Monday, April 12, 2010

My Thesis is Available...

My thesis is available for download through Scribd.  You can find the link here and below the second heading on the right.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Recommendations for the Deaf Community...

Betty G Miller
Growing in ASL 

When trying to create change in an established institution, the institution as well as the people it serves should play a role to facilitate changes. If members of the Deaf community want museums to better their accessibility programs and accommodations, then the Deaf community must put forth an effort to help museums create equality. The following list demonstrates steps that Deaf organizations and members of the Deaf community can take to help art museums make the necessary changes to create equal access:

1. Forge Relationships
Before making any other move, members of the Deaf community should try to take initiative in forging relationships with art museums. Many members of society, including those who work in art museums, are not aware of the needs of the Deaf community or are not aware that there is a Deaf population in the city where the institution exists. Thus, it would be advantageous to a local Deaf community to introduce themselves to the art museum and try to create a long-term relationship with the museum. Deaf organizations can contact the Director of Education or other museum employees who may work in educating the public and give the museum staff information about local Deaf groups, organizations, and schools that would enjoy making more visits to the art museum if appropriate accommodations are provided. Then, the Deaf community and the museum could try to work together to enhance the museum’s programming utilizing the resources available on both the end of the museum and that of the Deaf community.

2. Raise Funds
All art museums vary in their ability and methods of serving visitors. Some museums are not able to or do not consider setting aside money in their budget to increase accessibility for visitors with different abilities. Hence, members of the Deaf community can try to work together to raise funds for their local art museum specifically for enhancing accommodations and programming for members of the Deaf community. Before a fundraiser is organized, it is important to establish a mutual relationship with the art museum. Once the relationship is established and both the Deaf community and the art museum are ready to work together to enhance accommodations and programming for Deaf visitors, then members of the Deaf community should suggest and attempt to raise money for Deaf programming in the museum.

3. Volunteer
Providing funding alone may not suffice when it comes to helping museums increase programmatic access for Deaf audiences. An art museum may have funds to increase and enhance accommodations for the Deaf community, but it may not have the manpower to do so. Thus, members of the Deaf community can provide human resources that may be lacking in the art museum. A combination of fundraising and volunteering is the best way to help a museum increase and improve its programming for people who are Deaf. Again, it is advisable to first establish a solid and mutual relationship with the museum to make future initiatives productive and effective.

4. Create Report Card
A local Deaf organization and/or members of the Deaf community can create a report card to evaluate museum websites and programming based on what members of the Deaf community need from art museums. For example, the report card can rate the website on accessibility information, the ability of museum staff to communicate with Deaf visitors, the ability to provide programming in sign language, the ability to provide sign language interpreters for programming, etc. Then, the evaluations can be combined into a publication that can be sent to museums so that they can be notified on how they can improve their accommodations and to other Deaf organizations in the nation so other Deaf communities and organizations can create their own report cards. The Illinois Safe Schools Alliance created an excellent report card that evaluates lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ) issues in programs that prepare educators to work in schools across Illinois; Deaf organizations may use this report card as an example of how to evaluate programs and institutions.

5. Report Injustices & Inequality
It is the right of any person with a disability to be treated as equally as any other person. Therefore, members of the Deaf community should report instances of inequality when such an injustice has occurred. However, before a complaint is filed, one must make sure to give the art museum an opportunity to accommodate a Deaf person with the resources it has available. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows enforcement of the law in two formats. One way is to file a complaint with the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice will then investigate the matter and try to mediate a settlement or take the matter to court. The other method of enforcement is for the Deaf person who was treated unequally to sue the accused party at his/her own expense. On a more local level, Deaf Chicagoans can contact the Chicago Commission on Human Relations (CCHR) to report cases of unequal treatment. Chicagoans can also contact Access Living for legal counseling on discrimination claims.

Recommendations for Art Museums...

Betty G. Miller

Since all museums are different and exist in varying communities, these recommendations can be adjusted and chosen to fit the differing requirements of the community that the arts institution serves. Additionally, it is important to understand that making a museum more accessible for visitors who are Deaf or have different abilities is not something that can happen overnight; it takes a lot of time, planning, and trial and error to find the most effective ways to provide accommodations for visitors. It is also important to note that once accessibility for Deaf visitors has been achieved, museums should try to become inclusive to people with other disabilities; it is better to include groups of people into an accessibility plan one at a time to insure the effectiveness of the programs. For the readers information, since my research and studies were conducted in Chicago, many of the resources I provide links to are based in Illinois. The following list includes steps that museums can take to enhance accommodations and programming for people who are Deaf:

1. Access Coordinator
Museums with successful accessibility programs have people on staff – usually in the Education Department – who are responsible for developing, creating and evaluating programs for people with varying abilities (Deafworks, 2001). Having an Access Coordinator or Access Educator on staff would not only help develop programs for people with disabilities, but it would also help the museum become a place that creates awareness about the needs of people who have different abilities. (The publication titled Accessibility Planning and Resource Guide for Cultural Administrators has a section specifically about designating an access coordinator and is available for download here.) This position can be a job alone or it can be added on to a similar job that already exists at the museum; it is up to the art museum to decide which option fits their institution best. However, it is important that this person has a background in or has access to being trained about providing services for people with disabilities. For instance, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has two Access Coordinators in the Education Department who work on creating and implementing programs for visitors with varying abilities. Because of the work done by the Access Coordinators, this institution is a great example of an art museum that provides equal access in programming for visitors who learn in many different ways. To see the programs the MET provides for visitors with disabilities, please visit their website by clicking here. (On this website, click on the link for Step 3).

