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Lew Michaels, Neil Gordon, and Betty Siegel at the John F. Kennedy Center LEAD awards ceremony
October 5, 2018

Awards celebrate the advancement of inclusion of people with disabilities in the cultural arts

ACTON, MA—Discovery Museum announced today its selection as a recipient of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts 2018 Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD®) Community Asset Award. CEO Neil Gordon accepted the award on behalf of the organization at an awards ceremony held on August 11, 2018 at the Georgia Aquarium.

The annual LEAD awards honor a select few arts organizations whose dedication has resulted in the advancement of inclusion of people with disabilities in the cultural arts and whose efforts serve as an example to all in the field.  Awardees continually demonstrate success with access initiatives, improving accessibility in their organization, city, state or region. The other 2018 Community Asset Awardees are Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, IL, and the Museum Access Consortium in New York, NY.

“We are thrilled and honored to earn this prestigious award for our work around accessibility and inclusion, because it is central to both our mission and the hearts and minds of our staff and Board,” said CEO Neil Gordon. “Our new Discovery Museum and Discovery Woods were developed based on Universal Design principles to be accessible to all, regardless of ability.  They are places where inclusion can be a commonplace experience, where all kids can play together.” 

Over the last decade, Discovery Museum has formalized its commitment to access and inclusion through its program offerings and in the design of new indoor and outdoor facilities. The museum:

  • Serves 26% of its 175,000 annual visitors for free or nearly free through initiatives designed to remove barriers to access.
  • Offers 24 free Especially for Me family events per year for kids on the Autism Spectrum, with hearing loss, with vision impairment, or other special needs. In its first year in 2010, the museum held four events attended by 323 people. The program now reaches 1,600 people annually.
  • Participated in the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s inaugural Universal Participation (UP) Innovation and Learning Network in 2014.
  • Established a permanent Accessibility Advisory Council in 2016
  • Released an accessible website, tested by User Experts through the Institute for Human Centered Design, in 2016
  • Designed and built a 40,000-square-foot inclusive nature playscape and 550-square-foot accessible treehouse in 2016
  • In 2018, opened a renovated, expanded, fully accessible 16,000-square-foot building filled with 8,000 square feet of inclusively designed exhibits. The museum also launched an accessible makerspace program, designed in collaboration with accessibility experts.

Discovery Museum has received several awards for its accessibility efforts, including:

  • Leaders in Innovation Award from the New England Museum Association in 2011 for Especially for Me
  • MetLife Foundation and Association of Children’s Museums Promising Practices Reimagined Award in 2014 for efforts to increase access for children experiencing homelessness
  • The Commonwealth Award from the state of Massachusetts in 2017, for its commitment to creating accessible learning experiences 

Discovery Museum an MCC-designated UP Organization, an innovative and collaborative group of arts and cultural organizations with a demonstrated a commitment to learn, take action, and embrace inclusivity as a core organizational value.


About Discovery Museum

 Discovery Museum is a hands-on museum that blends science, nature, and play, inspiring families to explore and learn together. The museum and its Discovery Woods accessible outdoor nature playscape and 550 sf treehouse blend the best of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) learning on a beautiful 4.5-acre campus abutting 180 acres of conservation land in Acton, MA, about 20 miles west of Boston. Originally founded in 1982 and expanded to two museums in 1987, the museum reopened in a single accessible building after a complete renovation and expansion in early 2018. Hands-on, open-ended exhibits developed by professional educators inspire curiosity and exploration, providing a fun and engaging experience for children and adults to discover their world together. Serving families and schools from towns throughout the region, the museum is devoted to informal education that enhances classroom learning. Discovery Museum is committed to accessibility, and is a proud recipient of the 2017 Massachusetts Commonwealth Award, the only winner in the Access category. For more information please visit www.discoveryacton.org. Discovery Museum is a community-supported non-profit organization.

 Discovery Museum programming is supported in part by a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.