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Accessibility in Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums: Introduction

About This Guide

This guide is an introduction to accessibility for staff at galleries, archives, museums, public libraries, and academic libraries.

History

Perceptions of disability, and the treatment of people with disabilities, have changed over the 20th and 21st centuries. Like other civil rights movements, the Disability Rights Movement has a long history, and has been largely led by people with disabilities demanding and creating those changes. The resources below are summaries of the Disability Rights Movement and place the imperative of GLAM accessibility into context.

ADA Compliance

In addition to an ethical and moral obligation to serve all patrons, galleries, libraries, archives, and museums are subject to certain laws and regulations mandating equitable access for people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that all public and private places provide equal access to programs, services, and activities to individuals with disabilities. The following resources summarize aspects of the ADA that may apply to your institution. As you review these laws and policies, reflect on how your institution does or does not comply—and on how you could move beyond a "letter of the law" approach to make your space radically accessible in ways these laws and policies may not stipulate.

Journals

Disability Studies Quarterly  is a multidisciplinary and international journal that focuses on the issues people with disabilities face in different environments.

Technology and Disability  focuses on technology as a means to support or improve the daily functioning and experience of diversely-abled people. 🔑

The Journal of Disability Policy Studies addresses a variety of issues in ethics, policy and law related to individuals with disabilities. 🔑

Critical Disability Discourses is a bilingual, interdisciplinary journal, publishing articles that focus on experiences of disability from a critical perspective.

Activists Working Today

A Black person with short, thick hair and prescription glasses sits at an organized workstation, using a magnification app to navigate a webpage. Their posture is proper and relaxed. On the desk: a computer, a mouse, a large desk lamp and a small notebook.

Sherm for Disabled And Here. Licensed under CC BY 4.0.

The latest wave of the Disability Rights Movement builds upon, and looks beyond, disability rights as a single isolated issue into Disability Justice as an intersectional, multi-pronged world view (Changing the Framework: Disability Justice and Disability Justice - a working draft by Patty Berne offer helpful context). Below is a small sample of Disability Justice activists at work today: 

  • Alice Wong (she/her) is a disabled activist, media maker, and consultant. She founded Disability Visibility Project, an online community in partnership with StoryCorps dedicated to creating, sharing, and amplifying disability media and culture. She is also a co-creator of DisabledWriters.com, #CripLit, #CripTheVote, and Access Is Love.  
  • Elea Chang (they/she) is a a disability justice advocate, community organizer, and lettering artist in Portland, Oregon. They are the creator of Disabled And Here, a disability-led stock image and interview series celebrating disabled Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC).
  • Haben Girma is the first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School when she earned her J.D. in 2013. Her autobiography, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law, was published in 2019.

Accessibility vs. Accommodation

One of the most fundamental aspects of disability theory that GLAM professionals should understand is the difference between accessibility and accommodation.  Kevin M. O’Sullivan, the Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at Texas A&M, and Gia Alexander, a researcher on accessibility in digital environments at Texas A&M have detailed the distinction between accessibility and accommodation in their article, Toward Inclusive Outreach: What Special Collections Can Learn from Disability Studies. They discuss that accessibility requires “applying forethought in designing inclusive experiences for... patrons," and accommodation is about applying changes to already existing experiences due to a formal request or perceived need. Before an individual comes into a space, information professionals should already have taken into account that people with different mental and physical capabilities will come into their spaces. The resources below go into depth about how accommodation shifts the blame to people with disabilities, requiring them to "out themselves" in spaces they may not feel comfortable doing so, and how accessibility is. much preferred alternative.  

WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool Demo

WAVE is a free web tool for evaluating the accessibility of web content provided by WebAIM and Utah State University. This video will walk you through how to use and understand some of WAVE's basic features. An audio transcript of the video is available here

For more information on WAVE, go to https://wave.webaim.org.

Zoom Accessibility Demo

Zoom is a popular platform for hosting webinars and other digital programming for galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. This video demonstrates how to enable closed captioning and transcription while hosting a Zoom session to enhance the accessibility of your institution's virtual programs. An audio transcript is available here

To learn more about Zoom accessibility features including screen reader support and keyboard shortcuts, visit the Zoom Accessibility Page at zoom.us/accessibility. 

Databases

Alexander Street is an interdisciplinary multimedia database that has a wide variety of collections, including Social Work Online, an assortment of documentaries and other resources that detail the realities of social work.  🔑

GALE's Opposing Viewpoints database is a collection of resources that covers current social and political issues, including a variety of articles, reference resources, and statistics on disability rights and injustices. 🔑

Urban Studies Abstracts covers subjects of relevance to the study of urban affairs and community development, including disabled communities and people. 🔑

Librarian

Librarian

Librarian

Additional Reading