2. Audit
In conjunction with a local Deaf organization, local Deaf people, and/or disability organization, conduct an audit of the physical environment of the museum and the accessibility programs that the museum provides for the Deaf community. Museums in the Chicago area can work with disability organizations such as Access Living, the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD), the Open Doors Organization (ODO), and the Midwest branch of the Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC) and deaf organizations such as the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission (IDHHC) and the Chicago Hearing Society (CHS) to help audit the facilities and programming. Once an audit has been completed, museums should work with the auditors or consultants to come up with ways to eliminate physical and social barriers, improve programming, and create trainings for museum staff. Another good option for an audit is to create an access advisory committee, which can be made up of members of the local Deaf community, Deaf organizations, and various staff of the art museum to continually evaluate the state of the access programs that the institution provides for the public. The publication titled Accessibility Planning and Resource Guide for Cultural Administrators also has a section specifically about creating an access advisory committee and is available for download here. (On this website, click on the link for Step 4).

3. Trainings
It is essential that all museum staff be aware and trained on the museum’s accessibility policy and practices. More specifically, since these employees come into contact with the public the most, docents, educators, gallery guards, and security should be trained on how to communicate and work with members of the Deaf community, if not the entire staff. Docents and other educators should be trained in more detail as to how to work with an interpreter and other strategies that would help with educating and communicating information to people who are Deaf. Art museums in Chicago can work with the groups and organizations mentioned in the links within the previous AUDIT section to create and/or administer trainings for museum employees.

Furthermore, the museum can choose to start a docent-training program for skilled sign language interpreters or for people who are Deaf and have an interest and/or background in the arts so that the museum can offer regularly scheduled tours and programs in sign language by people who are informed in the arts and sign language. Since the 1970’s, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been providing such a docent training program (Rebecca McGinnis, personal communication, December 1, 2008). Involving members of the Deaf community in the museum education process can encourage and empower the Deaf community to become more active and integrated into general society as well as keep the community in close ties with the museum in the long run, which could increase the size of the Deaf audience.

4. Marketing
If a museum or other arts organization wants to provide programming for the Deaf community, the institution must develop a marketing plan to communicate this information to the Deaf community. Access icons that convey accommodations, such as sign language interpretation and closed/open captioning for example, should be included in all general marketing schemes if the institution provides these services. Advertisements should also include contact information via TTY, TDD, or e-mail so that a consumer who is Deaf can contact the institution. By including such information in all marketing and advertising initiatives, this inclusiveness would help reach more people and increase awareness about accessibility. Also, museums can contact local Deaf groups, clubs, organizations, churches, and schools about making presentations about Deaf programming, handing out marketing materials or coming up with programs specifically catered to a particular Deaf group. In the Chicago area, the mission of the Open Doors Organization (ODO) is to help businesses in the field of disability marketing among other goals.

a. Website Development
Since people with disabilities rely heavily on the Internet for information, museums and other arts organizations must have an “accessibility” section that is easy to find on their websites’ homepage (Solutions Marketing Group, 2007). Art museums should provide as much information about accessibility and accessible events on their webpage as possible. For example, providing a downloadable calendar of accessible events would be helpful for visitors of a museum’s website. In the accessibility section of a website, including a brief video in American Sign Language about the accessibility options at the museum for visitors in the Deaf community would show all visitors of the website that the museum welcomes sign language users and provides such accommodations. Accessibility sections on websites should also include contact information via TTY, TDD, and/or an e-mail address that a person who is Deaf can use to contact the museum if (s)he has any questions or concerns. An exemplary museum website that offers informational videos in British Sign Language about the museum and its exhibitions is the Bantock House at Wolverhampton Arts and Museums. Another great resource for the British Deaf community is the MAGIC website which is a consortium of 16 museums in London that provide programming for members of the Deaf community and use the MAGIC website to post information about Deaf programming. These two websites are favorable examples of how to communicate institutional and programmatic information to Deaf museum visitors.

5. Social Component
From my research of different museum programs for the Deaf community, since the Deaf community is very tight knit, I have found that having a social component along with the educational program helps to build comfort and loyal attendance with visitors who are Deaf (Rebecca McGinnis, personal communication, December 1, 2008; Deafworks, 2001). Social components may consist of a reception with food and drinks or any sort of informal gathering where the Deaf visitors can socialize with each other and the museum staff before or after a program. Art museums in the Chicago area can work with the Deaf organization known as the Chicago Deaf and Hard of Hearing Cultural Center (CDHHCC) to combine efforts and bring social and art educational-related events to the art museum. There is a Deaf social event in Chicago called Duppies. Duppies is a Deaf happy hour that takes place once every month at different bars in the Chicago area. It would be a great opportunity for art museums to contact the organizer(s) of Duppies to host one of the gatherings at the museum in order to expose the Deaf community to the art museum and so that the museum staff can get to know the Deaf community.

