New museum, old access problems

The Newseum in Washington, D.C., was cited for nearly 100 ADA violations.

The Newseum in Washington, D.C., was cited for nearly 100 ADA violations.

Planning to visit Washington, D.C., over the holidays to see the sites? If any of the Smithsonian Institution museums are on your itinerary, take a good look at how easily accessible the exhibits are.  Down the National Mall at the Newseum, however, access has been a different story.

The Department of Justice cited this museum, which celebrates journalists and news coverage, for more almost 100

violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  According to DOJ, the Newseum, ” failed to design and construct facilities that are readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.”

If this museum was in a building erected in the 1940s, say, then the violations might not be so surprising. But the museum opened in 2008 – well after ADA was passed by Congress. Still, it was cited for accessibility problems that “cover all exhibits, gift shops, restaurants, and bathrooms within the seven-floor museum.” At the top of the list of problems were protruding objects found throughout the museum.

The Newseum  agreed to pay a $15,000 fine and pledged to “[make] certain all our audiovisual presentations, exhibitions, public programs, website and other offerings are easily accessible to our guests with disabilities of all kinds.” It said it would add closed captioning, assisted listening systems, and recorded audio descriptions to the exhibits as part of the agreement, along with other changes.

Seems to me that the Newseum’s access issues are an apt metaphor for the news businesses’ general reluctance to be inclusive within its own ranks. For far too many decades, newsrooms were staffed almost entirely by white men. Slowly but surely, women and people of skin color other than white began to join the ranks of reporter, editor, anchor, producer, photographer, etc.

But people with disabilities have had a tougher time getting good journalism jobs. In fact, at only one of the four newsrooms where I’ve worked over the last few decades was there another journalist with an obvious disability. Apparently, corporate inclusion policies didn’t include us.

For my first newspaper job, I was assigned to the copy desk, not because that was the kind of work I wanted to do, but because sitting at a desk writing headlines for eight hours was all the bosses thought I was capable of doing. My professional goal was to be a writer, and it took a long while to prove I could go out and cover a story.

Perhaps while the Newseum is fixing its internal access issues in the new year, it could also mount an exhibit that explores why people like you and me have been kept outside for so long.

 

 

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