Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Including People with Disabilities in the Galleries and in Programs

Photo by Melanie Einzig

We appreciate Janice Lintz putting a focus on serving people with disabilities, both with programs and as part of museum exhibitions. In addition to an expanding roster of programs for people with disabilities, visitors to the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust can learn the history about Nazi discrimination against the disabled. 

 In the Core Exhibition, visitors learn that the Nazis justified their racism and discrimination through eugenics, a false science that taught that there was a biological and genetic basis for the superiority of some races over others. “Racial Science” textbooks illustrate how Nazi discrimination against the disabled was implemented.  When visitors examine these textbooks, they learn that the Nazis considered some people to be threats to their own “Aryan race.”  These so-called threats included people who were judged to have a “serious congenital illness,” which included hereditary deafness and other disabilities.

Visitors also learn that the term “mercy killing” (euthanasie) was used deceptively to mean mass murder of Germans considered a burden to the state. They learn that adults and children who had been identified as having physical or mental disabilities were killed in large numbers through gassing. The Nazis tried to keep this as secret as possible, but German citizens learned what was happening and expressed their outrage. In August 1941 the Nazis officially ended the gassing of adults with disabilities.

 Because of the Museum’s commitment to accessibility, we offer regularly scheduled programs for the deaf community (ASL@MJH) and tours led in ASL by deaf museum educators. Assisted Listening Devices are available for visitors who are hard of hearing.  In addition, we provide visual description tours, touch objects, and large print gallery text for visitors who are blind or with low vision. We regularly schedule tours for visitors with Autism and will soon offer programs for visitors with dementia.

 We are constantly engaged in learning and incorporating best practices for accessibility. We follow the American Alliance of Museums’ guidelines for diversity, equity, and accessibility, and are active members of the Museum Access Consortium and the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable Access Peer Group.

 Janice Lintz raises important issues about how society recognizes and serves people with disabilities and, thereby, all members of our community. This is a critical conversation, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage looks forward to continuing to engage, expand, and deepen its work in this area.

For more information about the Museum’s tours, programs, and services for people with disabilities, please contact Education@mjhnyc.org.