If you’re looking to visit some of New York City’s most enticing cultural attractions but don’t know what’s accessible to people with disabilities, you’re in luck. The nonprofit Museum Access Consortium produces a comprehensive, easily searchable cultural calendar that focuses on accessible exhibitions, programs and events around the five boroughs. “Tourists with disabilities can see what is happening, especially if they are here for a specific amount of time,” says Miranda Appelbaum, the outgoing chair of MAC’s steering committee. “Just click on a link to see what choices they have.”
By providing descriptions and basic information on the venues for each of the happenings, Museum Access Consortium has built a database that’s useful for both visitors and locals. (See the list of events at museumaccessconsortium.org.) As anyone who has spent time in NYC knows, there’s a lot going on in the City. More exhibits and programs are more accessible today to people with disabilities than ever before—and in a wider variety of venues.
Working to expand access has been MAC’s mission for a quarter century. Though gains haven’t come as swiftly as many would have liked, there has been steady progress not just to create physically accessible, barrier-free spaces, but also to develop exhibition spaces and designs that make it possible for culture vultures with auditory, visual or cognitive challenges to take advantage of the City’s dizzying array of offerings. MAC brings together museum and other arts professionals, as well as audience members and artists with disabilities, to spread a message of inclusion.
“MAC is a one-stop shop of resources,” says Beth Prevor, who heads up Hands On, an organization that provides American Sign Language interpretation of plays at the Roundabout Theatre. “A city like New York can just be so overwhelming for people to know what’s available.” The calendar is searchable, with a wide range of filters. Users can look for events that offer American Sign Language interpretation or audio description for the blind and visually impaired. “The calendar gives an air of comfort by providing a resource where you can find what to do all in one place,” says Appelbaum, who also serves as assistant director of accessibility and visitor services at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Lately, MAC has been tackling an area that is relatively new: making art exhibitions and other programs accessible to adults on the autism spectrum. The initiative includes social and recreational programs, “and it’s something we’re looking to expand,” says Appelbaum. Barbara Johnson Stemler, senior manager of access programs at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, notes that “most museums have been focused on engaging children with autism.” But MAC has been able to introduce more workshops and programs and is working to create a national model for serving this audience. For example, the Museum of Modern Art has introduced a map designed to more easily guide visitors with autism, and museums are also creating quiet rooms to reduce stimulation that can distort the experience for these patrons.
The organization will be expanding its website soon to include job postings related to accessibility as well as adding information on events involving professional development in the space. “We have a really broad definition of who our members are and what a museum is,” Appelbaum says. “It’s music centers, theaters and performance spaces, and our members are also artists and service providers and audience members with disabilities.”
Annie Leist, special projects lead at Art Beyond Sight and the founder of the Art and Disability Institute, says that MAC embraces the widest definition of the interests of its audience. “It’s arts and culture and recreation,” says Leist. “That makes it all the more relevant for people who don’t live in New York City.”
For more information and to browse Museum Access Consortium’s calendar of events, visit museumaccessconsortium.org.