Guest post: A Benchmark for Accessibility

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Before I was asked to sit on the CMHR’s Inclusive Design Advisory Council, I had absolutely no knowledge of this project. It was only when I came to Winnipeg in September 2011 that I understood the extent of the initiative as well as the challenge before the Museum staff and council members. 

Building a museum that is accessible to everyone from an architectural standpoint is one thing. Building a museum where persons with disabilities feel welcome, can participate fully in the various activities and even work, is quite another. As a disability rights activist, I am accustomed to helping remedy past human errors, including inaccessible subway systems, streets that are dangerous for blind or visually impaired persons, or deep-seated social and cultural discriminatory attitudes. Even today, I continue to see new spaces that are completely inaccessible to people with disabilities or which, despite appearing accessible with a ramp here or an automatic door there, create an environment that is hostile to persons with disabilities. 

Hand touching a tactile plate indicating Level 5, Stair A1 CMHR President and CEO Stuart Murray touches a tactile sign plate which will help visitors find their way while in the Museum. Photo: Aaron Cohen / CMHR.

The CMHR has given me a unique and stimulating opportunity to be involved in project development aimed at eliminating barriers while creating a welcoming environment. From the early planning phases, we have been working, and continue to work, to avoid creating obstacles. I have never seen so much energy go into universal and inclusive design. The exhibit room models, font selection, and placement of the various languages (English, French, LSQ, ASL) are just a few examples of what has been submitted to us. There are, of course, frustrating realities and difficult choices. Nevertheless, I am confident that the CMHR will be a benchmark of accessibility for other museums around the world. 

Laurence Parent has an academic background in Political Science (B.A., UQÀM) and in Disability Studies (M.A., York University). She is primarily interested in the all but ignored history of people with disabilities. Passionate about writing and social justice, she aims to mobilize people with disabilities and their allies in order to promote the emergence of innovative projects. Through this work, she hopes to shed light on ableism, a system of oppression, which, like sexism and racism, contributes to a collective experience of marginalization and exclusion. Laurence is a founding member of the Inclusive Design Advisory Council at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

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