Adult changing table in one of our two new accessible companion-care restrooms.
As for so many others, the year 2020 was not easy for The Henry Ford. The pandemic brought many challenges that we had to face as an institution. Despite those challenges, we remained committed to reaching strategic goals that we had set to improve accessibility and inclusion for all of our guests. Through teamwork and determination, we were able to stay on track toward this commitment.
We are excited to share that we received a three-year grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to support sensory programming initiatives. With this grant, we will be able to expand our current programming and build on what we have learned with new programming for guests with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and sensory processing disorder (SPD). The grant will allow guests to have improved on-site experiences and access to our collections in all of our venues.
In addition, we are excited to announce that, within the next year, we are planning to launch a new program for teens and young adults with ASD and SPD that will include activities aimed at social skill-building and networking.
The inclusion of all guests is one of the main pillars of our strategic plan. We believe that this is an important component that will help all guests feel welcome and comfortable on our campus. Because of this, we are expanding training for both current and new staff members. We are developing a module that will use information from the Autism Alliance of Michigan, as well as other organizations, to help our staff become more aware of those with disabilities. As an institution, we understand that it is our responsibility to become more aware of disabilities, as well as how we can modify our unique educational experiences for guests who may need additional support. It is important that guests of all ages, backgrounds and abilities have equal access to the collection and our campus.
Another example of how we are making a more comfortable experience for our guests with disabilities is with the installation of two new accessible companion care restrooms, located at both ends of the main promenade of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Our accessibility specialist, Caroline Braden, partnered with the Madison Center to help design these restrooms. The Madison Center has partnered with The Henry Ford for over 10 years through our Community Outreach Program. The project was supported in part by grants from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Ford Foundation.
Toilet in one of our new accessible companion-care restrooms.
The work done on the companion care restrooms goes above and beyond compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The restrooms are barrier-free and include power-operated doors, extra space, and a power-adjustable adult changing table. These tables will be able to accommodate guests with physical and cognitive disabilities. As an institution, we are very proud of this construction, and we are very grateful to those who worked so hard on this essential project.
For nearly 20 years, The Henry Ford has sought to provide safe, unique, and engaging experiences for our members and guests on the autism spectrum and their families. It has been a long journey, with a slow start and a positive twist during a worldwide pandemic in 2020, an otherwise extremely challenging year. We are pleased to share with you a brief history of our efforts and an exciting announcement about opportunities for future visits to The Henry Ford.
Early efforts at specialized programming began in 2000 with a partnership event with the Autism Society of Michigan during one of our first Day Out With Thomas events and later with safety trainings led by the Autism Alliance of Michigan (AAoM). Guest-facing staff and security personnel were trained on the impacts of autism spectrum disorder and sensory processing disorder (ASD/SPD) and given basic instruction on how to interact with caregivers and assist in keeping these guests safe while visiting. The focus was on improving service and engagement for guests with ASD/SPD who were already visiting, not necessarily on drawing more families and guests with ASD/SPD to our venues and programs.
Sensory-friendly entrance sign in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.
By 2015, our desire to serve more guests with disabilities had evolved into concrete initiatives and plans with the addition of Caroline Braden, now our full-time accessibility specialist on the Guest Services Team. Caroline's background in museums and accessibility programming allowed us to build and deliver a broad range of services, programs and accommodations designed for guests with disabilities, both on-site and online. I personally have had the privilege of working with Caroline and many outstanding partners and colleagues who have contributed to the growth of accessibility programming over the years. Additionally, this work has been a personal passion, as my youngest child has been diagnosed with ASD.
At The Henry Ford, our current sensory-friendly programming began in 2016. Since then, we have had at least three or four sensory-friendly events a year. These events have included such offerings as pre-visit materials (i.e., social narratives), sensory-friendly maps, noise-canceling headphones and earplugs, quiet zones, and turning loud sounds down or off. We have also offered exclusive access times to some of our exhibits and events, such as our Hallowe'en in Greenfield Village event—one of our most popular sensory-friendly events of the past few years.
Sensory-friendly entrance sign at Hallowe'en in Greenfield Village.
Which brings us to our exciting news and the most positive twist in this story—a substantial grant that The Henry Ford received this past fall from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). This grant will enable us to significantly expand our current sensory-friendly programming to provide access to over 18,000 guests with ASD/SPD and their families within the funding period of three years.
