Good evening. I am Janice Schacter. I am head of the Hearing Access Program for the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and recently I became Executive Director of the Deafness Research Foundation. I work with cultural and entertainment institutions to ensure access for people with hearing loss, and I became involved with the New-York Historical Society almost two years ago. At that time the Society had virtually no equipment for people with hearing loss and little concept of what might be needed. When I contacted the Society and described my work and my mission they gratefully accepted my help.
In December of this past year I had the pleasure of announcing that the New-York Historical Society is the first museum in New York that is fully accessible to people with hearing loss. In the short period of time I’d been working with them, the Society, under the direction of the senior administration, had hired an ADA access coordinator, who oversees access issues for all exhibitions and education programs, and who wrote a comprehensive manual for curators and exhibition staff that sets out guidelines for ensuring that exhibitions are accessible. This manual is a model of its kind and several museums have been in touch to share it. They have added an assistive listening system to their auditorium, refurbished their audioguides, made it a policy to use open captioning in all videos and, in their New York Divided exhibition were the first museum in the city to incorporate T-coil compatible looping systems in order to be fully accessible to the hard of hearing. Although my focus is people with hearing loss, I also know that they now provide large print and Braille transcripts for the blind and visually impaired and have taken special care with everything from exhibition labels to exhibition spaces to ensure that anyone with any type of disability can directly participate in exhibitions, and public and education programs. The Museum’s commitment to appropriate access has been outstanding.
I’m telling you this because I want you to understand that this is an administration that is committed to providing access to all New Yorkers in ways that remove any stigma or any possible embarrassment. I have experienced first hand the administration’s commitment to plan their exhibitions, and their public and educational programs so that they accommodate and welcome all of their visitors. I can assure you that the decision to alter their front entrance to accommodate people who use wheelchairs was not an afterthought, but just one more step in the process of ensuring that all visitors are treated with the utmost respect. I applaud the Historical Society for standing by their proposed plan and I hope you will support their continued efforts to ensure The Museum continues to be accessible to people with disabilities.