Deafworks. (2001). Access for deaf people to museums and galleries: A review of good practice in London. London: Deafworks.

Solutions Marketing Group. (2007). Disability facts. Retrieved on November 15, 2008.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art...

In the United States, there is an exemplary accessibility program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York. It has a wonderful access program for people with visual impairments, blindness, hearing impairments, deafness, learning and developmental disabilities, and for people with dementia. Also, there is a specific section on the website for programs and events for people with disabilities.  These programs are largely due to the fact that the museum has two Access Coordinators/Educators in charge of creating programming for people with varying abilities. I spoke with one of the Access Educators, Rebecca McGinnis, about the MET’s programs for the Deaf community.

In terms of their programs for Deaf people, the MET not only provides tours with an interpreter, but some tours are given in ASL with a voice interpreter – meaning the tour is held in ASL, and for those who are able to hear, there is an English interpreter. This museum also provides ASL interpretation for one family program per month. Furthermore, the MET has large-scale events for people who use American Sign Language called “An Evening of Art and ASL” held two to three times a year that includes interpreted and sign language tours and a catered reception that follows the tours. Rebecca mentioned that having a social aspect – such as the interactions that take place at Deaf community gatherings – at museum events allows people who are Deaf an opportunity to interact and develop a trusting and loyal relationship with the museum (Personal communication, December 1, 2008). These programs provided by the art museum are free of charge with admission and do not require an appointment.  Visitors can sign up for monthly email updates about these programs.

A Historic Home in England...


The Bantock House
Wolverhampton Arts & Museums
Wolverhampton, England

Another exemplary museum program in England is at Wolverhampton Arts and Museums in Wolverhampton, England (near Birmingham), which consists of an art gallery, a historic home and park, and a craft gallery. Visitors of the Bantock House historic home’s website can see that the museum provides services for the Deaf community in British Sign Language (BSL); there is a link on the site's homepage that leads a visitor to a series of BSL videos that give information about the Bantock House and the exhibitions. This museum also provides hand-held video guides for Deaf visitors who primarily communicate using BSL, which they also announce on their website – visitors know that this is a place that is accessible for the Deaf community.

When se
arching through several art museum websites for informational videos in ASL, I was unable to find an art museum in the United States that offers similar services. In terms of technology, there is a U.S. company called Keen Guides, Inc. that is in the process of developing ASL, closed captioned, cued speech, and audio tour guides that are downloadable for portable media players such as iPods. It is not in full swing yet, however, there is a sample of their services done for the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in ASL. A video like the one in the previous link can be put on a museum's website for the visitor to download or can be loaded onto portable media devices owned or rented by the museum. Once up and running, Keen Guides will offer their services to museums, galleries, monuments, college campuses, or any other institution that provides tours for visitors. The company will also offer a package of pre-loaded media players for institutions to rent. Currently, there are many larger art museums in the U.S. that use similar technologies for self-guided tours, but I was not able to find any that provide ASL video guides. Keen Guides can offer art museums a great way to make their collections accessible to members of the Deaf community through popular, modern technology. If you would like more information on how to provide videos such as these for visitors of your venue, click here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Consortium of Museums in London...

One of the most impressive initiatives I discovered in England is a consortium of 16 museums in London who cater to the deaf and hearing impaired community called MAGIC (Museums and Galleries in the Capital). Some of the museums that participate on the MAGIC website are the British Museum, the Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, the National Gallery, the Royal Academy of the Arts, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and more. This organization has a website that posts all the events that each museum provides for the Deaf community in London, and it allows visitors of the website to provide feedback about these museums’ programming. MAGIC also has videos in BSL (British Sign Language) that explain information about the website. The events posted on this website consist of lectures and/or tours that either may be interpreted or conducted by a person who is Deaf. Some museums out of the 16 seem to provide more accommodations than the others; these museums do not all provide the same accommodations. This website is a wonderful way of consolidating information so that Deaf visitors can find programs for multiple museums at once.

After my search for a consortium of equal caliber in the United States, I walked away empty-handed. In the United States, a Deaf person must navigate art museum websites individually, contact them through TTY (a teletypewriter which is a telephone system connected to a keyboard), a rely service (a third-party operator service which allows people who are deaf/hard of hearing to make calls through TTY or via webcams and video phones to those who do not have TTY’s, webcams, or video phones), or through e-mail to discover whether a museum can provide accommodations such as an interpreter for a person who is Deaf weeks in advance of the person's visit.

Maybe this can happen in the United States...

