Workshop Documentation: Best Practices for Autism-Friendly Programs

Back to All Resources

This resource provides documentation of a professional development workshop that MAC hosted on February 25th, 2015 at The Museum of Modern Art. Ten presenters from a wide range of New York-based cultural institutions gave short, focused presentations about specific areas of best practice in providing more welcoming facilities and programming for visitors who have autism. Documentation below includes a full-length audio recording, a transcript of the workshop, the slideshow presentation from the workshop, as well as written descriptions of slides for users who are blind or have low vision. If you access or use any of this resource, we’d appreciate any feedback you might have via the feedback form included below, as we are always seeking to improve our resources.

This workshop is part of Cultural Connections for People with Autism, a project made possible thanks to the generous support of The FAR Fund


Introductions and Welcoming Remarks

  • Francesca Rosenberg, Director of Community and Access Programs, The Museum of Modern Art

  • Cindy VandenBosch, Project Leader of Cultural Connections for People with Autism, Museum Access Consortium

Building Capacity, Partnerships, and Staff Training

  • Billie Rae Vinson, Coordinator of Family Programs, Whitney Museum of American Art

  • Charlotte Martin, Educator for Access, Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum

  • Michelle Lopez, Director of Community & Access Programs, Children’s Museum of the Arts & emPOWER Parents/ Queens Museum

  • Carrie McGee, Assistant Director, Community & Access Programs, The Museum of Modern Art

Visual Supports

  • Marie Clapot, Assistant Museum Educator for Access and Community Programs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Cindy VandenBosch on behalf of Meredith Martin, New York Transit Museum

  • Miranda Appelbaum, Sr. Manager, Accessibility and Guest Services, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts & Chair of MAC

Sensory-Friendly Spaces

  • Kinneret Kohn, Manager of Education & Public Programs, Brooklyn Children’s Museum

  • Philip Dallmann, ATI Coordinator, TDF Accessibility Programs, Theatre Development Fund

Listen to the Presentation:

Please click the play button below to listen to the audio recording of the workshop.  Please scroll down this page to view the transcript of the workshop.

View the Slideshow Presentation:


View the accompanying slides from the presentation. To scroll forwards and backwards within the presentation, click on the arrows. To expand the size of the slides to fill the page, select Command + Shift + F.

Accessibility Notes Regarding the Slideshow:

For an accessible version of this presentation for people who are blind or have low vision, click on the screen below and then type the letter S on your keyboard.  After typing the letter S, a different version of this slideshow will appear in a pop-up window that will include descriptions of each slide. To scroll through the slides in that window, press the arrow keys. For people with low vision, click the plus buttons in the upper right-hand corner to increase the size of the text-based descriptions.

Let us know what you think of this resource!

Your feedback and input make a difference. The Museum Access Consortium seeks to refine best practices over time based on input and feedback from cultural practitioners and disability communities. Please consider providing your feedback and input via email at museumaccess[at]gmail[dot]com regarding this resource and ideas for further improvement and applications.


Read the Transcript of the Presentation:


Francesca Rosenberg, Director of Community, Access, and School Programs, The Museum of Modern Art:

Welcome to MoMA. I’m Francesca Rosenberg, I’m the Director of Community, Access, and School Programs here in the Department of Education and I’m on the Steering Committee of MAC, which is the Museum Access Consortium and it’s a pleasure to have you here for this workshop that has been organized by MAC. And for those of you who are not familiar with MAC, we are a city-wide group made up of individuals from cultural institutions and disability communities working together to advance accessibility. Since the mid-1990’s MAC has offered workshops and a network of mutual support to help practitioners learn about, implement, and strengthen best practices for access and inclusion in cultural facilities of all types. And todays workshop is a great example of this. We’ll be focusing on autism-friendly programs and reviewing best practices from cultural organizations from across the city, sharing resources and ideas. And I’m delighted that this is being held at MoMA because MoMA, like many of its fellow culturals, is dedicated to serving people with autism.  Our program called “Create Ability” is a monthly program, and I’d like to play you a short video that really shows Create Ability in action and it gives you a sense of our philosophy and lets you hear directly from the participants of that program. So, I’m just going to set it up. It’s only about three or four minutes long.

Create Ability Video:

Francesca Rosenberg, Director of Community, Access, and School Programs:

I wanted to also just mention that in the space right outside of this room, you may have noticed that there is some artwork going up, and there is an opening of that exhibition next Thursday and it’s work that’s created through a partnership that MoMA does with an organization called LAND in Brooklyn that serves adults with developmental disabilities… Oh, there’s Matt! Matt is the director of the program at LAND and we are so pleased that that show is going up and I can just tell already it’s going to be incredible. So, come to the opening on Thursday at…  ten to noon. And that’s all for me, I’m going to turn things over to Cindy VandenBosch, who has done an extraordinary job as the co-chair of the MAC Steering Committee, and as the project leader for Cultural Connections for People with Autism.

Cindy VandenBosch, Project Leader for the Museum Access Consortium:

Hi Everybody. So, it’s lovely to see so many of you here today. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for coming out. We have an exciting and packed program this afternoon. There are going to be ten speakers, yes ten speakers, this is going to be like the Oscars, and we even have a timekeeper, so we have something akin to the music that sort of chimes in at the end of the Oscar speeches, Sarah can you take it away (shakes noisemaker), so once we all hear that sound, that means whoever the speaker is, they’re going to need to wrap things up.

But, before we dive into that, I would like to introduce everyone to, we received a lovely introduction from Francesca about the Museum Access Consortium, I do see a lot of familiar faces in the room. Can I see by show of hands how many of you have been to a MAC workshop, or a symposium, or a fair? Wow, ok so it looks like about 75% of the people in the room. We have had a series of programs over the last four years thanks to the generous support of The FAR Fund and I just want to just walk you through what that program has looked like, for those of you who are new to the Museum Access Consortium.

Ok, so while the Museum Access Consortium does seek to provide opportunities for cultural professionals to be in dialogue with people who have personal or professional experience with disability, to improve best practices, and to improve programs so that they are more inclusive for people with disabilities in New York City, the project that we are focusing on today is Cultural Connections for People with Autism. Over the last four years, we’ve hosted nine public workshops, a public fair where we opened up, we brought in about twenty different cultural institutions in New York City to connect with the public and share their programs, we did that last year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  We also, in the fall, had a symposium, bringing together about 75 people to workshop ideas around programming and so some of what we are going to see today, those are really the results of the symposium and what came out of the discussions that we had there. We have had probably somewhere between about 850 – 1,000 people participate in these activities and have involved countless organizations, so thanks to each and every one of you who have contributed in different ways.

To give you a sense of the types of workshops that we’ve hosted, we started out with introductions to autism and then we dug deep and sought to reach out and listen to adults on the autism spectrum about their experiences, parents sharing their experiences, we actually matched up and we brought about twelve parents and sat at round tables and connected them directly with cultural institutions that they had taken their children to so that they could give direct feedback. And teachers, we also out of these experiences, keep hearing from people that are attending these sessions that there is a desperate need for opportunities, especially employment opportunities, internship opportunities, life skills development, career development, and so that’s an area that we do want to discuss towards the end of the session today, because we feel that that is an important issue, and the more that we’ve done research about it, we have discovered that there are limited opportunities, but that this also could be a starting point to open up and connect people with one another and provide more opportunities to people on the spectrum to work in museums.

In addition to all the professional development workshops, the symposium, the fair, we also worked with a couple of different cultural institutions to create demonstration projects, so you’ll hear a little bit more about these later on in the presentation, but specifically, we worked with, here we have a photograph here on the left hand side of an educator standing with a visual support in a train car at the Transit Museum, and then on the right hand side there are two young boys who are looking at a stained glass window and touching it, that’s at the Museum at Eldridge Street, which is located on the Lower East Side, and we’ll talk a little bit more later on today about the projects that they implemented and how we documented them.

Now what I would like to do, part of this project has also involved creating resources for the public to access to learn about the programs that exist. So when we hosted our fair last year and we got together for all these workshops, we kept hearing from both adults and also parents and teachers, “Great that these programs exist! We had no idea!” And so, what I’ll walk you through is the Musuem Access Consortium’s new website.

Alright, here we go. So this is brand new as of the last couple of months, and it continues to grow. But what we’ve created here is a couple of different ways that you can learn about programming, accessible programming, here in New York City. So if you click on the “Cultural Calendar” you can view it in list view as we see it here, or you can view it in month view. You can also search. So, in the case of today, we’ll look at programming that’s developed, that’s really geared towards visitors who have autism. Right, so this is public programming, specialized programs that have been developed with the needs of the specific audience in mind. Granted, we know that all our programs should be inclusive of people of all abilities, but as we’ll learn today, there have been specific steps that cultural institutions have taken to go above and beyond. And so you can learn about those programs by visiting this calendar here. Or, you can also learn about some programs that are offered that are not tied to a date, so whether it’s school programs or perhaps there are some museums that have funding for private group tours, but it’s sometimes buried kind of deep in the websites, and so what we thought would be helpful is to create a Group Programs portal so that you can pull up and look at group programs that are available. And similar to the calendar that we looked at previously, you can also search this. This is brand new as of the past week or so. You can see here some of the programs for the Museum at Eldridge Street, the Guggenheim, Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, Transit Museum. You can also search by age. So I hope whether you’re a member of the public or you are a representative from a cultural institution, for those of you that are from cultural institutions that aren’t listed on the website, how we are going to make this a success is if you include your programs here, and in both of these portals.

