Israel holds national forum on accessibility in museums

The forum participants noted the uncertainty of the pandemic that has hindered their ability to plan ahead.

THE TOWER of David Museum (photo credit: NAFTALI HILGER)
THE TOWER of David Museum
(photo credit: NAFTALI HILGER)
Museums across Israel participated in a national forum with the Israel Council of Museums (ICOM) in order to discuss best methods to improve service for visitors with special needs.
The goal of the inaugural National Forum for Accessibility and Inclusiveness in Museums – aside from addressing how to provide immersive experiences throughout museums, galleries and other heritage sites to those with special needs – was to gather together a nationwide network of museums and provide a platform where professionals can share ideas and experiences, to promote the necessity of incorporating Special Education Needs Disability (SEND) attractions and to create a lobby in the hopes of influencing future legislature to forward these types of programs.
The forum was originally initiated by the Tower of David Museum, which gathered the collective of museum officials virtually to discuss goals of inclusiveness, even amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"The Tower of David Museum is committed to developing inclusive programming and easy access for all its visitors," said its director Eilat Lieber. "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," she said.
Beth Ziebarth, the director of access for Smithsonian Museums, spoke of how national museums in the US have been managing COVID-19 and incorporating accessibility as museums attempt to reopen.
"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.
"I am excited to share Smithsonian Institution best practices with and learn from colleagues in Israeli museums working on accessibility for visitors with disabilities," she concluded.
Caroline Smith, a representative of the National Gallery in the United Kingdom, and co-chair of the UK SEND Network, also spoke about how to allow families with accessibility needs the ability to enjoy museums and galleries during the pandemic.
"The last few months have reminded us all of the importance of culture and creativity to our general well-being," said Smith. "It’s vital that we remain present for and connected to families with additional needs in whatever form that can take. The present circumstances are challenging, but we must ensure they are not left outside our provision. I feel very privileged to be part of the national forum for Accessibility and Inclusiveness."
She also said that "it is so important that we have the means to share our experiences and expertise; our successes but also the challenges we face. We have a long-standing relationship with the Tower of David Museum, advising the setup for this current forum.  It is fantastic to see how this provision has developed; the energy and creativity which has made it so successful."
Among other topics of discussion were the uncertainty of the pandemic that has hindered abilities to plan ahead and organize special events, in addition to the difficulty of communication.
The museums said their hope is that this cooperation will not only bolster inclusiveness programs throughout the country, but also present a consensus on a way back to normalcy amid a time of uncertainty.