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Accessibility Studies

Special Sessions for people affected by autism to enjoy the Museum of Pop Culture... thanks to CWU Accessibility Studies student

View of the Museum of Pop Culture in front of the Seattle Space Needle. At dusk with dimming sky and bright lights around the MoPOP.Part of the fun of the Museum of Pop Culture is how busy and noisy it is... sound and music compete for your attention with light shows and even if it is exciting, it can be nerve-wracking. It's a popular place, with up to 5000 people visiting on holiday weekends. It's located in the busy Seattle Center where large crowds congregate.

That's both good news and bad news. People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) usually have a hard time in crowded  noisy places, so their families help them with such strategies as using noise canceling headphones to reduce the amount of sensory detail. 

Thanks to Olivia Bean, a CWU anthropology student preparing to graduate soon with minors in both Accessibility Studies as well as Museum Studies, MoPOP now has a set of headphones available for people with ASD who may not have brought their own. 

Snapshot of Accessibility Studies Student InternOlivia works at MoPOP and on one particular day a family arrived with a child overwhelmed by all the noise. After a pair of regular headphones were found that could be used temporarily, Olivia mentioned it to Chelsea Rodriguez, the manager of their volunteer program, who in turn secured funding.

The museum is keen to be accessible, responding to the observations Olivia has made about user experiences. She learned about universal design,  accessible information, and civil rights of people with disabilities  in Accessibility Studies Program. It offers a 15-credit certificate and 20-credit minor that enhances all careers. Everyone is likely to experience at least temporary if not chronic conditions that limit ability. ASP is dedicated to enlightening all public environments so that access is greater for all and there is less need for individual accommodation.Busy interior of the Museum of Pop Culture: hundreds of people on stair cases between multiple exhibits and shopping kiosks.

Now there are ASD Mornings at MoPOP : These events are scheduled Sunday mornings before regular opening hours. The large screen still plays videos but ambient noise is played at a quieter level instead of the loud and competing music and the light show is not on. A few exhibits are open and reservations, although free, are limited. Sunday is rarely as busy as the rest of the days, so the people with ASD and their families may enjoy staying to see the other exhibits after the museum opens.

Museums in general are very attentive to their users' experiences. Dr. Hope Amason  encourages her Museum Studies students to pursue Accessibility Studies because there is such a valuable dimension to their career marketability. Dr. Amason also directs CWU's own Museum of Culture and Environment, known for its inclusion of features welcomed by people who are blind or use screen readers, who are deaf or hard of hearing, and who have mobility challenges. It's new exhibit, opening this week is For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights (January 30-March 16). The civil rights of people with disability have only emerged in the last generation. Much has changed in terms of ADA access but much remains to improve since many people are oblivious to the unintended barriers faced by people wtih disabilities, and there are still people with unreasonable prejudices against their inclusion. 

The Accessibility Studies Program acknowledges the importance of pop culture. Its originator and director, Dr. Naomi Jeffery Petersen, has hosted panels at Sakura-con, a gathering of anime fans every April, on the topic of disabilities found in anime and manga; she and Dr. Denise Shaw will host a panel at the upcoming Emerald City Comic Con on the same topic in comics and graphic novels.

Dr. Petersen will be offering a course this summer on Media Portrayals of Disability  and next fall one of the First Year Seminars will be ASP 187 Freaks, Geeks, and Heroes: Depictions of Disability in Popular Media and Games. All ASP courses are online, making them, well, accessible! The courses try to "walk the talk" of being accessible, thanks to the feedback of many students who use screen readers like CWU's Central Access Reader, a free application that turns text to voice. Also, CWU Multimodal Education Center experts Chad Schone and Delayna Brecken provide tireless troubleshooting as does Wendy Holden, director of CWU Disability Services.

For more information on CWU's Accessibility Studies Program, contact Dr. Petersen at NJP@cwu.edu or visit www.cwu.edu/accessibility-studies. You can apply online.

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