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“What benefits one, benefits all.”

A must read for all museum professionals:

http://www.experienceology.com/downloads/gabriel_learning_disabilities.pdf

Paul Gabriel takes an interesting and unique approach in his article, “Learning Disabilities with Museum Visitors,” because he recognizes that everyone can have symptoms of learning disabilities, even museum professionals.  I agree with him wholeheartedly. I  have felt museum fatigue, at other times I have felt overwhelming anxious when confronted with lots of information, and have even experienced blurred vision when reading labels that are text heavy with academic  language.  If I have had those experiences, then surely others have as well.

He states that if museum professionals better understand individuals with learning disabilties, they consequently can reach a deeper understanding of all visitors.  “What benefits one, benefits all,” is how he concisely puts it.  This really got me thinking.   What if museums didn’t create specific programming for individuals with learning disabilities, but instead, took the time to learn more about their needs and kept them in mind for all areas of programming development?  I think this would be incredibly challenging, especially considering how many learning disabilities exist, however the results could be amazing.  Not only would it reach the learning disability audiences, but it would reach all visitors no matter what their engagement level is that day.

At the end of his article, Paul Gabriel helpfully distinguishes different disabilities and what approaches museums can take in order to engage that audience.  Hopefully, the museum community will continue in this line of thinking, and expand all their programming to meet broader audiences needs, those with and without disabilities.

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ADHD and Museums

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is one of the most common mental health disorders affecting American adults and children.  The numbers of diagnosed ADHD individuals have been consistently rising, approximately 3% each year from 1997 to 2006.  Since a large populations of Americans are now being diagnosed with ADHD, museums need to understand their specific needs and learn how to address them.

But first, what is it like to have ADHD when visiting a museum?                             “The way I go through a museum is the way some people go through Filene’s basement. Some of this, some of that, oh, this one looks nice, but what about that rack over there? Gotta hurry, gotta run. It’s not that I don’t like art. I love art. But my way of loving it makes most people think I’m a real Philistine. On the other hand, sometimes I can sit and look at one painting for a long while. I’ll get into the world of the painting and buzz around in there until I forget about everything else. In these moments I, like most people with ADD, can hyperfocus, which gives the lie to the notion that we can never pay attention. Sometimes we have turbocharged focusing abilities. It just depends upon the situation.”  Dr. Edward Hallowell M.D.   http://www.healthyplace.com/adhd/main/whats-it-like-to-have-adhd/menu-id-53/

So, how can museums address this audience?  How can we make museums accessible to those who are diagnosed with ADHD?  How can families with multiple ADHD members enjoy all that a museum has to offer?  Below is one example of how a museum can approach the ADHD audience member.

Bay Area Discovery Museum Located in Sausalito, CA, the Bay Area Discovery Museum incorporates studies on persons with ADHD and how outdoor environments affect their disorder into their programming.  The studies, led by child environment and behavior researchers, Andrea Faber Taylor and Frances E Kuo found that when children were taken on nature walks, or encouraged to participate in activities that were held in nature, their ADHD symptoms were alleviated.

http://www.baykidsmuseum.org/blog/post/article/adhd-focusing-on-green/

The museum’s Lookout Cove is a 2.5 acre outdoor, interactive exploration area that features natural, cultural and built icons of the Bay Area.  In being able to explore this setting, children with ADHD are able to explore, unwind, and according to the research, be better able to focus on schoolwork afterwards.