So, relating to our presentations today, we are going to be exploring areas of best practice when it comes to meeting the needs of people on the autism spectrum, and I just wanted to take a step back and address the fact here today that yes, we are going to be discussing specific approaches to addressing the needs of people on the spectrum, but what does that mean? Because when you think about each of us in this room even, all of us have different abilities, a whole wide range of physical abilities, neurological functions, and emotional states of being, and similarly for the autism spectrum, the spectrum is vast, so there can be someone who has above average or very high intelligence, very accomplished in their career,  but may face certain differences in terms of how they process thoughts, that sometimes might make it difficult to communicate in some ways. At the same time, on the spectrum, you may have people who struggle to find work, or who struggle to communicate, and so it’s very challenging, and it has been for these past several years, as we’ve been honed in on this audience. How do we create a framework? How do we think about providing opportunities to connect with people on the autism spectrum? And how we’ve tried to do this is to reach out to as many people as possible that have had experience, either themselves, or their family members, with autism and I would like to share a few clips with you from previous presentations that offer insight into this question of “How do we think about this broad audience?” and about the responsibilities of cultural institutions to serve people on the spectrum.

So what we’re looking at here, and this is also an introduction to another section of the website, is the “Resources” section. We are launching different kinds of modules and so for those of you who are interested in doing a staff training, but maybe don’t have the resources to bring in a consultant, or want to get your toes wet, we’ve created an introduction to autism spectrum disorder, an entire lesson plan, and it includes the voices that we recorded from a session with adults on the autism spectrum sharing their experiences with prompting questions, introductions, evaluation questions. Last week, several of us met at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in a working group. Thank you to all of you who came out for that. But I would like to play a couple of the clips here, so it gives you a sense, not only for today, but also if you want to take this back to your home institutions to use for training purposes. So here I have a clip from Michael John Carley, who is an accomplished author, playwright, and he was the moderator of a session that we held here at the MoMA, a couple of years ago and he’s reflecting on this range of the autism spectrum disorder and the responsibility of cultural institutions with regard to training:

Audio Clip for “Range of ASD and Training” Michael John Carley: Click here

Audio Clip Transcript for “Range of ASD and Training” Michael John Carley: This panel here, we’re sort in one chunk of that spectrum here, and it really is good for all of you to think outside just our chunk.  But for folks that have more challenges, oddly enough, you’re still, I think, dealing with just a training issue, especially with regard to things like stimming behaviors, where somebody might be making noises or flapping their arms or what have you. I promise you, the security guard that’s been trained that stims are often an expression of pleasure, not, you know, “I’m really anxious and I’m going to kill somebody.” If they’re taught that that actually might be the sign that somebody’s really happy and is just jonesing on the painting they just went past, that can absolutely change the museum experience for that individual as well.  But they’re also more recognizable as saying, “Oh, that person is autistic.”  Whereas this particular chunk, you’re asking for training on top of some guess work, perhaps.  If you’re a security guard and somebody is acting differently than somebody else in a particular museum. So, I say that just as something to throw out there because it’s fairly obvious that this is just one chunk and the autism spectrum is really, really big.

Cindy VandenBosch:

To follow up from that clip, Michael John Carley speaks from the perspective of, and I think this sort of helps us think about connecting with one another at the end of the day when we’re developing access programs. What we’re really trying to do is foster human connection and expression, and I felt that this next clip from Michael John Carley was insightful in that regard.

Audio Clip for “Like Being an Immigrant” Michael John Carley: Click here

Audio Clip Transcript for “Like Being an Immigrant” Michael John Carley: I have always thought the experience of the traditional immigrant was a little bit more of clearer parallel, though, if you really were looking for a good euphemism to understand what it is like, because the kids that are raised, I think that Svetlana experienced a little bit of this, that their natural way of doing things was bad and the rest of the world’s ways of doing things was good; and so they better learn the rest of the world’s way of doing things. It doesn’t turn out so well. Because it is really hard to have any self-esteem when you are growing up like that. But if you’re sort of taught to look at it that anthropological landscape that you’ve got in front of you, with the notion that it’s just like another language, that it’s like learning French or something like that, then you understand that if you are going to survive this culture that you’ve been dropped into, you do have to learn their language, you do have to learn certain things and it’s a drag and what have you, but that you understand also that you have your own way of being. And that like any other immigrant if they are just going to be mentally sane, you have to retain some things about culture in which you came from and you keep those at home sometimes or you share them with others. But you have to retain a positive sense of the self if you can succeed. Svetlana, thank you.

Cindy VandenBosch:

I felt that this analogy of being an immigrant or an anthropologist even, it resonated with me because I feel that in a way when we’re considering the diverse experiences of our visitors, we are seeking to understand one another better and if there are creative ways that we need to adapt our approaches or communication, we do that so that we can connect with one another, and so for me that was sort of an inspirational point that I wanted to start from as a foundation.

Now the way that we are going to divide out the presentations today, we have three sections of presentations. The first we will bring up speakers, not quite yet, but in just a second, who are going to speak about building capacity within your cultural institution to even offer specialized programs, like those that we’ll be discussing today. Also we’ll be discussing how various institutions have engaged community partners, as well as parents effectively, and we will also look at staff training. In the second section, we are going to focus on the importance of visual supports, and how using visual communication tools have been effective at various different institutions. And then finally, the third set of presentations will be looking at the importance of creating safe, quiet, and calm spaces. After these presentations, I’m hoping that we will have some time at the end to break out into groups and discuss with one another, where there are gaps. So where we will see today there are a whole array: family programs, adaptations to school programs, public programs, as well as changes that cultural institutions have made to their exhibits or to their spaces with the considerations of people either on the autism spectrum or just with universal design in mind.

One of these areas that keeps coming up is this question of employment, so we are going to talk about that. I would like to play one clip from Charli Devnet, who came to speak here and she’s a tour guide. Many people on the spectrum, there’s a very high unemployment rate for people on the autism spectrum and plenty of these people have much to contribute. And so I’m going to play Charli Devnet’s clip, she’s a tour guide at Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate.

Audio Clip “Specific Interests” Charli Devnet: Click here 

Audio Clip Transcript from “Specific Interests” Charli Devnet: Also, another benefit from working at Kykuit, and probably from museum work generally, is that as you know that many people on the spectrum have special interests, which are narrow, but deep interests. For instance, when I was a child I was very fascinated by the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology and by the time I was about 10, I was pretty much an expert. But instead of my parents encouraging me to pursue this special interest and maybe to become professor of comparative religion or an expert anthropologist or archaeologist I was told it was so much useless knowledge and I should stop talking about it. I was boring everybody silly. But suddenly here I am at garden in Kykuit and here is Apollo and Antitheti; here’s Aphrodite, rising up from the sea; the sleeping Ariadne, and I thought, “Wow! I’m right at home.” And when people come for a visit, they get the back story. They find out all about Ariadne and Theseus, King Minos of Crete and the Minotaur.

Cindy VandenBosch:

So we are now going to shift gears and I would like to introduce our first set of presenters. I would like to invite up Billie Rae Vinson from the Whitney Museum of American Art, Charlotte Martin from the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, Michelle Lopez from EmPOWER Parents, and Carrie McGee from the MoMA. Thanks!

So first we are going to hear about the Whitney Museum of American Art’s process of creating their autism friendly programming. So Billie Rae, thank you so much for joining us.

Billie Rae Vinson, Coordinator of Family Programs at The Whitney Museum of American Art:

Thank you. So I am going to talk very briefly, like five minutes, about a program where we didn’t have anything before we started and it was a collaboration between me, family programs, and Danielle Linzer in Access and Community programs. Our program is for children ages 6-12 and their families. It was a change we made to an existing family program, so it was something that we were already doing for kids and families and we made tweaks to a program we already had. Basically they go to two to three artworks in the galleries followed by an art making workshop afterwards. The first step was that Danielle had a really committed intern who was very much personally interested in this audience, and so she did an amazing amount of research, and that’s the first thing that I think is key to setting up any of these kinds of programs is using resources, like the website that we just looked over, and really having someone do their research. Our intern made this gynormous binder (shows binder) which includes observations of hers to museums all over the city to existing programs. She spoke with the people who lead those programs, she spoke with the participants, she got names, numbers, she read up, she found resources, and she included all these to be something that we could give to, share with, our staff.

