Enhancing Access to Our Exhibits

1, August 2016
Photo of a Descriptive Tour in the Route 66 galleryExhibit curator Sharon Smith leads a Descriptive Tour in the Route 66 gallery.

More and more people are coming to the Missouri History Museum each year for the chance to experience the stories that helped shape St. Louis and the surrounding area, and we couldn’t be happier to see them. But we found ourselves wondering how to make it possible for everyone who enters the Museum to have a worthwhile experience. Although the Museum is physically accessible, how could we make it more intellectually accessible? How could we create a welcoming environment for someone who is blind, visually impaired, deaf, or hard of hearing?

Our solution was to launch two pilot programs aimed toward remedying the lack of accessibility in the cultural landscape of the St. Louis metro area.

Access Tours

Access Tours open up exhibits in new ways for visitors with disabilities. We currently offer two types of Access Tours:

Photo of ASL Tour in the Little Black Dress galleryAn ASL Tour in the Little Black Dress gallery.
  • Our American Sign Language (ASL) Tours are led by a docent accompanied by an ASL interpreter. These tours allow visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing the opportunity to experience exhibits beyond our text labels. These tours are currently available in our Little Black Dress and Route 66 exhibits on select dates.
    Examples of touchables in the Route 66 and Little Black Dress galleriesExamples of touchables in the Route 66 and Little Black Dress galleries.
  • Our Descriptive Tours are led by exhibit curators and give our visitors who are blind or visually impaired the chance to hear artifact descriptions and enhance their experience through touchables in the galleries. In Little Black Dress visitors can feel fabric swatches, including silk fabric embellished with beads and sequins. In Route 66 visitors can touch four to-scale models, including the Coral Court Motel and a 1946 Standard gasoline pump.

Later this month we’ll add a third type of Access Tour for visitors with memory loss. These tours will be offered in partnership with the St. Louis chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

All of our Access Tours are free, but they do require reservations.

QR Codes

We’ve partnered with DEAF Inc. to add QR codes to about half of the audio stops in Route 66. Visitors can use a QR code app on their smartphones or tablets to scan these codes and access videos of ASL interpreters signing the audio. Having these ASL videos—as opposed to simply having transcripts of the audio stops—allows those who are deaf or hard of hearing to pick up on speakers’ tones. It also allows young children who have hearing problems to access these exhibit components even if they can’t read yet.

Example of a QR code in the Route 66 galleryA QR code in the Route 66 gallery.

Although these programs are just a start of what our Museum can do to create a more accessible environment, we’re proud to offer them and excited to interact with those who once may have thought that they wouldn’t or couldn’t have a fulfilling visit here. After all, we want the Museum to feel like it belongs to everyone, because this is everyone’s history.

—Nicole Smith, Membership & Data Coordinator and member of the Accessibility Committee

Membership appeal