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This Sign Language Project is Making Museums More Accessible

Friday, March 30

Deafness can affect people in ways that the hearing community take for granted. Most notably, the inability to hear can change the way the deaf can access culture and the arts. Accomplishing accessibility has been a long time project for Musea in Geberen (Museums in Sign Language). Finally, the years of hard work are starting to pay off as the program, which offers museum tours given by deaf museum guides, is beginning to expand. 

The project was initiated by the Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam over ten years ago. They were inspired by similar programs that were being offered in Paris and London. They began by providing deaf visitors in Amsterdam a museum tour once a month. Two years ago, Wat Tet! got onboard pushing the project forward. They were able to increase their promotional efforts and find funding. There are now 16 national museums participating in talks of expansion for the coming year.  

The process for finding guides who are qualified to provide these tours is an interesting one, and it can be challenging as well! The program is looking for people between the ages of 18 and 35, who can serve as good role models for the deaf community. They must be well versed in sign language but also have a good knowledge of Dutch history and presentation skills. 
Those that are selected are then brought in for training. Prospective employees are educated as to how to set up a tour, tips for social interaction and use of sign language. Trainees must then pass an exam and start working on a trial basis. 

The museum tours are set up in such a way that visitors are not bombarded with information. Therefore, essential facts must be selected in advance to be included in a 90-minute tour. Visuals play a huge role in the experience as well. It is also important that there is a lot of interaction between the guide and visitors. Because the deaf might not consider the museum experience as something that is accessible to them, it is vital that they are made to feel as comfortable as possible. The Museum is hoping that this will eventually lead to the deaf community accepting museums as part of their culture. 

Throughout the project, there has been an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from the participating deaf community. They have been happy to have the opportunity to expand their cultural experience and also have appreciated the openness of the staff at the museum. Even those working at the front desk are made to learn primary sign language to accommodate the needs of their deaf visitors further.

It is wonderful to see that the Musea in Gebaren has made such notable progress over the last couple of years. Culture is something that should be shared with everyone, and not limited to those without physical limitations. We can only hope that museum tours for the deaf will soon be a more common occurrence in museums all over the world. 


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