We also worked with a consultant, Melanie Adsit, who also teaches our programs, and she helped us to design a social narrative for the museum. Went back and forth, like in the Whitney’s old space, you know can quite daunting with its giant lights and kind of aggressive architecture, for many people. So it’s like she helped us talk through that space. I should also say that the program is before musuem hours but when the program lets out, it’s when the museum is open, so we have to negotiate that in our social narrative.

The first program that we did, and I urge that this is a very good idea to do, was a pilot. So it wasn’t open to the public for the first program that we did, it was, we used the outreach that Julia, our intern, had done, to invite specific families with the intention that they would provide feedback for us after the program. So we did a lot of research, we came up with a pilot structure, and we did the program, and then we gave them an evaluation that detailed everything from, “did you think the age range was ok?”, “how about the length?”, “how about the format?”, “how about the way you came in?”, all these kinds of questions and everyone responded. And so for example, we made changes then to the first public program that we did based on their feedback. So, for example, all our research told us that for children on the spectrum, you should keep things nice and short, not too long. So we did maybe the first program just over an hour, but every single parent said that they just wished that their kids and them wanted a bit more time with the art making and maybe one more stop in the galleries. So we used that feedback, we changed the time for when we did art. But that was just one change we made, there were a bunch.

We also had Mel, in terms of the training, we asked Mel in terms of training to do a kind of Q & A with our staff because many of our staff had never done anything with these kinds of audiences before. And so she did a kind of like email, we all put the staff on an email chain and they all kind of asked her questions and she responded to all of their questions and gave them answers to that. We also had a Wufoo document, which is like an online thing to collect information from your participants, that had questions asking them, which Mel also helped us to develop. So I think really, to round up on the full minute, I think step-by-step reflection for launching a program like this is really important. Also in museums I know that we can be a bit, it may be a bit difficult to change things when you spend so long planning, but that’s really key, being able to be flexible, change, listen to the people that you’re working with, work with experts, and also collaborate internally. So again there are museum structures that are set up that mean that it’s sometimes difficult to create these programs when there’s quite obvious spaces for them and I think that you know, making that connection between Danielle and myself, and also working with an expert that we had in our School Programs team, working all together and using those resources is really really important and allowing for some flexibility in that which can be difficult in museums, so yeah.

Cindy VandenBosch:

Thank you so much Billie Rae. So along those lines, I’d also like to talk about a few other examples that connect to the process that the Whitney went through. The Museum at Eldridge Street, when they first started out, they recruited docents, many of their docents have been on staff for five or ten years, and so there were some of their docents that had grandchildren who were on the spectrum, who were very interested in working with kids on the spectrum, and so they, as well as staff members, went out and observed programs at six different cultural institutions around New York City. They also went out to classrooms and observed kids in the classroom. They partnered up with a local school, just one school, and a couple of teachers. So they started out small and they worked with that same school  for two years and tried out a whole array of programming and got direct feedback from both the children and the teachers. So that’s one example where they do a multi-visit program. Much like the Whitney, they also brought in a consultant who worked with them just at the beginning of the process.

And then Guggenheim For All is another program. Much like the Museum at Eldridge Street  it’s also a multi-visit program. They partnered up, again, with one school and tested it out until they were able to sort of refine practices and launch it and now it’s a publicly available program for schools. So it involves a pre-visit to the classroom, which really reduces anxiety, we found this with the Eldridge Street program, as well as with Guggenheim For All, that going out to the students in advance, sharing with them as we see in the pictures here behind me, pictures of the Guggenheim doing an activity that relates to the building and its structure, helped reduce anxiety for the day of the actual visit. Which we can see here, children enjoying art and doing art making activities and then they did a follow up activity back at the student’s classroom so it’s the same educator for all three programs. So establishing that personal connection, at least for their program, has been very key to its success.

Ok so our next speaker..oh, and I also wanted to mention there are brand new museums that are, or not brand new museums, museums that have just begun offering programs for people on the spectrum. There’s a family program at the Museum of Chinese in America on the weekends. It’s offered about once or twice a month. Central Park Zoo has Zoos Go Blue, which is going to be the Monday of spring break coming up where they are going to open up early. And Morris Jumel Mansion, which I think someone might be here from there, hey!, so they’ve also just started autism friendly programming. So we are looking forward to experiencing those programs and learning more about them in the future.

Now we’d like to hear from our next speaker who is Charlotte Martin who is going to be talking about parent engagement at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum.

Charlotte Martin, Educator for Access, Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum:

Hi everyone, my name is Charlotte and I am a museum educator for access programs at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. So I am going to be talking a bit with you about our Parent Advisory Council, which I now help to coordinate. The advisory council began around 2012, at the same time we were starting up the early morning openings for children with autism and their families. So this was part of the same grant from Autism Speaks and part of one of the criteria of the grant was to involve the community. And so that was set up, this was before I started, but Miranda who started that is here, and so the idea was to be able to engage directly with families that we were hoping to serve. We started the recruitment via Autism Speaks by asking them to recommend parents who were advocates who might serve well on this type of group. At the end of the post-program surveys, there is always a question asking if the parents were interested in joining the Parent Advisory Council. And also reaching out to teachers who had brought their classes to the museum, if they could recommend any parents or connect us with parents who might be interested. And so, we meet quarterly, and the goals of the program are a bit extensive, so I’ll just read these out loud, so bear with me as I just read what’s on the slides. But the goals are: to provide feedback on lesson plans, supplemental materials, and marketing materials for our early morning openings; assist in the design of downloadable pre-visit materials for self-guided visit to the museum; provide a forum for museum parent communication, which is really kind of the overarching goal; maintain and share knowledge of current research on effective programming and interventions that will enhance museum offerings for those with autism; monitor implementation of the autism programs for school groups and families; identify external funding sources to sustain and expand autism programming, encourage and promote access to autism specific training to museum staff; promote museum offerings and improve communication with target stakeholders; review data from staff and parent evaluations; provide social network opportunity; and advise museum staff on needs of children with autism and their families and parents.

And so we do that, we try to do as much of that as possible, by meeting quarterly, so we meet four times a year. We found this to be something that makes it flexible enough, we change the day of the week that we meet. We send out a tentative schedule and then send out a doodle ahead of time just to finalize that date and make sure that as many parents can come as possible and we have been experimenting with people calling in and kind of joining on speaker phone to try to make it a bit more accessible. And we do want the parents to participate in at least one early morning opening. The great thing about this is that its really evolved so it’s not just informing us about our early morning openings, but about all the things that we do for children on the spectrum, which has been really effective. And they commit to at least one year of this at a time and in exchange we give them a free family membership to the museum, and that’s donated by the museum. The other support does come from the Far Fund, which provides us with the staff time and the snacks we provide.

Since I started to work on this, its been a really powerful experience. Its really been a way to get really candid feedback on our programs. We always give surveys after our programs and I compile that and share that with the parents and that way if they attended they’re able to give even further feedback about positive things, things that maybe didn’t come through from our observations, as well as certain concerns that they may have raised, whether that was wait time or an interaction with different staff member. So it has been really effective for that and we also demonstrate upcoming materials that we are preparing for upcoming programs. So recently, I had one idea and then it kind of twisted in a different direction based on their interest in recycling and building social awareness in that way, so kind of building that in. And we share prototypes of online resource., It’s a chance for us to share our research and for them to share their research., and one thing that’s really great is that some of the parents are kind of advocates who have been doing this for a while, and for some it is kind of their first foray into that and so its been a really great conversation from that. It’s just a really wonderful experience. It does take some commitment, but the benefits are really, definitely outweigh any of that. Thank you.

Cindy VandenBosch:

Thank you so much Charlotte. I can speak from having gone to the early morning opening last month, it was inspirational. There were over one hundred people there on a freezing cold day. Really enthusiastic parents. By doing it month after month, they really have built a real sense of community there. Ok, so next on engaging parents.. we have pictures here from the Intrepid’s programs…ok so parents as partners, EmPOWER Parents is going to go next. So Michelle…

Michelle Lopez, Director of Community & Access Programs, Children’s Museum of the Arts & emPOWER Parents/ Queens Museum:

My name is Michelle Lopez, I am the Director of Community programs at the Children’s Museum of the Arts in SoHo. I am here to share the EmPOWER Parents project, that was awarded during my term as the art access manager at the Queens Museum and continues today through parent participation. It continues in many forms and in many spaces. So, I’m going to tell you a little about the project and also let you know what you’ll be seeing in the video, which is a little less than two minutes. So I will show a video that is introduced by Stacy White who is the cultural programs director of the US Department of State. She is going to highlight the Museums Connect Program, which is administered by the American Alliance of Museums. And the EmPOWER Parents project is one of those projects that received the award in 2013. The goal of the project was to create a working network of professionals and parents of children with an autism spectrum disorder. These parents are given tools to make educational and institutional changes. Some of the images are going to demonstrate the ways parents took leadership roles as educators. So what we did was we took a model for programming that we’d pretty much been using for professional development at institutions or within our own staff and we were asked to train the parents to teach the classes. So parents designed the programs and delivered the classes and they all rotated different leadership roles. And so some of the images are going to show parents in their leadership roles. And the way that the group was made up, this is a partnership with Museo ICO in Madrid, the way that it was made up, it was eight families from Queens and six families from Spain. They met for seven sessions over a nine month period and there were workshops that they actually worked within, but they also had an exchange component as well and the idea for that was to really build community for the parents locally and abroad.

