Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Working Toward Inspiration for ALL Our Guests

January 7, 2016 Think THF

Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan experience what a Merino sheep feels like during a recent visit to Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village.

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.

Large print map of Henry Ford Museum – one of our offerings available for guests with vision impairments.

Kits like these – containing noise-cancelling headphones, earplugs and communication boards – have been created for use by guests on the autism spectrum and with other sensitivities.

For the past several months at The Henry Ford, we have been increasing our commitment to enhancing our experiences for all of our guests, including those with mobility limitations, hearing impairments, vision impairments and sensory processing issues, such as autism. The major goals of this commitment include: making the existing experiences and offerings at The Henry Ford more accessible and comfortable, as well as safer for all guests; improving the experiences of guests with special needs, both pre-visit and onsite, by enabling them to be better prepared and more aware of our accessibility offerings; and working on other ways to allow guests of all abilities to access all that The Henry Ford has to offer.

A few things that we have done already include: updating the accessibility page of The Henry Ford’s website with our current accessibility offerings; creating “Helpful Tips and Accessibility Information” pages for our special events; putting together a sensory assistance kit for our current temporary exhibit, “Roadside America,” with noise-cancelling headphones and earplugs for guests who may have sensitivities; and updating front-of-house staff on new and existing guest accessibility offerings.

Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan touch various pieces of decorated pottery in the Pottery Shop in Greenfield Village to get a sense of their similarities and differences.

We also recently had an opportunity to try out some of our plans for the future when we hosted a large group of guests from the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan. Their visit, which included a day in Henry Ford Museum and a day in Greenfield Village, enabled us to test a number of new and innovative tools and techniques. These included: 3D printed models of some of our objects; tactile tours in Henry Ford Museum; and a range of diverse multisensory experiences in Greenfield Village. One reason for this group’s visit was to provide us with feedback as to ways to improve our experiences and offerings for people who are blind.  We believe that putting together the plans for this group’s visit and hearing their feedback will help us develop and provide similar experiences to other individuals and groups with different types of special needs in the future.

During a tactile tour of Henry Ford Museum, one of our presenters explains the significance of the Model T by passing around a small-scale model of it to members of a group from the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan.

Stay tuned as we continue to work on enhancing our experiences and offerings for our guests with special needs as part of our commitment to increasing accessibility for all of our guests.  There are many exciting plans in the works and we can’t wait to share them with you.

Caroline Braden is the Guest Accessibility/Special Needs Assistant at The Henry Ford.

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