Upon searching through museum websites in the United States, I have found that a few major art museums in New York City, other than the MET, have developed exemplary programming for members of the Deaf community. These museums include the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Whitney Museum of American Art, Guggenheim New York and The Frick Collection. With so many museums that offer regular programming for individuals who are Deaf, the city of New York comes closest to possibly creating a website that is equivalent to the MAGIC website in England. Perhaps the New York State Council on the Arts can partner with local Deaf organizations and New York museums to create a central website for Deaf programming.

Comparing England's and USA's disability laws...

Ann Silver
Deaf & Dumb, 1903, Deaf, 1993

Mixed Media


Through my research, I discovered that England has a similar law to the ADA in the United States called the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) – which was put into effect five years after the ADA – in 1995. The DDA is quite similar to the ADA even in wording. Nevertheless, museums in England have taken more steps than museums in the U.S. to provide accommodations for their Deaf audiences. Although there is no definitive research for why the DDA has been more effective in arts institutions than the ADA, I believe this difference could be due to the fact that the English government has taken a more proactive role in informing service providers of their duties under these laws. For instance, in a 2007 report by the U.S. National Council on Disability (NCD) called Implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act: Challenges, Best Practices, and New Opportunities for Success, the NCD conducted research about effective implementation of the ADA laws and what factors could be preventing such implementation. One of the implementation issues mentioned in this report is a “lack [of] information, education, and training on how the ADA applies to [Title III entities, which includes art museums] and how to take steps to comply”; to solve this issue the report recommends to send out information regarding the ADA and how to comply with these laws to various service providing associations such as the Council of Better Business Bureaus or in the case of art museums, national and statewide arts councils and arts organizations. Whatever the reasons for the differences in implementation of disability laws may be in England and the United States, art institutions in England have come up with some great solutions for involving the Deaf community in the arts, and I would like to share some of these methods with you.


National Council on Disability (NCD). (July 26, 2007). Implementation of the Americans with disabilities act: Challenges, best practices, and new opportunities for success. Retrieved April 2, 2009 from

Bridging the accessibility gaps...

Bridging the Training Gap
In order to bridge this gap, museums can work with organizations or consulting companies that specialize in the area of disabilities. These disability organizations and consultants can help create and/or implement trainings for the staff in art museums and audit the museum’s accessibility practices. For instance, in the city of Chicago, the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities provides disability awareness training for the workplace. Also, according to its website, the national organization Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC) is made of 10 regional centers in the U.S. that has trainings on several disability-related subjects and can create tailored trainings for institutions as well as provide people information, referrals, and resources about the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the case of university museums, since these museums are part of a university and serve the student population, university museums should develop a relationship with and consult the department for students with disabilities to assist in obtaining accessibility resources or creating a training program for employees. Once trainings have been established and implemented to appropriate (if not all) staff members and the art museum is equipped to accommodate members of the Deaf community, a marketing plan should be developed so that all efforts and preparations do not go unused.

Bridging the Marketing Gap
A very good way to advertise towards members of the Deaf community is through websites of local Deaf people and Deaf organizations, by sending museum representatives to Deaf churches and working with Deaf organizations and local Deaf art museum goers for marketing help and advice. It would also be wise for museums to acknowledge people of varying abilities in all advertisements through the simple use of logos such as the samples shown in this image:

Acknowledging accommodations in general advertising would create awareness about these services to everyone who looks at these advertisements, thus revealing this valuable information to friends and family members of someone who is Deaf or has a different type of ability (Deafworks, 2001; NEA, NEH, NASAA & JFK Center for Performing Arts, 2003). Such marketing initiatives can help create awareness about people with varying abilities and their rights to accommodations, and spread the word to the population at large that the museum provides such services.

Bridging the ADA Enforcement Gap
There are some changes that could be made to improve the enforcement methods prescribed by the Americans with Disabilities Act in order to enhance the law’s effectiveness. One of these possible changes is to create a committee in each state that would provide assistance to cultural institutions such as museums and their level of ADA compliance. A good example of such a committee is the New York State Council on the Arts’ access advisory committee. This committee provides arts organizations in the state with resources on how to be more accessible to people with disabilities. For individual museums, access advisory committees can be formed at the local art institution, as well. (The publication titled Accessibility Planning and Resource Guide for Cultural Administrators has a section specifically about creating an access advisory committee and is available for download at An access advisory committee can be made up “of board member(s), executive director, program directors, Accessibility Coordinator, and consultants who represent and/or have disabilities. The consultants may be artists, cultural administrators, educators, accessibility experts, interested legislators, participants and audience members” (National Endowment for the Arts, 2004). Another way to bridge the ADA gap in art museums is to have museum organizations such as the American Association of Museums (AAM) create more stringent accessibility standards for physical and educational access when considering museums for accreditation or membership. Additionally, local Deaf and/or arts organizations can create an accessibility report card that grades the accessibility methods and programs of art museums in the area. (A great example of a report card can be downloaded and read using Adobe Acrobat Reader. It can be found at This report card evaluates lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ) issues in programs that prepare educators to work in schools across Illinois.) A report card can be an effective way for Deaf organizations to evaluate websites, educational programs, and physical accessibility of a museum; it lets the institution know what is being done well and what can be improved in the area of accessibility, while empowering Deaf organizations and community members. Enforcement methods such as these would allow public and private institutions in our society as a whole to take more responsibility in providing equal educational access for members of the Deaf community.