We use a lot of the best practices that will be shared throughout the sessions and also available on the website which include visual supports, schedules, visual vocabularies, and different kinds of handouts that would enhance the gallery experience and the workshop experiences. Except that they had to do it all, they had to find the pictures, they had to put it together, and so it was really kind of an enlightening experience for all of us. They got a chance to see all the work that happened behind the scenes and we got a chance to hear about you know some of the challenges that had for their children and some of the goals that they had as well. We incorporated some team building within the families but we also taught them some classic museum education exercises like VTS, we taught them to do some improv in the galleries, and they were also expected, every single workshop had to be universally designed for instruction. We were really hard on them. But what we got in return was, the parents really began to understand the importance of sustaining programs so that other families can join in as well. They began to fundraise on their own, without us asking. One of the moms Jacqueline Moore, who will be featured in the video, trained her son to run a five mile marathon so that he could raise 1,600 dollars to sustain the program. But also some parents really had their own transformations happen as well. So, in the case of Jackie, after working not only with her own children, both her child on the autism spectrum and also her child that is typically developing, but working with the other parent’s children, she began to understand that she already had these sort of creative interventions that she was doing every day and the project was able to honor that. She decided to use her new skill set to start some free programs that were happening every other weekend using Queens Museum spaces. There would be free classes for other families as well. And then she decided to enroll in Hofstra University’s Creative Art Therapy Program to continue deeper research and to help to really bring that work into the community as therapeutic types of interventions in community settings.

And then, now in my current role, at the Children’s Museum of the Arts, Jackie is working as an intern, and she’s helping to improve some of the already really great programs that are happening for inclusion.

Cindy VandenBosch:

Can we play the video?

Museums Connect Video:

Cindy VandenBosch:

Thank you so much Michelle, it’s really an inspiration. So Carrie McGee is going to share with us the MoMA’s experience of preparing staff training… (technical glitch)…Here we have some parents here from the program, from the Queens Museum. Ok so Carrie McGee is going to share with us how they prepare staff and do staff trainings to present an inclusive program.

Carrie McGee, Assistant Director, Community & Access Programs, The Museum of Modern Art:

So I am going to try and speak, not too quickly, but to cover a lot in a short amount of time. First of all, you all saw the video of Create Ability, which is the program I’m speaking about today, but I should mention that we also do partnerships with community based organizations like LAND that Francesca spoke about. I told Matt he should sit in on this session since he was hanging the show. Their studio is for adult artists with developmental disabilities, so if you want to invite them to your museum, or he may hit you up to visit your museum. But one of the things about Create Ability, you’ve seen it in action, I want to clarify there is a morning session for kids with developmental disabilities and their families, and an adult session in the afternoon, and that’s really important for us because we found and heard feedback from families that there’s a lot more out there for kids than there is for adults, and so that has been a primary focus for us. We recently also started pulling out a morning group that are tweens and teens, just because some of the kids who have been with us a long time, now there was kind of a critical mass of teens and we’ve pulled it out so that they are their own group.

The other thing is that Create Ability is a program for a broad audience so it’s anyone with any type of developmental disability or learning disability. Meaning it includes, and I would say in the morning session, it’s up to about half of the participants are on the autism spectrum, and a little bit less than half in the afternoon but what it means is that we have to think in an inclusive way and that some things that are very strict or work for many many people on the spectrum maybe won’t work for a lot of the other participants in the program. And we also have parents and friends and brothers and sisters attending, so it’s also broad in age and intergenerational.

So one of the, and oh I’ll describe the slides. We have an educator on the left looking approvingly at a parent, looking at a child participant in the program who is holding up her artwork, sharing at the end of the program. What makes our program work, I think, is our educators and this next slide is an adult participant in Create Ability making a painting and she’s speaking with one of our teaching artists during the program. So I always say this is relationship based work and so I think for us, the basis of the success of our program is really investing in the educators and teaching artists that we employ and then encouraging them, as well as the staff Lara, Francesca, and myself that work on the program to make personal connections with individuals and their families to find out what their preferences are and to get feedback. We never get it perfect, but we are always striving to do better and we are always open to feedback.

So our philosophy is really not to play to the stereotype of a disability in any of our access programs. So instead, we’ll start from a theme like we do in all of our programs, an artistic theme, and we’ll ask ourselves “what’s the best program?” and “what’s the best art project we can do related to this theme?” And then, once we’ve decided on that, the group, which includes Lara who coordinates the program, myself, I oversee the educators and teaching artists, and then the actual educators and teaching artists. Then we will have a long conversation which we pay them to attend, kind of a brainstorming session, and how exactly we will make this accessible to the specific participants we know that come to our programs. And so, it’s a little different every time. And how that process works, once we have the theme, we have an immediate call, I would say a month to a month and a half out from the program, with Lara, myself, and the educators after that brainstorm, they come back to us with their ideas and then we offer any suggestions that we have.

In terms of training the educators, we really think about training them both practically and philosophically and it’s just as much about art as it is about disability. So we have three hour sessions every other month and some of the things that we’ve focused on are: having parents from the programs we work with come and talk, having individuals on the spectrum or with other developmental disabilities come and talk to the audience. We watched a couple of different documentaries Wretches and Jabberers, if you haven’t seen it, it will fundamentally change the way you think about, at least adults on the spectrum. There’s another documentary called Shameless the Art of Disability, and we will screen these and then have a conversation. And Shameless you can watch for free online.

We had a recent intern who noticed that we were not getting a lot of direct feedback and evaluations from participants, especially kids with disabilities, we were just sending out surveys to parents. So we’ve started piloting, with her help, different strategies to get direct feedback from the kids themselves. And we do sessions on different art processes.

I’m just going to end by flipping through. I’ll lead us into the visual section by showing we do create some visual supports that we post on Facebook and send out ahead of time. So, visual vocabularies, visual schedules, these will all be up on the MAC site. We ask educators to write out and act out instructions and sometimes we make last minute adaptive things with you know, what we have on hand. That’s it.

Cindy VandenBosch:

Thank you.


Thanks so much to all of our first set of speakers. So I think the take-aways here are pretty obvious: meaningfully engaging the people that attend your programs; sometimes starting small so that you can get honest feedback, starting a pilot program, starting small and growing from there; working with people that already have experience with this audience and a lot of the staff training.. Staff training is so essential and important because it does come down to personal connections with people that are coming in to participate in the program.  So thank you so much for coming up and sharing these best practices and I’d like to call up our next round of best speakers… [chuckle]… I’d like to call up our next round of speakers who will be speaking on visual supports at their respective institutions: Marie Clapot from The Metropolitan Museum of Art; I will be presenting on behalf of Meredith Martin (from the New York Transit Museum) who unfortunately someone called in sick so she is presenting their after-school program right now for kids on the spectrum; so I will be presenting on her behalf; Charlotte Martin from Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum gets an encore presentation; and Miranda Appelbaum from the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Something we’ve learned in recent years and that researchers have discovered is that visual communication tools have been helpful in working with and communicating more effectively with people on the spectrum.  And we’re seeing as museum educators that, in fact, it is helping us communicate and better understand, whether it’s children or adults, better connect with one another. So, Marie, if you would like to kick us off here.

Marie Clapot, Assistant Museum Educator for Access and Community Programs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Sure, where’s the little thing to switch… Oh, yeah, sure.  Is it better? Alright, so good afternoon, everyone.  My name is Marie.  I work as a museum educator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art with a division called Access and Community Programs. So like many of other museums who presented earlier, we have a program called Discoveries targeting individuals with developmental and learning disabilities, and those on the autism spectrum.  So what we did a few years ago is, in preparation for the visits and as well as to… as someone else said it…to enhance the gallery experience and increase participation to the program and just to promote also independence of those individuals, we created social narratives.

So what I’m going to do today is quickly introduce the social narratives, but also we created what we called a sensory map. Simply because of the sheer size of The Met and even if you’ve been working there for 15 years, you still can get lost, we thought it would be interesting to have a map to identify spaces that are either quieter, spaces that are less crowded, so that people can prepare in advance or on the day of their visit.

