Accessible Brooklyn Cultural Attractions

Eliza Cooper
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It’s easy for visitors to get caught up in Manhattan’s legendary cultural institutions, but Brooklyn has many of its own that reward those who cross the East River. Just as you can combine visits to hip neighborhoods like Williamsburg with genteel areas like Park Slope or Brooklyn Heights, so can you mix the cultural edginess of BAM’s multiple stages with the august antiquities and contemporary art exhibitions of the Brooklyn Museum and the lushness of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

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All three of these institutions do their best to make patrons with disabilities feel welcome and able to fully experience their offerings. For more information on each, read below.

Photo: Julienne Schaer

Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)
A leader in cutting-edge international and community programming in the performing arts, BAM presents opera, dance, music, plays, art and movies, along with other performances and events. The complex consists of three buildings:

The U-shaped Peter Jay Sharp Building (30 Lafayette Avenue) contains the Howard Gilman Opera House, Rose Cinemas, Lepercq Space, Hillman Attic Studio and BAMcafé.

The BAM Harvey building (651 Fulton Street) features the world-renowned Harvey Theater for traditional theater performances.

The Fisher Building (321 Ashland Place) houses a black box theater called the Fishman Space, and the Fisher Hillman Studio.

Though each of its buildings is accessible, the BAM campus can be difficult to find. Note that although each address is on a different street, the Sharp and Fisher are adjacent to each other, while the Harvey is on a different block.

Wheelchair access: BAM’s accessibility page has street maps showing wheelchair accessible entrances and other information about the layout, restrooms and elevators in each of its buildings. The balcony at the Harvey Theater is the only seating that must be accessed by stairs.

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Listening devices are available at all theaters, and closed caption glasses are available for some feature films. For more information, email info@BAM.org. For all other access inquiries, call the ticket office at 718-636-4100 ext 1. The following programs run into December 2017. (For more details on these and all limited time performances and movies, visit bam.org.)

2017 Next Wave Festival
The organization’s yearly celebration of avant-garde culture features theater, music, film, dance and more.

BAMcinématek
Four screens show an ever-changing array of new releases, independent films and films curated for series and festivals.

Senior Cinema 2017
Part of BAM’s community arts programming, Senior Cinema is a monthly event featuring a classic, foreign or rare film, free to seniors 65 and older. Complimentary popcorn and soda are provided.

Photo: Tagger Yancey IV

Brooklyn Botanic Garden 
Adjacent to Prospect Park, the 52-acre Brooklyn Botanic Garden contains specialty plant collections, an art gallery and a conservatory complex. Visually impaired visitors will be excited to explore the Alice Recknagel Ireys Fragrance Garden, the oldest garden in the country designed specifically for this audience. Through Braille signage, blind and visually impaired visitors can independently explore this particularly tactile and fragrant area.

The grounds are wheelchair accessible, and the BBG will provide wheelchairs for visitors upon request. Those with ambulatory disabilities should note, however, that though entrances and most pathways are paved, some historic and specialty gardens may only be accessible by stairs or dirt pathways.

For more on the above, along with information about service animal policies and other accessibility needs, visit bbg.org

Among the BBG’s other attractions are its Shakespeare Garden and the Cranford Rose Garden, as well as tropical and desert pavilions, each with its unique climate. When planning your visit, read their suggested itineraries, which include options for what to explore when visiting on a date or with kids.

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Note that the garden offers free admission Saturdays before noon, Tuesdays and weekdays December through February.

The garden hosts seasonally themed exhibits, along with a full slate of intriguing events. Want to know which plants you shouldn’t miss on your next visit? Visit their Plants in Bloom page.

Through January 2018, Smart Garden Exhibit at the Steinhardt Conservatory examines environmental challenges and water conservation efforts in large cities such as New York. This is in tandem with BBG’s own innovative sustainability endeavors, illustrated in the recently opened Water Garden.

Photo: Tagger Yancey IV

Brooklyn Museum
One of the oldest museums in the United States, the Brooklyn Museum, founded in 1895, houses a myriad of famous exhibits of global art, including permanent collections of Egyptian, American and feminist art—the latter being the first feminist-focused collection in the country.

The public plaza, which precedes the glass-enclosed main entrance on the north side of the building, provides a pleasant place to stop and rest, and is sonically identifiable for visually impaired visitors by a fountain of patterned vertical jets of water.

The gallery building contains five floors of exhibits, a library, auditorium, café, The Norm restaurant and bar, a gift shop and an outdoor sculpture garden.

The museum offers an array of programming and accommodations for visitors with hearing, visual and mobility impairments, as well as tailored programs for those with memory loss, developmental disabilities and more. For details and questions, visit brooklynmuseum.org, call 718-501-6520 or email access@brooklynmuseum.org.

• Visitors with disabilities may also be interested to know that free admission is offered to their companions.

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• The museum building is fully wheelchair accessible, and offers wheelchairs upon request. (Those concerned about wheelchair access may appreciate this online floor plan). 

• Hearing impairments: Assistive-listening devices for guided programs are available at the Admissions Desk. With two weeks’ notice, ASL interpretation can be provided for events, and open-captioning for exhibits or events with sound.

• Visual impairments: At time of writing, there are no audio guides available for the museum’s exhibits. There is an Ask Brooklyn Museum app, which enables you to inquire about particular pieces by photographing them and texting with museum experts in real time, but this app is not currently accessible to those who are blind and using adaptive technology.

On display until January 7, the featured exhibit Proof: Francisco Goya, Sergei Eisenstein, Robert Longo explores the three artists’ creative and emotional responses to four centuries’ worth of landmark events that led to social and political unrest. The works include charcoal drawings, etchings and films.


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