Chicago’s Cultural Spaces Talk Access and Inclusion

How do museums curate an entertaining, hospitable + meaningful experience for visitors w/#disabilities? At #OnTheTable2018, @FieldMuseum dove deep into conversation about cultural access + inclusion Tweet This

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ADA 25 Advancing Leadership and the Disabilities Fund participated in On the Table to initiate dialogue about tackling our region’s greatest challenges, inclusive of the voice and knowledge of the disability community. Our goal is to expand understanding and ensure that disability is recognized and taken into account at all our region’s tables.

During #OnTheTable2018, The Field Museum hosted ADA 25 Advancing Leadership Fellows to discuss ways to ensure access to cultural institutions for all.


More than 800,000 residents—approximately 10% of our Chicago region—report having a disability. Our cultural institutions should lead the way to make sure that everyone feels included.

The Field Museum is serious about creating an experience that’s accessible for all patrons. During On The Table, the Field dove deeper into the issue of cultural access and inclusion and how to curate an entertaining, hospitable and meaningful trip for people with varied disabilities.

“As the Field Museum continues to expand our accessibility work and offerings, we believe conversations with leaders with disabilities in the field are crucial to informing our work,” said Patience Baach, the Field Museum’s audience insights & research manager. “The conversations were thoughtful and creative, and the participants had great ideas and suggestions on how Field can continue to enhance the experience for all our guests.”

The On the Table conversation at the Field landed on an easy yet essential premise: Ask, don’t assume. Having staff and messaging that accurately and comprehensively communicate the extent to which facilities are accessible are key.

ADA 25 Advancing Leadership 2018 Fellow Liz Davis, front end web designer at Quikorder, described the conditions that make it easier for people with disabilities to enjoy cultural institutions.

“I think it’s important that institutions try to have employees who are there to assist people with disabilities, if needed,” Davis said. “You don’t want someone to pester you, but you’d like someone there to help if you need them.”

Another 2018 Fellow, Grishma Shah, is co-director of the ReelAbilities Film Festival Chicago. She added that virtual versions of exhibits available online are also helpful. “Visiting an establishment should feel welcoming, not limiting,” she said.

Other observations and suggestions that came up for attendees were:

  • Plan exhibits with accessibility in mind and then use external stakeholders, experts and community members as a focus group to inform and help establish, build out and outfit spaces.
  • Create specific line items in all budgets to target such work; don’t just include it as part of general “diversity” costs.
  • Stay up-to-date on best practices and available technologies to accommodate and enhance the experience of people with disabilities and don’t neglect the details! (CART transcribing, touch tours, tactile add-ons to exhibits, color contrast for text, label/description heights and more…)
  • Consider having staff who are dedicated to patrons with disabilities, can “own” what is communicated and can assist on the ground, in real time.
  • Compile a resource packet that outlines the facility and highlights accessibility and inclusion offerings that can help customize an experience.
  • Ensure that communicating to/with people with disabilities is addressed in organizational professional development.
  • Join the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium, which provides monthly professional development workshops for staff and stakeholders on how to create accessible cultural spaces and more!


The Disabilities Fund’s Inform and Act factsheet presents critical data about disability throughout the Chicago region. How can you implement a #DisabilityLens in your work and improve outcomes? Tweet @ADA25AdvLeaders and share your plans.