One of the troubles that we encounter because of the size of a museum, the resources that we created can be kind of tricky to find online, so I thought I would put some screenshots to help you figure out how to do that. So, on the homepage, you will go to events and then scroll down to programs and from there you will have, as it shows on the screen, you will have a selection of program and you can scroll down to programs for people with disabilities and from there you can select the page for people with developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, and those on the autism spectrum. And if you click on there, you will have access to all of the resources we created. So, along with the social narrative, sensory map, and a visual checklist, we also have tips for parents to prepare for the museum and we also created social narratives not only for an independent visit, like you can see here, but also for our monthly program, Discoveries, as well as for guided tours. So for teachers also to use those before coming to the museum. My colleague is going to circulate the example of a map and a visual checklist for you to browse, so I’m just going to show a few pages.

The main things that we decided, we worked with Autism-Friendly Spaces, who helped us go through the space and give us some feedback on how to deal with the challenges that we had at hand. One thing that they recommended was that photograph art is quite a neat way to and a very direct way to communicate with people. It’s something that people can memorize, so we choose that instead of icons and also for another reason is there are a lot of things moving around, changing. We recently opened the new plaza but we had construction for quite a while so it allows us to. right now we changed the pictures pretty recently because when the plaza opened because if not, we had shown the construction and it also changed the way to get into the museum. So it’s quite nice to have that flexibility. And then we have different pages coming from the entrance of the museum, what are the few things that are going to happen. I had to process an admission ticket, etcetera and then in the galleries what they might see and encounter. And there are more pages to all of the social narratives, but I’ll let you go through them.

One thing that we did with that sensory map when we met with the people of Autism-Friendly Spaces, we mentioned that having, identifying quiet spaces for people to take a break, but also just knowing what are spaces that get natural light or spaces that are.. tend to be loud or crowded. And spaces also because of conservation matters and others that have more subdued light, but parents can also prepare. First, how they want to travel the museum and identify spaces that they maybe might want to avoid, spaces that natural light might be a nice way to sit near a sculpture, etcetera Petrie Court or American Wing or Temple of Dendur. So that’s about it for the sensory map.

The other thing that we did is, that you can find online also…

[rattle noise]

[Sigh.. ] I was thinking I was going to go under, but no.


It’s the visual checklist where people can grab the checklist and prepare the visit alongside using the sensory map, select picture, you can cut them out, and then place them on this piece of paper and once it checks, you can do it.  So it’s a nice way to follow up and create that schedule that diminishes anxiety during the visits.

I’m done.

[Laughter and clapping]

Cindy VandenBosch:

Thank you so much, Marie. For the resources that we’ve developed, there were a few things that you showed on your slides that we actually have audio clips of adults on the spectrum sharing their stories of visiting museums.  There’s one woman who felt a great deal of anxiety when she went to a large cultural institution here in New York. Not The Met, it was a different one. But she looked at the map and she was wanting to go to the temporary exhibit and it wasn’t on the map, and she was so anxious it took her about an hour before she built up the courage to ask the security guard for directions. And because she was so anxious about the social interaction, she actually didn’t hear what he said.  She was with her son who is typically developing and she just found this to be a very challenging experience. So I mean, we all use visual supports in our daily lives… stop signs, maps, but especially communicating through symbols, through pictures, and preparing visitors for what the building is going to look like, where the entrance is located, through these social narratives is so key and I really recommend that if you’re developing a social narrative, look at their website because they have so many different examples targeted at different audiences, I think it’s great.

Ok, so I’m going to present next on behalf of Meredith Martin for the New York Transit Museum. She sends her regrets, she’s teaching at this very moment. So the New York Transit Museum, as many of you are aware, is in a historic subway station in Downtown Brooklyn. If you haven’t been yet, it’s awesome. [Laughter] Go! So, the New York Transit Museum. They are an example of an institution where they naturally attracting people from this audience and realized they needed to develop and over time have developed a whole array of pretty sophisticated programming.

The first visual support that I’m going to mention – and totally keep me on time, Sara – is the voice scale. The New York Transit Museum has a program called Subway Sleuths. This is the after-school program that Meredith is teaching right now for 2nd-5th graders and it’s a semester-long program. It involves a speech language pathologist, an educator who specializes in working with students on the autism spectrum, and a Transit Museum educator, so they have a team of educators working with the students with a high educator to student ration. And the goal of the program is to accept and honor the strengths of students on the spectrum and tap into their shared interests, make them feel comfortable, competent, and excited about social interactions. So the voice scale, this is actually introduced at the beginning of the program. This is one of the visual aids that they introduce at the beginning and some of their sleuths have trouble with voice control.  Using the trains and visuals of where their voice should be at is very helpful. This voice scale aid has images of trains on the left side, word descriptions of the voice level in the middle, and images descriptions on the right side. An educator often carries this voice scale in their bag and can refer back to it to the group throughout the program, so that it’s not just used at the beginning of the session but it’s used throughout to literally keep them on track.

[Audience laughter, presenter laughs]

And as you may have noticed, too, the language that’s used was “All Aboard” and “Last Stop” It’s really sweet.

So, here’s a visual schedule. Their program also focuses on life and social skills development.  While students might organically come because they have an interest in trains and/or their parents want them to start to think about independent travel for their own life skills development, they really seek to use trains as a hook for developing life and social skills.  The Museum sees a lot of students on the autism spectrum on this two-part program.  It’s a travel training program that focuses on basic steps of using the subway and also subway etiquette.  This is an example of a visual schedule that shows, it’s introduced at the beginning and then used throughout, but it shows what’s going to be happening.  So it says, “All Aboard,” “Name This Station..” It’s using subway images: 1, 2, 3, and 4 trains. “Construct a Train Car” – that’s the activity. They’re going to go to the bus and hold the pole. And then, “Reflections”.  Having schedules like this does reduce any anxiety that students might feel and also, let’s face it, don’t we all want to know what the plan is?! So, in a way they’re able to reference back to that if they don’t feel like they know what’s going to happen next.

For the travel training program, they introduce as I mentioned life and social skills and travel training skills, they have these picture books that take you through every step of riding the train. So, you start at finding your station, then you look at the map to figure out what the destination is, every step of the process uses photographs so that they also provide to the parents so that they can take this back and work with the kids. So this is a process that visually outlines this safe riding of the subway.

During some of their school programs, the Transit Museum uses this visual board. This was created in collaboration with consultant Melanie Adsit, who also worked with the Whitney, this.. the museum sees a lot of students who are nonverbal, who do not communicate verbally or communicate very little verbally, so they’ve developed various communication tools like this one. Some of their activities in the train cars have to do with colors and textures. For the students who aren’t able to answer these questions or verbally communicate, they’re able to participate by pointing at the various possible answers. And you can see how it helps non-verbal visitors describe what they’re seeing even if they don’t have the language to do so.  Similarly, this image is used for the same purpose, identifying colors and shapes that they find inside the train cars.

And, finally, if you have any questions about these programs, please contact Meredith Martin at And these images will also be included on the MAC website in the Visual Supports section.

Ok, I’m going to introduce our next speaker who is Charlotte Martin from the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum about the visual supports that you guys have developed.

Charlotte Martin, Educator for Access, Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum:

Thank you. So, I’m going to be talking a little bit about the visual supports that we have.  A lot of this builds off what Marie and Cindy have already spoken about.  For example, for all of our early morning openings, we send families a social narrative ahead of time to outline the day.  We do two-part visits where we go to a classroom with children on the spectrum; we also always bring a social narrative with us.  And the other thing we often will provide a visual vocabulary and a visual schedule. The advantage of this is that it’s on one page so it can be easily referred to throughout. This was one that I created for a recent early morning opening and we do use these as well for school programs and other programs as well. On the left-hand side is the front. It says, “Life at Sea,” which is the name of the program, and it has a grid of three by three, so nine things that we are going to be seeing or ideas or things that we’re going to be dealing with throughout the program.  These are all related to things about Life at Sea and then on the left side is our schedule.  So just three basic steps: we have our wait(?) activity, the tour that we’re doing, and then the activities in the Exploreum, our interactive activity space that will be happening after that.  It’s a useful reference for the educators to use throughout the program. It’s something that children can refer to, can point at if they want to give an answer. It helps with transitions. They know what to expect.  And actually with having the grid, what I’ve found helpful, is that oftentimes, especially with school programs, the order that you do things has to change, at least at my museum. Something comes up, something is closed, and because it’s not in a set order, you can still set up for that transition without having it be in an order which I find very helpful. This is one of the things that we do.

Now, last time, we also sometimes integrate others ways of preparing kids and getting them ready – or adults – for getting ready for what’s coming next.  This is Sara, this is her Liberty Card. We created ID cards last time – this is mine – which is a nice way of getting them into character of being a sailor, but the other advantage is that it had a checklist of things that they could do.  So they started off by doing a tour. Once they got into the Exploreum, they could get stickers to show they’ve accomplished certain things. It’s a way to encourage them to try out different activities they might not normally try out. And it also, one of the activities was to interview a former crew member of the ship, so kids who might not normally be comfortable going up to a stranger, asking them questions or looking at the pictures they had, kind of had this extra incentive so it did encourage that as well. We do this in different ways depending on the program. If we’re going through a tight space, for example, we have different scavenger hunts that we have to look for, things to help focus attention. In the submarine, we had one that compared things that were in the submarine with things that were in your home life so that you get that one to one connection. And I have examples of those with me if anyone wants to see them afterward or I can email you them.