Deafworks. (2001). Access for deaf people to museums and galleries: A review of good practice in London. London: Deafworks.

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Nation Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA), & The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (2003). Design for accessibility: A cultural administrator’s handbook. Washington, D.C.: National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) (December 14, 2004). Accessibility planning and resource guide for cultural administrators. Retrieved August 16, 2009 from

Gaps in museum accessibility...

Through my research in literature and through a focus group I conducted with Deaf adults, I have discovered 3 main gaps in museum accessibility. In this post I will explain these gaps. In the following post, I will discuss methods of bridging these gaps.

Gap #1: Training

The members of a museum’s staff who deal with the public the most are those who work at the entrance of museums, gallery guards, docents and other education staff. I have discovered a gap in the training of these staff members in the matter of accommodating individuals with differe
nt abilities. According to the Director of Education at an Illinois university museum, museum staff and docents have received little or no training in working with visitors who are disabled during her time of employment at her current university museum and at her previous art museum of employment (S.Prajapati, personal communication, October 29, 2008). It is hard to imagine how welcome visitors with disabilities feel when visiting institutions that are not prepared to communicate with and provide accommodations for them. For instance, there is a woman in Massachusetts who frequents museums and has a hearing dog; she constantly deals with explaining the presence of her dog to the staff at entrances of museums, throughout galleries to the guards, and to members of the public while in galleries (Cassedy, 1993). This situation is created when members of the entire museum staff are not oriented on disability accommodations available at the museum. Coming across so much resistance during museum visits can discourage visitors from attending museums.

Gap #2: Marketing & Advertisements
An additional gap I have noticed between art museums and accessibility practices is the lack of targeted marketing geared towards members of the Deaf community. Art museums that have difficulties attracting Deaf audiences to scheduled programs may have flaws in their methods of marketing these programs. Just as art museums have different
marketing strategies for school programs, community programs, family programs and adult programs, these institutions should also consider making advertisements that are targeted towards members of the Deaf community. People with disabilities are a growing demographic that businesses such as art museums gloss over as potential visitors, customers, audience members, etc. According to Solutions Marketing Group, a marketing company that specializes in consumers with disabilities, people with disabilities in the United States have $220 billion in discretionary income (2008). Although I could not find statistics specific to the Deaf community, the reader can imagine that even a 1% portion of $220 billion is a considerable chunk of income. Additionally, considering the fact that anyone can become or develop a disability at any point, preparing and advertising educational programs for people with disabilities is not something that is so irrelevant to any service provider looking to increase revenue and attendance.

Gap #3: ADA Enforcement

Since the ADA was passed in 1990, books and other resources have been printed about making private and public cultural institutions accessible to people with disabilities. If this is the case, why are there still issues with providing accommodations to museum goers with disabilities nineteen years afterwards? I believe that the largest gap between art museums and providing accessibility for visitors with disabilities is the level of enforcement of the ADA. According to the ADA, institutions are excused from providing an accommodation for patrons with disabilities if the accommodation causes an undue burden financially (Jasper, 2008). This burden is loosely defined, which is perfectly understandable since each institution’s ability to provide accommodations may differ. Nonetheless, this room left for interpretation should not be used as a way for institutions to wiggle out of their responsibility towards providing equal experiences for visitors with disabilities. Also, within the ADA, there is no method of enforcement that makes service providers directly responsible for minimizing barriers for people with disabilities. However, there are two other methods of enforcement stated by the Americans with Disabilities Act; one method is reporting discrimination instances to the Department of Justice, and the other method is filing an individual lawsuit with the U.S. District Court. If one files a complaint to the Department of Justice, the complaint is assessed through an investigation, leading to a settlement of the situation. If it cannot be settled, then the complaint will be taken to court on behalf of the government (Jasper, 2008). One of the main problems with these two types of enforcement of the ADA is that the court cases may take a long time to settle. In addition, these methods of enforcement fail to put the responsibility of compliance on the institutions; it is the person with a disability who is held accountable for reporting an institution that does not comply with ADA laws. These two types of enforcement do not directly motivate art museums or any other institution to prevent accessibility barriers. As a result, different terms of enforcement and accountability need to be established in order for institutions such as art museums to become more proactive in changing their accessibility practices. Concerned citizens and members of the Deaf community can play a role in improving ADA enforcement.

Cassedy, S. (1993, January/February). The hearing dog’s tale: Campaign to raise awareness in the museum community about hearing dogs and the laws pertaining to them. Museum News, 72, 14-16.

Jasper, M.C. (2008). Americans with disabilities act. (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Solutions Marketing Group. (2007). Disability facts. Retrieved on November 15, 2008.

Struggles of today...

Adrean Clark

Digital Photo Manipulation

To Accommodate or Not to Accommodate?

