

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.

References:

  1. http://www.aam-us.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/museums-on-call.pdf?sfvrsn=8
  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK132160/
  1. http://mchb.hrsa.gov/cshcn0910/more/pdf/nscshcn0910.pdf
  1. http://www.portdiscovery.org/educators/specialneeds
  1. https://dupagechildrens.org/visit/accessibility/
  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Quvuo2HoPUM
  1. http://www.astc.org/resource/access/interact.htm

6 thoughts on “Museums as Advocates for Children with Special Healthcare Needs.

  1. cristinahggwmailgwu

    Ensuring that every child and family has access to a high-quality museum experience should be at the top of our list as future museum professionals. It’s not unusual for a child to feel wary of museums, which often come with jostling crowds, new visual or multimedia experiences, and expectations of best behavior—no touching, no running, and inside voices only. For a child with special needs however, this can all compound into a positively overwhelming or even frightening experience. I would love to hear about how you would welcome such children into a museum setting. Thank you for sharing how some museums are embracing children that are differently abled!

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    1. caitlinefblake

      Echoing what cristinahggwmailgwu said– but also wondering what museums can do/should do regarding health needs of child visitors as well. When I think of children’s spaces within museums, I often immediately think of germs. Thinking of children with special needs who can also be immunocompromised, I’m wondering what we as future museum professionals can do to help encourage children to remain healthy and support their health when they visit our institutions.

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  2. kellyrweiss

    I agree with everything covered in your post, Nina, and appreciate the specific examples you provided at the end. My question moving forward is what smaller steps can you provide for institutions to implement right away to help better meet the needs of our children with special healthcare needs? Many museums do not have the time or funding to drop everything right now and produce programming exclusively for this audience. However, I feel like there must be tools that can be implemented across the board to better the experience of these children and their families. In fact, the parents of children with special needs, often, are the most uncomfortable when bringing their children to museums because they are the ones responsible for caring for their children. This can be a lot of pressure, and opens them up to public scrutiny. What can we do to level up the museum experience for these parents?

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  3. mep17ruthann

    I think this is a good example of where universal design can create a great sense of community within museums. By providing programing and staff training that makes the museums and it’s programing a safe place that everyone can be included may allow for interactions that normally wouldn’t happen. However that also means that some audiences are more comfortable when they are given the space to learn and explore at a unique pace. Having physical tools for those that need assistance moving around and sensory assistive devices that can help amplify or muffle in the case of becoming over whelmed. Above all, staff training and maintenance trainings are incredibly important to create a comfortable supportive museum environment. A well designed program for children with different abilities can become useless if the people facilitating it are not equip with the knowledge and tools to work with them.

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  4. erinmkohler

    Nina,
    Having experience working with children with special needs in an art room setting, I support your advocacy to help these children feel comfortable in all areas of life. Accommodating for this audience is important in small ways (physical accessibility), as well as bigger ways (providing aides and adjusting museum materials). Museums should be places of learning for all!

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