And the other visual support we use are visual instructions for activities and I have some more examples for you and some of these are going to be on the MAC site as well. But these are for all of our activities something to give a sense of independence so that they can do this on their own or with their family, so that they know the materials they’re going to need, all the steps that they need. So the one here is a really basic one, outlining how to make a straw rocket space shuttle that you can then launch. So we have this as a one-page version as six steps showing the different materials, bringing the two parts together, attaching it to the straw, and then we also have one that’s page by page, each step, so that you can refer to whichever one is better for you.  And then we use these for more specific ones, but also for more open-ended projects.  This one is a little bit more of a challenge is that here they’re making mission patches.  These are the patches that astronauts wear on their missions. And this one we wanted to be more open-ended. And so, we had to show an example of a design but try to keep the language as something that is more open-ended and making sure that we had examples of real mission patches as inspiration.  There is some variation in this, and this is kind of something I’m always working through and I have some additional examples as well with me.

But basically, it shows step by step, it starts off by always showing all of the materials you need so you have that ready, you don’t have the anxiety of what’s next, where am I going to find this material? You have it straight there and then bringing you through these steps of punching the hole, drawing the design, adding your name, the name of your family, giving your mission a name, so it is open-ended but still concrete.  And then actually tying it and wearing it, so bringing it together.  We use a lot of different ones and I’m happy to share any. I have some with me. Yeah, so thank you!

Cindy VandenBosch:

Thank you so much, Charlotte.  One of the recordings we are putting up on the website in a parents and teachers section is with Wendy Wick, who is one of the parents that is on the advisory committee at the Intrepid, and her clip is specifically is about how their families use these visual supports and they all use them in different ways. Some of them use them in advance to prepare their kids, but her family actually uses them afterwards to give to their teachers, which they then can connect with the kids about what they did the past weekend, and integrate that into the classroom setting. So, being used definitely, but in different ways.  Our next presenter is Miranda Appelbaum and she’s at a performing arts venue, and we’re going to hear from her next.

Miranda Appelbaum, Sr. Manager, Accessibility and Guest Services, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts & Chair of MAC:

Sure, thank you. So I’m from a very different setting and the program is a fairly different program. I’m at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and our program Passport to the Arts is an inclusion program, so we distribute tickets to families with children with disabilities and now we don’t have any age restrictions; we have adults participating as well. We purchase tickets, our department purchases tickets to family performances that happen throughout Lincoln Center: Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Philharmonic, and those are all programs for the general public. The way we look at visual supports is that we’re helping families prepare for an experience for the general public. We don’t have… There are wonderful programs at Lincoln Center in the education department that are designed specifically for children on the autism spectrum, but this program itself is an inclusion program so we’re not able to change the format of the program, the theater, the lighting, you know, any other additions to that.  So it’s kind of a different animal. I wanted to share just a couple of examples of the way we use visual schedules there.They’re going to look suspiciously like the Intrepid’s visual schedules. They’re also going to look a lot like the Queens Museum’s visual schedules. The way that we started was probably four or five years ago, Michelle Lopez did a wonderful, wonderful staff training at the Intrepid on how to create visual schedules and the nine boxes came out of that, so you’ll see them all over. This one is for a program we did at Jazz at Lincoln Center.  I think we actually have some parents in the room that attended that program. We try to look at visual schedules as a way to help parents get their families ready to go. On the front is… Sorry… On the front is saying, “My Family is going to go to Lincoln Center,” and it gives a little information about that and it gives the order of the things that are going to happen when you arrive, so “First, I’m going to the Rose Theatre to pick up my ticket.”  And since it’s a really sprawling place, we think it’s really important to give those specific directions. “Then I may want to try the art or music activities before the concert. If it’s crowded, I may need to wait in line before some of the activities.” So we also try to embed some social cues as well. “Then I’m going to check my ticket for my seat number. The ushers can help me find my seat. When I sit down, I will listen and watch with the audience. Aaron Dell will tell us about Billie Holliday’s life and play her music. Last, when the performance is over, I will applaud and say goodbye.” And then at the bottom is a little note about, “If I need a break or to use the bathroom, I will ask an usher to leave the show and come back. Since no food is allowed inside the theatre, I may bring my snacks to eat before or after the performance.” So that’s just a very basic run-down of what’s going to happen at the show.  And then on the other side are some key concepts that are going to be discussed during the performance, the performers themselves, and also the space that the families will be in for the performance, and the time that it starts. This is one piece of what we send ahead of time. We also send, since these are huge theatres that have thousands and thousands of seats, and I wish my budget could buy all the seats so that we could have wonderful programs for everyone, but typically we buy between 80 and 150 tickets and we distribute those tickets throughout the house, so we have some in the orchestra, we have some in the aisles, we have some toward the back, and then we highlight the tickets we have available, sort of generally. We don’t want to have people specifically asking for a specific seat, but we say, “If you’re family has any special needs, please let us know ahead of time and we’ll seat you accordingly.” So we have families get back to us and say things like, “My child is very sensitive to sound,” so they’d prefer not to be close to the speakers. Or, this is the first time we’re trying this performance so we really need to be by an exit in case we need to leave right away. So we take all of these things into account when we’re seating families and we reseat families constantly, which is another thing that I didn’t think about when I worked in a museum. If you have 100 people register for a program and 80 show up, that’s ok.  If you bought 100 tickets and only 80 show up, those are 20 tickets that no one is using. We’re constantly reseating and trying to have families come at the last minute. So, we send that and we also try to send music clips. And again, these are programs that I have nothing to do with the content of the program. I try to send music links from the education departments of the programs that are being put on so that families can try out Billie Holiday’s music ahead of time and see the performers and go to their websites as well. This is another example of the Philharmonic, which also has a wonderful family program, and they have really robust education programs before and after that are there. Some of the before programs are wonderful for kids on the spectrum and some of them are really overwhelming, have really long lines or are really busy, so that’s information that we try to tell our families ahead of time.  And finally, one place on Lincoln Center’s campus is the New York Public Library and they do really amazing exhibitions in their gallery. They have one coming up on Sinatra and they just closed one on Sesame Street. We did a sensory tour of Sesame Street where we included some of our teaching artists to sing and do sing-alongs of some of the performances there.  Oh, and I should also say these are inclusion programs for children with disabilities and learning disabilities, but overwhelming at least 75% are children on the autism spectrum, so most of the way we design the programs is for that audience. And then finally, to guide us along the process for that tour, we had a checklist where we took pictures of things that, concepts that we were talking about on the tour, so that kids could check them off. If kids were having a hard time focusing, they could do that with their families.

Cindy VandenBosch:

Thank you to our wonderful speakers on visual supports. [clapping] Up on our website next week, you’re going to see a lot of these examples that we’ve seen here built into a lesson plan.  We actually have best practices in developing social narratives. I saw a lot of people taking pictures with their cell phones. No need! Most of these will appear on the MAC website in a learning module, much like the one I showed you earlier with the audio clips.  Our next section, our next and final section of the presentation, is going to focus on how do you take cultural institutions, whatever it might be, whether it’s…we have people here, I think, from zoos, historic sites, art museums, performing arts spaces, theaters… how do you take these spaces and make them more accessible for people that might have sensory sensitivities? We heard several examples of this in Miranda’s, as well as several other presentations, but next we’re going to hear from the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Kinneret Kohn, and Philip Dallman from the Theatre Development Fund. Both of them are going to come up and share their experiences at their respective organizations of creating calm, quiet and safe spaces.  So, if you’d like to come up. Thanks!

First, Kinneret is going to share with us the process of developing and introducing and programming the Sensory Room, a space that was designed with the needs of children on the autism spectrum in mind, as well as a universal design concept.  Some museums are fortunate to be able to create spaces. The American Museum of Natural History is one such example, where they have a Discovery Room, which is a whole lot of fun if you haven’t had the chance and it provides a very hands-on experience. They, much like several other programs, open up early and provide early access to families who have someone on the autism spectrum so that they can not only experience the exhibits, but also the Discovery Center before the rest of the public comes in for the day.  But we’d like to hear, Kinneret, about the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and the Sensory Room and how that was developed.