Although the Disability Rights and Deaf President Now movements created more avenues towards equality for Deaf people, there are still issues that the community faces today. One of these issues is whether or not institutions should be legally obligated to provide accommodations for the culturally Deaf. As mentioned before, members of the culturally Deaf community do not feel that their deafness is a disability, but a form of identity and way of life. If this is the case, some people feel that Deaf people should not advocate accommodations through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, Tucker (1997), who is deaf, mentions, “Deaf people cannot claim to be disabled for purposes of demanding accommodations under laws such as the ADA, yet claim that deafness is not a disability…” (p. 36). Tucker as well as other people, both deaf and hearing, feel that Deaf culturists are living contradictions, and that the Deaf community should not ask for accommodations under the ADA. Nonetheless, there are others who oppose this view. Humphries et al. (1994) state:

Deaf people may, at times, allow themselves to be categorized as ‘disabled’ out of social, economic, or political necessity. However, this adoption of a seemingly contradictory view of themselves does not diminish their sense of themselves as a culturally and linguistically sophisticated people (p. 10).

This view validates the Deaf community as a cultural entity, and supports their choices in requesting governmental support for equal access opportunities. Smith and Bienvenu (2007) compare Feminist Theory to the issues of the Deaf community and suggest developing a Deaf Theory based on the Feminist Theories that have already been developed. One of their points is based on the dichotomy between Deaf and hearing people, which states, “Deaf individuals (like women) can strive to have equal political/social power, while simultaneously being different than hearing (male) individuals” (p.61). The authors embrace this difference and believe there is nothing wrong with needing accommodations from institutions in order to create equality amongst people who are Deaf and hearing.

Cochlear Implants
Another issue that exists today in the Deaf community is curing deafness through the use of cochlear implants in children. A cochlear implant is a technological device that alleviates nerve deafness and is placed in the inner ear through surgery, which allows sound to travel straight to the brain rather than from the ear to the brain (Tucker, 1997). Deaf culturists feel that parents should not decide the fate of their young deaf children by fitting them with cochlear implants before they are at an age to make the decision on their own – they feel it is a violation of a child’s human rights. On the other hand, those who support the decisions of parents to provide cochlear implants to their young children cite scientific research that shows the earlier a child gets a cochlear implant, the more effective it is against deafness (Tucker, 1998). Also, Tucker (1998) poses the following argument about allowing deaf children to decide whether or not to receive a cochlear implant when they are older:

A person who is deaf does not learn to speak at the age of twelve or older, the age at which the child is arguably old enough to decide for herself how she wants to live her life. But a child who is deaf who learns to speak and is part of the hearing world during childhood can learn to sign later in life and join the Deaf world (p.8).

The arguments that these two opposing parties make are to this day, about ten years later, still being discussed, which shows how important an issue cochlear implants continue to be in our society.

Deaf Organizations & Preservation of Deaf Culture
There are two deaf organizations that continually battle over the preservation of Deaf culture versus the promotion of cochlear implants and other such technologies, and their positions are made quite obvious in their missions. The mission of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is “to preserve, protect and promote the civil, human and linguistic rights of all deaf Americans” (2008). The opposing organization, the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell), states that its mission is “Advocating Independence through Listening and Talking” (2008). These two organizations butted heads recently in regards to the PepsiCo’s Super Bowl pre-game commercial advocating the use of American Sign Language aired on February 3, 2008. This commercial can be viewed at When the AG Bell organization found out that this commercial was going to be aired on a day with so many viewers, they wrote a letter to the Senior Vice President of PepsiCo Communications expressing how the commercial would promote a single stereotype of the diverse deaf community and that the money used to pay for this commercial could be used to provide hearing aids and other services for the deaf. This letter can be downloaded as an Adobe Acrobat PDF document at The NAD responded to AG Bell in a letter that expressed the organization’s disappointment for the lack of support for the rights of members of the Deaf culture. The NAD’s response can be seen at From the conflict surrounding this Super Bowl advertisement, one can see that the issues of preserving Deaf culture and curing deafness are ongoing, and have yet to be resolved.


AG Bell. Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Home Page. Retrieved April 21, 2008, from

Humphries, T., Padden, C., O’Rourke, T. (1994). A basic course in American sign language. (2nd ed.). Silver Spring: T.J. Publishers, Inc.

NAD. National Association of the Deaf Home Page. Retrieved April 21, 2008 from

Smith, K.L., Bienvenu, M.J. (2007). Deaf theory: What can we learn from feminist theory? Multicultural Education, 15(1), 58-63.

Tucker, B.P. (1997). The ADA and deaf culture: Contrasting precepts, conflicting results. Annals for the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 549, 24-36.

Tucker, B.P. (1998). Deaf culture, cochlear implants, and elective disability. The Hastings Center Report, 28(4), 6-14.

Struggles in the past...

Sandi Inches Vasnick

We cannot truly know the Deaf community without learning about the struggles and issues they have faced throughout history. In the past, those who were deaf were not highly respected as human beings and were ignored since they were not able to communicate with hearing people. When nobility were affected by deafness and it affected their rights to inheritance, discovering ways to teach the deaf became more important (Fleischer & Zames, 2001). Eventually, people began to realize that deaf people are just as capable as the hearing, but need different methods of communication and education.