To do this, The Henry Ford will increase the number of sensory-friendly events to 13–15 a year, including more access and accommodations for our special annual events. We will also develop and launch a new program for teens and young adults with ASD/SPD that will include activities aimed at social skill-building and networking. This programming will include not only the successful access and accommodations we have provided in the past but free admission as well, removing any unique economic and/or social barriers.
As an additional component of the grant, we are developing new training for staff in partnership with AAoM. This training, combined with the yearly safety training from AAoM, will be designed to broaden awareness and develop programmatic and service skills around the unique needs of those with ASD/SPD.
The timing of this grant during the COVID-19 pandemic has made our delivery of sensory-friendly programming more complex. As safety is our number one priority, The Henry Ford is operating at 25% of normal venue capacities, and some venues and programming are not available at all. IMLS, however, has been extremely flexible in allowing us to modify our on-site programming and move certain aspects to virtual programming. For updates on virtual opportunities and onsite events in 2021, continue to follow The Henry Ford’s social channels and website.
Amy Louise Liedel of The Henry Ford receives AAoM’s Seal of Approval from AAoM President & CEO Colleen Allen.
We are also proud to have recently received AAoM’s Seal of Approval endorsement. The endorsement is given by AAoM to businesses and organizations in Michigan who demonstrate a conscious effort to accommodate and include individuals with autism in community activities that all families enjoy.
We look forward to continuing to expand our sensory-friendly offerings and hope to see you soon at The Henry Ford.
Amy Louise Liedel is Senior Director of Guest Operations at The Henry Ford.
A look at accessibility at The Henry Ford on the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Signage welcomes guests to a sensory-friendly day at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.
July 26, 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This landmark civil rights law seeks to guarantee equal access for people with disabilities to all areas of public life, including employment, government programs and services, public accommodations, transportation, and communications. Its purpose is to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.
Before the ADA, museums in the United States had varying levels of experience with, and approaches to, accommodating people with disabilities. However, after the passage of the ADA, museums started more consistently planning, budgeting for, and implementing facility improvements and accommodations to enhance accessibility for people with a range of abilities. Additionally, and especially in more recent years, museums have also begun developing and implementing more specialized accessibility programming for a wide range of audiences, oftentimes doing so in ways that go beyond the legal obligations of the ADA. Though there have been great strides made for accessibility at museums across the country since the passage of the ADA, there is still much work to be done. This blog post focuses upon our work toward enhancing accessibility at The Henry Ford, particularly the strides that we had been making prior to closing for the COVID-19 pandemic and how our work has continued to evolve since that time.
A guest on a tactile tour of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation touches the Rosa Parks Bus.
At The Henry Ford, we are committed to providing the highest-quality visit for each and every guest to the extent that we are able to do so. Since the passage of the ADA, we have incorporated accessibility considerations and improvements in a wide range of ways, including: making facility improvements, such as the addition of ramps into several of the historic buildings in Greenfield Village; providing accommodations, such as sign language interpreters; and – more recently – developing more specialized accessibility programming. To help ensure that the work that we are doing is benefiting those for whom it is intended, we rely heavily upon the insights and expertise of people with disabilities and organizations serving people with disabilities.
A quiet zone set up during Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village in 2019 included calming lighting and sensory toys/fidgets. Quiet zones such as this are designed for use by individuals with autism spectrum disorder and sensory processing disorder and their families.
The audiences that we serve through our accessibility offerings include people who: have limited mobility; are blind or have low vision; are deaf or hard of hearing; are on the autism spectrum; and are living with dementia and assisted by their care partners. Our offerings are both onsite (such as wheelchairs and motorized scooters, noise-canceling headphones and earplugs, and a resting room for anyone who needs a quiet space) and online (such as social narratives for people with autism and a Memory Walk for people living with dementia and their care partners to do together).
Participants to a program for people living with dementia and their care partners at The Henry Ford learn ragtime dance steps from Greenfield Village presenters.