Kinneret Kohn, Manager of Education & Public Programs, Brooklyn Children’s Museum:

Thanks so much. I just wanted to say that I’m just enjoying this program so much. My name is Kinneret Kohn. I’m the Manager of Education and Public Programs at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. I’m here to share our sensory room space with you today. This space is really a complement to the entire museum, which is a sensory-rich experience for children, but it is specifically an inclusive space where children with special needs can engage and explore their senses.  The interactive equipment provides a multi-sensory experience with visual, auditory, tactile, vestibular, and gross motor activities. This room provides a welcoming environment for children with autism spectrum disorders. And we’re specifically using it for school programming, for private group programs. Wema Harris, who is our Access Coordinator, and is sitting at the top and always a great resource has developed a number of partnerships with private groups that want to come in and use the space. We also have family open hours, which are inclusive hours, so it has both typically developing and children with special needs who use that space at the same time. And we’ve also recently developed family access programs to really target families who need a smaller, more inclusive space for themselves to enjoy the sensory room. So, what you’re seeing in the corner of that image up there. Oop, I did not even know it wasn’t there. Ok, so what I just read is all there. I apologize. Sorry about that. is a typical setup for the sensory room. It is a space with flexible components so that if we have children who come in who clearly need to move about and express themselves in a really physical way, we can have a really active space but it can also be that calming space for people who need to take a sensory break or two, and do some self-soothing. So you’re seeing a setup there where we have our purple tunnels partly hidden underneath a cloth for some private hiding time. We have a rock and roller… Oh, pardon me.. a red bump in the corner that’s kind of in a rolling position and some fidgets on the side as well.  Trust it, ok.

Just to show you some of the different pieces that we have in the sensory room that we can manipulate to create either very active or very calm spaces. And a lot of these different pieces are produced by Snug Play. We have what we call the Blue Wave with Noodles, which can be a space for children to run across or maybe lie down on, using the noodles to pull in and out of that space – or sometimes used as weapons when it’s a more active space [audience laughter]. We have the rubber cushion, which I’m sure many people are familiar with, it can be great for children to jump on, to use their feet, to sit on. It can be a designator of a space, like this is where we’re going to line up when we wait to take a turn on something. We also have our tunnels, which are one of our favorite pieces; they can be tunnels; they can become a hideaway that we can put together that we’re going to see on another slide; or a rocking area. We also have use for red fabric, just large pieces of fabric, which can be used in many different ways to create waves that come down on children, to be an activity that everyone gathers around, or to define a space.  Our red bump, which can also become a concave roller, so you can either sit in that to do some self-rocking or it could be something to jump off of.  We have musical instruments, quite an assortment that we can bring out, as well as a sensory swing. Those are those different pieces you’re seeing there.

Some of the ways that we help to define the spaces, a more calming one is by setting the lighting at a lower level.  We have put together some different colored fabrics that we can put over the lights and by turning off half the lights, you can have just that kind of blue lighting or that very cool lighting, which sets a tone for calmness when people come in. We can set up activities that can be a bit more calming, rather than active, so that sets again a cue for how we’re going to engage in this space.  A lot of reading or a lot of kind of close, nestled areas or cozier spaces versus having that same bean bag that you see pictured there with books on it at the end of the tunnels, which then means it’s a place to jump onto right off the tunnels. We also have a water tower and this is one that we can manipulate and so it can change different colors and we like to keep it on some of the cooler colors at times when we’re trying to keep it as a calmer space. Children can enjoy the sound of the water bubbling up, can follow the bubbles with their fingers, or dance around it often or just enjoy the changing colors visually.

Just showing, highlighting one way we can manipulate the space and manipulate one of our pieces within it, the tunnels. You can see that at setup at the beginning with rocking and rolling, so set up is a space where either multiple children can sit together and rock together or one child can lie down and do some solo rocking if that’s what they choose. So it could go from an active, a high-energy activity to something that’s low energy. Then we have the tunnels, which can be used for climbing on top, balancing while walking across, crawling through, and hidden play.  And putting some pieces over it to create a darker, more cozy space. And then, we have the last slide, the last picture, which I call the cocoon. It’s kind of great place to think about playing house or having a more quiet space. The room is not that big, but when there’s a number of children in it, this is a way for a child who might need some time alone or to do self-soothing, to separate themselves from the rest of the group. This is just a quick sneak peek of all that we have going on. It doesn’t begin to capture it. So I do encourage you to come visit the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, to connect with Wema or myself, to learn more about the sensory room.

Cindy VandenBosch:

Thank you so much, Kinneret. Not all of us have the luxury of building out a space like the sensory room, although it would be ideal, right, at many of our institutions it’s kind of a dream.  But there are other ways we can create quiet or create a space – I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get overload being in a museum for more than like an hour or two with all of the crowds and noise – and so, being able to retreat to a quieter gallery like we saw with the sensory map at The Met, that makes a whole lot of sense.  But how do you create quiet in spaces where it’s more challenging?  For example, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, has recently introduced for visitors who are on the autism spectrum, they can reach out to the Access Coordinator, who is actually here today, Ellysheva, they’ll schedule you at a time that’s quieter. They know. They know times when it’s quieter. They can even open up early or stay later to ensure that there isn’t a crowded, loud environment.  It’s about being creative, opening early, giving people space, and working with what you’ve got.  That leads us into our next presentation from The Theatre Development Fund. Thanks so much for joining us, Phil.

Philip Dallman, ATI Coordinator, TDF Accessibility Programs, Theatre Development Fund:

Thank you. So, as was just said, there are sometimes when you don’t have a giant room or even a small room to create a quiet area. With the Autism Theatre Initiative, we work predominantly with Broadway houses.  While the perception is that Broadway houses are huge, they are not. [laughter] I can tell you this from experience. While some are wonderful and have the IP rooms that we’ve been able to use in the past, oftentimes that just doesn’t exist. There are minimal lobby space and where there is lobby space, it’s dominated by concessions and merchandise. Broadway producers tend to not want to close their merchandise and concessions, so it’s getting creative with what you have.  There’s our logo.  So, for example, here is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which we did this past December. We were relegated to one area in the entire house. Normally, our philosophy is we have a couple of activity areas and a quiet area. This theatre did not have that where every time we thought we had an area, it was a fire hazard.  So they said, “Ok, we have one spot for you. It’s directly across from concessions and right next to merchandise.” So, we sat down and we said, “Alright, this is what we have.” We look at it and go ok, we need to hit some benchmarks. What do we have? Well, one of our philosophies for our quiet areas is always to use autism professionals in those areas.  ATI’s philosophy for volunteers in general is if you’re willing to give up the day, I will train you and I want you there. I don’t care what experience you have. But in these areas, there’s a certain liability involved at times that we feel it’s important that this area be staffed with autism professionals. This is for safety and like I said, liability purposes.  Our other philosophy with the area is that it’s not a classroom. So when we start filling out the items in the area, we don’t necessarily look for things that are teaching tools. This is not the time or the place for that. This is a day out for the family.  They’re not here to get a lesson. They’re here to enjoy and these areas are here and focused on getting the individual back into the show or back into the gallery. So, when we start filling out the space, we have the philosophy of keeping it simple. We don’t want the area to be more interesting than the show. And it’s a struggle sometimes because you do a show like Spiderman and I want to purchase all of the Spiderman toys for my area and the kids going to stay there or the adult is going to stay there and they’re not going to come see the show. In other instances, for example this is Wicked, you have traffic. There was no way to avoid it. The one area they gave us, there was just lots of traffic. So you just kind of build out an area as best you can and tell the volunteers to perimeter, walk the perimeter. Wicked was a specific instance where they wouldn’t let us use stanchions in there. Oftentimes we will use stanchions to try to direct traffic. That theatre thought it was, well, they thought it was an issue.  Sometimes you just have to do that. When talking about the supplies in the area, like I said, I keep it simple. What we also try to do is gear it towards the show and have it all centered around the show.  So all of our coloring equipment in the quiet area for each show will be geared towards the show, if possible.  Curious Incident, not really a show that has coloring pages. We have Alladin coming up. Yes, there were a million coloring pages and I just purchased five Jasmine dolls to fill out the area. Again, so example, most of you know Jen O. who is wonderful and one of my favorite quiet area volunteers. She’s tremendous and the exact kind of person that you’d want in your quiet area who knows that the idea is to get back into the show. And that’s pretty much it what I really wanted to… Oh, sorry, went one too far.. just keep it simple. Understand that an area doesn’t necessarily need to be huge. Stanchions work. They keep them from touching Raffiki [laughter] most of the time. You use what you’re given, whether it’s the three feet in front of the women’s bathroom or the area by concessions. It’s never too small, people will use it, and it will be the support that they need.


Cindy VandenBosch:

Thank you so much, Kinneret and Phil, for joining us. If I can ask the speakers to come up to the front. I realize that we are short on time and I was hoping that we would get to more of an engaged breakout to discuss some of the areas, the gaps. I think one of the things that came up just from the presentations we’ve seen here and from the dialogue we’ve been having in the last couple of years. There’s a need for more attention to the transitional phase for young people who are graduating from high school and college who are looking for job opportunities and internship opportunities.This is something we’re really going to be turning our attention to with our programming moving forward and encouraging cultural institutions to do the same. But I’d like to bring… Yeah?