The Disability Rights Movement
In retrospect, the community has come a long way in terms of establishing rights for themselves. Since the 1850’s, before the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s, people with disabilities have been fighting for equality in society; this movement is known as the Disability Rights Movement, which was inspired by the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation Movements in the 1960’s. Through protests, civil disobedience, boycotts and organizations, people with disabilities have caught the eyes of policymakers in the United States government. Since the beginning of the Disability Rights Movement, there have been a string of laws enacted to help make equality a reality. I would like to give a brief overview of the Disability Rights Movement and governmental policies so that the reader can understand the struggle of people with disabilities who have been and continue to fight for equality. One of the first laws to directly address access issues for people with disabilities was passed in 1968 and was known as the Architectural Barriers Act. This act required facilities funded by the Federal Government to be physically accessible for individuals with disabilities. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, more specifically Section 504, prohibits discrimination by the Federal Government and whatever they fund in the areas of facilities, programs and employment. This act was a pivotal civil rights law that led to the creation and development of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is more specific about how disability is defined; it branches outside of the Federal Government to include public and private institutions and transportation and telecommunication services. More recently, in 2008, amendments were made to the ADA to increase protection for people with disabilities by creating a broader definition of the word “disability” and the phrase “major life activities” within the document. Along with these national laws, some states have created their own accessibility codes, as well. The existence of these laws and the 2008 amendments signal a need to improve accessibility in order for people with disabilities to obtain equality in societal services.

The Deaf President Now Movement (DPN)
Despite all the effects of the Disability Rights Movement, it was not until 1988 when Gallaudet University (the first deaf and hard of hearing university in the U.S.) selected their first Deaf president in its existence since 1864 – not through elections, but through protests and demonstrations (Fleischer & Zames, 2001). Initially, the board of directors selected a hearing president over two additional equally qualified deaf candidates. This election stirred uprisings in the student community of Gallaudet University known as the Deaf President Now (DPN) movement. Since DPN, Gallaudet University’s board of directors must be at least 50% Deaf (Brueggemann, 1995).

Brueggmann, B. (1995). The coming out of Deaf culture and American sign language: An exploration into visual rhetoric and literacy. Rhetoric Review, 13(2), 409-420.

Fleischer, D.Z., Zames, F. (2001). The disability rights movement: From charity to confrontation. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

ASL misconceptions...

Randy Garder
3 plate intaglio (hard ground, soft ground, aquatint)

ASL (American Sign Language) has served in building a cultural group within society and amongst the larger hearing impaired community. Since ASL plays such a large role in the development and culture of the Deaf community, in order to better understand the needs of Deaf people, I will discuss some misconceptions about the language.

ASL is not a Universal Signed Language
Another misconception that exists is that American Sign Language is a universal signed language. Deaf people in other countries around the world have developed their own signed languages, and American Sign Language is only spoken in the United States and Canada.

Not only are there different signed languages in different countries, there are also many variations within signed languages such as American Sign Language. Some of these variations include Pidgen Signed English, Signed English, etc (Brueggemann, 1995). Furthermore, Brueggemann (1995) mentions that ASL varies in ways that English varies by region. For example, local Deaf communities within states have created signs for cities and street names that may not exist in other states around the U.S.

Although ASL is different from signed languages in other countries, it does have some background in LSF, which is the signed language of France. This is true because Thomas Gallaudet, founder of the first deaf school in the United States in 1817, brought a French deaf teacher named Laurent Clerc to help with the education of the deaf in the U.S. (Fleischer & Zames, 2001). Nevertheless, over time, both ASL and LSF have evolved into separate languages that share only a few similar signs (Humphries, et al., 1994).

ASL is not English

There is a misconception that exists about American Sign Language and its derivation from the English language. Although these two languages share some similarities, ASL is a visual and manual language that is overall quite different from the grammar and syntax of the spoken English language. Within ASL and other signed languages, facial expressions and body language are quite important and must also be observed while conversing manually because facial expressions serve grammatical purposes, hence the strong visual aspect of ASL. Unlike the hearing community, conversations cannot take place without eye contact in the Deaf community. As a result of experiencing constant visual stimulation through the use of American Sign Language, scientific research shows that adults who were born deaf have stronger peripheral vision skills than hearing adults (Bower, 2000). Also, people who are Deaf watch the entire upper body, face, and hands during a signed conversation, which also leads to enhanced peripheral vision skills.

Importance of ASL in Museums
Since ASL is so different from English, art museums must not assume that typed brochures and exhibition guides provide Deaf people with equal access to information as those who speak, hear, read and write in English. Because people who are Deaf can see, they should not simply be provided with the means to read materials, just as members of the general public are not merely provided with such written resources in many art museums with public programming. Derycke (1994) agrees and says, “Having a catalogue or display card as the sole introduction to a painting or sculpture is woefully inadequate for a deaf person…who must struggle to understand a language that…is not their natural form of expression” (p. 48). Charrow and Wilbur (1975) view Deaf individuals as linguistic minorities who are just like members of ethnic groups who learned English as a second language, and do not learn English as well as the native speakers. With that said, American Sign Language is quite different from English and should be more widely recognized by art museums in the United States.