We have also developed an extensive array of specialized accessibility programs. For example, we offer sensory-friendly events for individuals who are on the autism spectrum that include such offerings as designated quiet zones, sensory-friendly maps showing areas with loud sounds and bright lights, noise-canceling headphones and earplugs, and exclusive access times to some of our events and exhibits. We also have held tactile tours over the past few years for people who are blind or have low vision, with opportunities to touch artifacts and models of artifacts, and Deaf Days with presentations interpreted in American Sign Language. And, monthly for the past three years, we have collaborated with the Alzheimer’s Association on a program for individuals living with dementia and their care partners. With all of our offerings, we aim to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the same opportunities as everyone else.
The front cover of a map created for a Deaf Day at The Henry Ford, which included the locations of sign language-interpreted presentations.
Adding New Offerings During the Time of COVID-19 Prior to the closure of The Henry Ford due to COVID-19 in March, we had a full slate of accessibility programs and events planned for the year. Sadly, as time went on, each of our scheduled programs was delayed or canceled. It became uncertain what these programs would look like when we reopened, particularly upon checking in with some of our audiences and hearing their hesitation about visiting in person. However, true to the spirit of the ADA, we aimed to still find ways to provide opportunities for people with disabilities even if the ways in which we would be providing these opportunities were different than before.
This is where virtual programming comes in, as joining the trend of other museums across the country, we began planning virtual accessibility opportunities in addition to onsite offerings. Our first foray into virtual accessibility programming was a program designed for people living with dementia and their care partners – an audience whose age puts them in a high-risk category, yet also an audience for whom isolation is prevalent, with few opportunities for enrichment and engagement. This program, which was themed around comic books and superheroes and designed to coincide with our new temporary exhibit, Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes, featured a string quartet of Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians playing superhero music from their homes, which was synced together after being recorded separately. Though it was our first virtual accessibility program, the participants really enjoyed it. Moreover, virtual made the program even more accessible by allowing people to join from all over the country while also being safe and comfortable at their own homes. And, even though it was virtual, the conversation with and between participants was still quite lively.
Following the success of this program, we now have other virtual dementia programs planned. Additionally, we plan to start adding virtual accessibility offerings for other audiences as well, thus expanding upon our offerings and accessibility in ways that we could not have foreseen before COVID-19, but which – true to the original intentions of the ADA – will allow for people with disabilities to have the same access and opportunities as everyone else.
At the same time that we are continuing to plan this array of virtual programs, we are also enhancing our onsite accessibility through infrastructure improvements. For example, while The Henry Ford was closed from March to July, two new “companion care” restrooms were completed in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. These restrooms each have a height-adjustable adult changing table – the first time that we will have such an offering, in addition to a power-operated door for entry, toilet, sink, shelves, and a wide enough space for mobility devices such as wheelchairs and strollers to turn around. These restrooms have been in the works for a long time and we are excited to have them open and available for your next visit to The Henry Ford.
Signage outside of a new companion care restroom mentions that the restroom is equipped with an adult changing table.
Looking Ahead As we move ahead, we look forward to continuing to grow (and regrow) our accessibility offerings – both onsite and virtually – for all of our guests, while also ensuring that our offerings benefit those for whom they are intended. In doing so, we aim to stay true to the spirit of the ADA and the important foundation that it laid for guaranteeing equal access for people with disabilities. On this 30th anniversary of the ADA, we reflect upon that foundation, while also reaffirming our commitment to continuing to enhance accessibility for all of our guests, both now and into the future.
Caroline Braden is Accessibility Specialist at The Henry Ford.
Assistive technology refers to a wide range of products designed to help people work around a variety of challenges as they learn, work, and perform other daily living activities. Certain assistive devices allow people who are deaf or hard of hearing to access technologies that many take for granted, like telephones, televisions, and even alarm clocks. For a young woman in the 1970s and 80s, these products -- now in the collections of The Henry Ford -- also provided greater independence, broader access to popular culture, and improved communication with family and friends.
Hal-Hen Products Vibrating Alarm Clock, circa 1975 (THF158135)
In September 1975, just before leaving home to begin college, a young woman named Shari acquired this inventive alarm clock. It included a bedside clock connected to a vibrating motor, which attached to the underside of the bed and shook intensely when the alarm was triggered. The eager freshman looked forward to waking independently, “rather than trying to rely on others who would have a different class schedule” -- so it’s easy to imagine her dismay when she arrived at her dormitory to find bunk beds! The alarm “would shake and rattle the whole bunk,” creating “quite a rude awakening” for her bunkmate. After a few nights, the students figured out how to separate their bunk beds into twin beds. Even though the new arrangement made the small dorm room even tighter, Shari (and, undoubtedly, her roommate) finally considered the alarm clock to have been “a definite advantage.”