Carrie McGee:

Next month there is the UJA symposium that focuses on adults.

Cindy VandenBosch:

Ah, UJA is going to have a symposium. Excellent recommendation and we’ll send that out to everybody to take a look at, but if I can have everybody come up and is there anybody.  We’ll take a couple of questions if there’s anybody who has questions for our speakers.

Audience Member:

Hello, I have a question generally for everyone. At my institution, I work at the Yale Center for British Art. We have a philosophical conundrum on whether we want to open the museum early to let the families in or do we want to create a welcome space during our public hours. And I just wondered how you address that and how you decided because we’re leaning towards doing it during public hours basically because we can’t afford to pay the staff to open early, but I just wanted to hear your thoughts on successes and concerns.

Carrie McGee:

How crowded are you when you’re open?

Audience Member:

It’s British Art. [audience member chuckles] We’re not that crowded. [audience laughs]

Carrie McGee:

Ok, so I was going to say. If you’re not that crowded. So I work here. If you’re not that crowded, I think that’s great because it’s inclusive and it’s quiet. At a place like MoMA, any parent in the audience who has been here knows that when we used to have a free day on Tuesdays, it was a nicer environment. It would be a nicer environment for anyone on any…with know… because it’s just so crowded often that it’s hard for any group to have a conversation.  But I think if you’re not really crowded, it’s nice to do it when you’re open if you have the ability to still create that.

Cindy VandenBosch:

Does anyone want to add to that?

Marie Clapot:

The other thing is that you could try just to gather people and to make your program known. I think there’s something to say to do that when it’s not as crowded and figuring out also when it’s convenient for people. It might not be earlier. It might not work for people’s schedules. The other thing that’s interesting when the museum is open is that you’re also really promoting inclusion. It’s good for visitors to see that and that everyone is coming. But that might involve some steps in between for families to feel like they can actually come.

Billie Rae Vinson:

Yeah, we also straddled between the two. So we had the program start when it was closed because the space was on the fifth floor, where they would have to go through all of the busiest places.  But once they finished, the museum was open.  So then, if they did want to go on with their families and go back to the galleries, they already felt they had visited, they could.

Charlotte Martin:

And, actually, one thing that we do is that we have our early morning opening, but we also have our access family program for children and also one for adults with developmental disabilities and their families. And we do have families with children with autism or adults with autism who attend those as well, either because crowds aren’t as much as an issue for them or sometimes it’s kind of a transition. You start out at an early morning opening and then you are able to spend time when the museum is open. It’s kind of nice to have that opportunity as well.  As someone who used to work at the Yale Center for British Art, I think that’s really exciting. [audience laughter]

Carrie McGee:

Like Marie said, asking the people who are your potential participants. Because we did that, because what may be good for you, then we found out everyone wanted Sunday during the day and we couldn’t do closed during the day on Sunday.

Cindy VandenBosch:

Do we have another question?

Audience Member:

Hi, I’m from the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater in Central Park and we provide family-building workshops, but issues of payment are always very important to us because of our relationship with City Parks Foundation in Central Park and being a performance space, we kind of always feel like we need every dime we can get. But we want to start providing our family puppet-building workshops to include students of schools who service special needs students. In creating a pilot program, what successes and pitfalls have you guys had? I’m sorry, so we want to create the performance for these participants, but we want to know, “Where is the ethical line? Should we charge for these performances? How do we go about finding the families and getting in contact with them?” Because it’s me doing it, so I want to know how to do it. Thank you.


Thank you so much.

Michelle Lopez:

So, my experience in finding families. It’s much more effective to find meetup groups or places where parents already go for support rather than going through the schools because it’s really hard to build that kind of confidence for families that maybe never heard of you or don’t know who you are as an individual to take that chance. I would start with family leaders and get them to bring people in.  And then as far as free, free is always great but if you’re starting with a pilot program and you really can’t do free, then just pick a smaller group of people and you can set a certain amount there or use a sliding scale. I think we have to work with what we can, right?

Cindy VandenBosch:

Thank you. I think we have one more question and then we’re going to wrap up.

Audience Member:

It’s not a question and it’s not an advertisement, but I have a website  called and it’s for the special needs community in New York City and I have an events page. So everybody is welcome to be listed free of charge for New York City families. I mean, Museum Access Consortium is already on there. I mean, I’ve got you by every month. If you want to list a program, just contact me:

Cindy VandenBosch:

Thank you so much.

Audience Member:

That’s a great name!

Audience Member:

Hi, just a question. I’m Steve Casey from BNP Paribas. We’re starting a program of outreach to the persons with disabilities community. But do.. Is anyone at your museum… How many people do you have employed with disabilities and how many people with disabilities do you have involved in the program planning you’re talking about and what’s your reaction to that? I’ll just open that up.

Philip Dallman:

So, we actually, the Autism Theatre Initiative, we hire… One of our consultants is actually a 16-year old boy with autism who sees the shows and actually goes through all of our supports with us and assesses them.  We also have started using volunteers with autism with job coaches or parents or aides. And when the program was founded, we had an advisory board that also included several adults with autism. I do think it’s important to engage individuals with autism from the beginning all the way through and they should be involved in almost every aspect of the program to keep an eye on things because that is the community you’re serving.

Kinneret Kohn:

Similarly, we have an access advisory council that meets quarterly and that was really active in the creation of the sensory room in doing the research, making the connections, giving their opinions – which were many – and its development and we continue to meet quarterly to discuss the programming.  Especially the annual large-scale programs, we try to bring in different community resources into the museum, called “I Can Kid Abilities day.” As far as employment, we have a number of teen interns who come from specifically schools that support children with special needs. We have a partnership with the League School that’s been going on for over 10 years to my knowledge. Occasionally, one of their students who is a strong candidate will graduate from that program and then continue to work at the museum. So currently we have one gentleman who is employed in animal-handling who started out off in the maintenance of our gardens through the League School.

Carrie McGee:

I think you’re right to bring up employment, too. So I work here at MoMA, and we in Access Programs work in our educator pool to include people with disabilities in that pool. One of the things we’re working on, though, is across the museum and with our human resources department, there’s now a museum-wide accessibility task force and trying to show that outside of access programs, that if this is a commitment of the museum not only making the museum accessible to visitors with disabilities, but also to potential employees with disabilities.

Cindy VandenBosch:

Yeah, this is something when we did the Inclusion in the Museum Workplace session, we did months of research calling museums all over the city, trying to figure out what the employment situation looked like. We discovered… in some cases.. well, first of all, people may not self-identify. That’s another thing. But we do know that there is very high unemployment, especially for people on the autism spectrum. And so we realized from the research and from speaking to professionals from all over the city. People weren’t really sure. There’s a need for data and there’s a need for more information, I think, for cultural institutions so that they can navigate and learn about how to work in collaboration with professional employment organizations, many of which have come and attended these workshops in the past, and how to navigate, for example, very practical things like the financial side, whether it’s grant funding for certain positions or tax credits. Or then, on the other side, what might the training needs be? Working in collaboration across departments. So sometimes, there will be someone that’s working in completely the other side of the museum and then you may have the access coordinator that has expertise in working with people that have disabilities. But they’re not necessarily, if they’re at a large institution, they may not be frequently in communication with the human resources person. There’s a lot to do, but there are definitely opportunities. People have come out of the woodwork and we would love to encourage more cultural institutions and really get this conversation going.

So, thank you so much, everyone!  [applause] Thank you to our panelists for coming. To wrap up, I would also.. to wrap up, I’m so grateful to the Museum of Modern Art for hosting us, especially Lara Schweller who did so much work in preparation for this event. We are grateful to The FAR Fund for their funding of this program. I’d also like to acknowledge… Miranda Appelbaum is the new chair of the Museum Access Consortium. So, congratulations and thank you so much. We’re really excited to have her as a new leader of the organization and its vision for the future. Barbara Johnson is our new administrative secretary but we’re now in the process of growing our steering committee. And, we just thank everyone for coming out today. There is also the ReelAbilities Film Festival is coming up, so there’s information that’s out on the table if you would like to learn about the films that are going to be screening, some of them at cultural institutions here in New York City. Oh, yeah.  Miranda../.

Miranda Appelbaum:

We should also all thank Cindy, both for today and for the work that she’s been doing for the last four years on this incredibly intensive project. I can see first-hand how much time and effort she’s put into this and incredibly inspiring. Thank you so much from all of us for all of your work. It’s really amazing.


Cindy VandenBosch:

I would encourage everyone… Thank you so much.  The resources on the website are going to be… Already some of them are up and by next week all of them will be there. But it’s been a research project and it’s thanks to all of you for coming out to these programs, participating in conversations, sharing your resources – that we’ve been able to pool together best practices, some of which we saw today and others will be presented in more detail on the website.  So, thank you so much.


End of Transcript

 This Museum Access Consortium Resource is made possible thanks to the generous support of The FAR FundFAR Fund Logo