Bower, B. (2000). The brain spreads its sights in the deaf. Science News, 158(13), 198.

Brueggmann, B. (1995). The coming out of Deaf culture and American sign language: An exploration into visual rhetoric and literacy. Rhetoric Review, 13(2), 409-420.

Charrow, V.R., Wilbur, R. B. (1975). The Deaf child as a linguistic minority. Theory into Practice, 14(5), Language use and Acquisition, 353-359.

Derycke, B. (1994). Deaf guides in French museums. Museum International, 46(4), 48-50.

Fleischer, D.Z., Zames, F. (2001). The disability rights movement: From charity to confrontation. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Humphries, T., Padden, C., O’Rourke, T. (1994). A basic course in American sign language. (2nd ed.). Silver Spring: T.J. Publishers, Inc.

Deaf Culture 101 - Use of the word "deaf"

Orkid Sassouni
Teacher at PS47 School NY
B/W Photo

Within the larger deaf community, there are various levels of deafness. Also, you may have noticed the capitalization, or lack thereof, when I have used the word deaf; this is not a matter of inconsistency. Within literature I have come across, “deaf” is widely used as “the audiological experience of not being able to hear sound,” whereas “Deaf” is used to “describe a cultural identity” (Smith & Bienvenu, 2007, p. 62). Moreover, Humphries, Padden, and O'Rourke (1994) explain that these distinctions are made:

because there are deaf people, who are not part of any of these [Deaf] communities, who do not know ASL. We are distinguishing between those deaf individuals who use ASL (Deaf individuals), and those who are deaf, but do not participate in the language or community of Deaf people, (deaf individuals). As you can see, just because one does not hear, it does not necessarily mean that one has learned ASL and is part of a Deaf community. (p. 6)

Therefore, the use of the common language, ASL (American Sign Langauge), allows Deaf individuals to form a cultural identity. These distinctions in capitalization are widely used and necessary when referring to the deaf community at large or the culturally Deaf population within the larger deaf community.


Humphries, T., Padden, C. O'Rourke, T. (1994) A basic course in American sign language. (2nd ed.). Silver Spring: T.J. Publishers, Inc.

Smith, K.L., Bienvenu,M.J
. (2007). Deaf theory: What can we learn from feminist theory? Multicultural Education, 15(1), 58-63.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Overview of future posts...

Chuck Baird
Art No. 2
Acrylic, 24"x30"

This painting by Chuck Baird encompasses my ideas, beliefs, and interests in relation to my research. In this work of art, the hand motion represents the American Sign Language (ASL) sign for art. Since this blog focuses on art museums, I will integrate works of art from Deaf artists throughout my posts. Most of this art focuses on the experience of being Deaf through the eyes of these artists.

Since members of the Deaf community are very visual individuals and art museums provide plenty of objects for analysis and visual stimulation, I believe Deaf people can have enjoyable and meaningful experiences in art museums.
However, many art institutions in our country are not prepared to provide the accommodations that Deaf visitors require to have a fully enjoyable and educational experience.

Here is a list of the topics I will discuss in future posts:
  • Information about Deaf culture.
  • Gaps in museum accessibility.
  • Various examples of exemplary accommodations for Deaf audiences from cultural institutions in England and the U.S.
  • Governmental policies in both the U.S. and England regarding people with disabilities and cultural institutions in order to find out why England's museums have come a bit further in providing museum accessibility for the Deaf community despite the fact that England's Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was enacted 5 years later than the United States' laws (Americans with Disabilities Act aka ADA).
  • Resources and recommendations for museum professionals interested in increasing accessibility for Deaf audiences.
  • Resources and information for the Deaf community about how to make museums more aware of their accessibility needs.

My interest in this topic...

Despite my lifelong interest in the visual arts, I grew up without the luxury of attending art museums and receiving proper art education in the public schools I attended. After completing my BFA in Art Education, I was still curious about education in the realm of art museums, which is why I decided to attend graduate school and study museum education. In graduate school, I also began to study American Sign Language (ASL) since I had been curious about this language after growing up with a Deaf person in my community. Consequently, I combined my interest in both the Deaf community and art museum education as the focus of my thesis, while in graduate school. Now that I have completed my thesis, I would like to share my research with museum professionals and members of the Deaf community to improve the accommodations that museums provide for people who are Deaf.

An Important Note: I realize that when discussing the issues a certain group of people face, it may seem like they are being isolated and objectified, but I would like to express to the reader that this is not my intent. My intention of my thesis and research is to create awareness about the needs of people who are Deaf within the setting of art museums. Also, my purpose was not to put down any museum, but to critically analyze what art museums are missing when considering programming for people who are Deaf, and to distinguish which accommodations are effective.