Representatives from different museums across Israel met earlier this month for the first time under the auspices of the Israel Council of Museums to create the first National Forum on Accessibility and Inclusiveness in Museums. It took place virtually due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The aim is to create a nationwide network for sharing best practices for those with special needs and disabilities at museums, galleries and heritage sites.

The first meeting was geared to how COVID-19 has affected access to museums. It was attended by representatives from throughout Israel who listened attentively to keynote speaker Beth Ziebarth, director of access for the Smithsonian Museums, who shared how they had incorporated accessibility in the reopening of museums.

“As museums begin to reopen during the ‘new normal’ created by the pandemic, my hope is that we build on the progress in accessibility we have achieved in the past decades, rather than retreat from those efforts,” said Ziebarth. “It’s more important than ever to invite self-advocates and families of children with disabilities to be part of the planning and protocols being put into place as we reopen our doors.”

Caroline Smith of London’s National Gallery and co-chair of the UK SEND Network addressed how to provide what families need from cultural institutions during the pandemic.

Similar experiences had been felt in Jerusalem, London and Washington, D.C., with museum representatives noting how the usual forms of communication—touch, hands-on experiences, facial expressions—are being curbed due to health regulations, hindering the best engagement for these sections of the population.

The forum was initiated by the Tower of David Museum, one of the first museums in Israel to run programs for children with special needs.

Museum director Eilat Lieber said “through imaginative programming over the last few years, the museum has brought new and diverse audiences into the world of culture and heritage and has established a forum to share like ideas among all cultural institutions in Jerusalem. We look forward to expanding this forum together with ICOM in order to make inclusivity a standard in all museums in Israel.”

Specially guided tours at the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem. Photo by Ricky Rachman.


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