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a happy young boy in a wheelchair is surrounded by his cousins
October 8, 2018

Dear Friend of the Museum,

On behalf of our staff, I am so excited to share this news! Discovery Museum has been awarded The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts 2018 LEAD®Community Asset Award. The award ceremony was held August 11 at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta during the Kennedy Center's Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) conference. I was thrilled and proud to accept the award on behalf of our staff, our many partners, our Board, our supporters, and all of our volunteers and advisors—in other words, many of you!—for your strong, sustained commitment to making everyone feel welcome and included at the Discovery Museum. This national recognition honors your contribution to creating something wonderful for all kids.

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 Award honorees are Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, IL, and the Museum Access Consortium in New York, NY.

Right around the time we received word of the Kennedy Center award, Director of Learning Experiences Denise LeBlanc received this email and photo from a visitor she had met in the museum:

Hi Denise,

We met a couple of weeks ago when I brought my son Ben into the Discovery Museum. He's three years old and uses a wheelchair.

Your museum was wonderful, so wonderful in fact, that we came back a week later with all of his cousins. He was able to reach & play with everything he wanted when he was there. Ben's used a wheelchair since about 18 months old and we haven't been anywhere that was more accessible or allowed him so much independence before. He was on the same playing field as all of his peers at the Discovery Museum and he loved it! I cannot thank you enough for building a place that lets him explore like everyone else. 

We haven't explored the entire place yet, but everything we did, Ben was able to do himself. We will certainly be back soon!

Thank you,
Becky

That email, used with permission, means so much to our staff. It synthesizes exactly what we'd hoped to accomplish with the new museum: create a fun and welcoming space where every kid—no matter their situation, no matter their ability—a can play and learn together. The smile on Ben’s face, as he enjoys playing here alongside his cousins, is exactly what it’s all about.

We are deeply committed to making our learning opportunities accessible and inclusive for all children, and have hit a number of milestones over the last decade:

  • Now serve 26% of our 175,000 annual visitors for free or nearly free through initiatives designed to remove barriers to access.
  • Offer 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 the program’s first year in 2010, we 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, and was designated an UP Organization, part of 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.
  • 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 40,000sf nature playscape and 550sf accessible treehouse in 2016.
  • Opened a renovated, expanded, fully accessible 16,000sf building filled with 8,000sf of inclusively designed exhibits this year.
  • Launched an accessible makerspace program, designed in collaboration with accessibility experts, also in 2018.

We have received several awards for our accessibility efforts, including:

  • Leaders in Innovation Award from the New England Museum Association in 2011 for the Especially for Me access program
  • 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 our commitment to creating accessible learning experiences.

But we are not resting on our laurels! We will continue to work to improve our programs and facilities to ensure that children of all abilities and circumstances can access the foundational learning experiences we provide. We recently completed a comprehensive top-to-bottom professional audit of the accessibility of our facilities and exhibits, and while that review was very positive and complementary, we still have some things to work on.

If you have noticed something we need to work on, or you have had a great experience you can share, please send me a note at NGordon@DiscoveryActon.org.

And if you’d like to help us grow, improve, and welcome even more kids like Ben, please make a gift in support of our work or attend our fun, not fancy Discovery Gala: The Art of Science event on October 20—all of the proceeds of which go directly to making Discovery Museum accessible and welcoming to all. We can’t do it without our community!

Best,

Neil

In the photo: Discovery Museum CEO Neil Gordon (center) is pictured with Betty Siegel, Director of VSA & Accessibility, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (right) and Lew Michaels, LEAD 2018 Content Committee Member (left), at the John F. Kennedy Center Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) 2018 Awards ceremony, held August 11th, 2018, at the Georgia Aquarium.