Access to the arts

A few days before Christmas I happened to be in the museum on a Saturday morning, and ended up in a conversation with Patricia Rice, formerly the longtime religion reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and now a correspondent for the online news outlet the St. Louis Beacon.

We talked about a number of topics, including our impressions of Whispers in the Loggia bloggist Rocco Palmo, whom we both met last spring, and an unusual thesis by Dominican biblical scholar Benedict Thomas Viviano, O.P., that there nothing precludes the presence of one or more women magi in Matthew’s nativity account.

However, the reason for her call was to gather information about how “. . .  a variety of cultural institutions in St. Louis have found creative and, often, easy ways to make their offerings more accessible to people who need help with mobility, hearing or visual interpretation.” Read the resultant article here.

From the standpoint of mobility, MOCRA is reasonably accessible for most of our patrons once they arrive to our door. A wheelchair lift is available for visitors who have difficulty navigating the flight of steps up from the lobby to the main level, and a ramp to access the slightly elevated perimeter of side chapel galleries. The bathroom is ample and ADA compliant. The one section of the public space not accessible to patrons with mobility limitations is the choir loft gallery, which is reached via a flight of stairs.

However, I’m grateful for Patricia’s article, since it reminds us that “accessibility” involves far more than just mobility. Once patrons make it into our gallery, is the work hung at a height were someone in a wheelchair can see it without undue strain? Are our wall labels and directional signage positioned and of sufficient size that people with impaired vision can make them out?  If we have a piece with an audio component, what measures can we take to help those with difficulties hearing, appreciate the work?

Creative efforts like those at Laumeier Sculpture Park, to provide scale maquettes of monumental sculptures that visually impaired patrons can touch, along with braille signage, should spur all of us in the museum field to examine what we are doing to make our collections as accessible as possible.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director