Brochure, "Real-Time Closed Captioning Brings Early-Evening News to the Hearing Impaired, circa 1981 (THF275615)
In December 1981, with money saved from her first job after college, Shari purchased a television caption adapter. At this time, a few programs, like the national news, were broadcast with closed captions for viewers who were deaf or hard of hearing. This text was visible only when activated, at first through separate decoding units.
Shari remembered -- especially as more shows began to include closed captions in the 1980s -- that this decoder “opened up a whole new world of entertainment.” She associated closed captioning with independence -- as she didn’t “have to pester other family members to ‘tell me what they're saying’” -- and participation, recalling, “No longer did I resign myself to reading a book in an easy chair in the same room while the rest of the family watched exciting shows on TV!” The Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 required televisions to have built-in caption display technology, decreasing the need for separate caption adapters and giving people access to on-screen captions almost anywhere they watched TV.
System 100 Text Telephone Unit, circa 1980 (THF173771)
In 1981, the same year she purchased her first TV caption adapter, Shari also acquired a teletypewriter, or text telephone, abbreviated TTY. This device connected to a standard telephone line, allowing communication via a keyboard and electronic text display. The technology was freeing -- Shari remembered that “it was wonderful to finally be able to independently make a few of my own phone calls” -- but also limited. At first, she could only communicate with someone else who had access to a TTY device. After she became a mother, Shari recalled loaning a TTY unit to a neighbor who also had small children, making it easier to “set up ‘play dates’ and just do the typical conversing young moms do.” In the late 1980s, some states implemented services to relay dialogue between TTY and non-TTY users. Eventually, spurred by state and federal legislation, relay systems improved nationwide, and TTY technology became more accessible and affordable.
In their time, these lifechanging devices represented the cutting edge of assistive technology. Ongoing research, technological advances, and new design approaches in the decades that followed led to improved products and more choices for consumers. Today, many users have adopted digital technologies. Email, text or instant message, and real-time video services enable communication, and digital devices, often connected to smartphones, offer solutions that address a range of user needs.
Saige Jedele is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford. Learn more about assistive technology on an upcoming episode of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation.
According to the 2010 Census, more than 56 million Americans, or over 20% of the U.S. population, have some type of disability. These numbers are likely to grow in the years ahead, as the U.S. population ages and as developmental disorders and diseases, such as autism and Alzheimer’s, affect an increasing number of people. When family members and companions of people with disabilities are included in these numbers, this becomes a significant audience – one that may have the desire and means to visit museums, but may not have their needs addressed sufficiently.
While the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provided guidelines for museums to become more physically accessible, there has been a growing trend in museums across the country recently to go beyond the legal obligations of ADA. This has led to an increasing variety of innovative new opportunities and programs for people with different physical, developmental and cognitive abilities.
Last week we were pleased to announce our partnership with the Autism Alliance of Michigan, a state-based agency dedicated to improving the lives of families with autism. Our goal every day at The Henry Ford is to make sure our guests have an outstanding experience while here on our campus, so calling out special information for guests with autism is something we’re very happy to do.
Providing specialized information for guests’ needs isn’t new to us. We’re always looking to communities to tell us what would make their visit here even better. When we created large-scale maps to hand out on site, we worked with special groups to make sure the printed materials were beneficial to those with vision impairments.
As part of our partnership with AAOM, resource guidelines are being created for families to review prior to their visit. Some of those guidelines will help guests with learning about our:
Environments and sensorial experiences
Areas for noise reduction
Key members of our front-line staff will also be receiving training in basic aspects of autism. We’ll continue to meet with the AAOM to learn more about autism and improve our offerings for those guests.
Whether you’re enjoying a walk around Greenfield Village or a visit inside Henry Ford Museum, The Henry Ford is a safe place for all families. Everyday our staff members continue to grow and learn how we can best serve the needs of all of our guests.