Sensory Friendly Saturdays Provide A Quiet Welcome At Springfield Museums

Sensory Friendly Saturdays Provide a Quiet Welcome at Springfield Museums

Sensory Friendly Saturdays
Monthly on Second Saturdays; 9 am–11 am

Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum and the Springfield Science Museum

The Springfield Museums became Universal Participation Designated Spring 2019 as part of a Massachusetts Cultural Council program to help museums, theaters, and other cultural organizations pay particular attention to ensuring their programing is accessible to all people.

The Museums staff formed an Inclusion Task Force to help see through the many ideas they had to help make the Museums even more welcoming to even more people.

“We learned so much during the Mass Cultural Council training, and met so many helpful people as they visited our museums to help us assess where we could do better,” said Heather Cahill, Director of Development for the Museums. “We wanted to put as many improvements into place as possible right away while we continued to work on our long-range plans.”

“One of our user-expert visitors had sensory sensitivity and explained that having space with less movement and less noise was very helpful to her comfort in a new place,” said Alicia Bono, Grant Writer for the Museums and facilitator for the Inclusion Task Force. “Our task force felt we could offer this space right away if we opened the Museums a little earlier especially for those who would like to have this experience.”

The staff created preview guides for families to read together before visiting the museums and made decisions about which exhibits they could modify to be more friendly to visitors with sensitivity to noise, lights, and movement. Laura Sutter, the coordinator for Cat’s Corner, a hands-on creativity space in the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, created age-appropriate crafts and literacy activities especially for sensory sensitive children. “We know that any change we make for a specific group of people, often benefits all of our visitors,” said Sutter, who studied the relationship between museums and their communities at Trinity College before joining the staff at the Springfield Museums. “My goal is to make all of our visitors feel welcome in the Cat’s Corner through the types of activities we offer,” Sutter said.

For Sensory Friendly Saturdays, the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum and the Springfield Science Museum open an hour early (9 am) exclusively for families with sensory sensitive children. Many of the exhibits in both museums are modified to provide an opportunity for people with a range of differing abilities to experience what the museums have to offer. The modifications are enabled until 11 am.

Staff and volunteers are on hand to answer any questions and, if necessary, direct visitors to a quiet space that provides a chance to cool down and take a break. Parents and caregivers must stay with their children at all times.

If visitors find the Museums too overwhelming and need to leave before 10 am, they can stop by the Welcome Center to receive a voucher to try again on another Sensory Friendly Saturday,” said Sharon Ferrara, Welcome Center Manager.

“We want to make our Museums accessible and relevant to all visitors,” said Kay Simpson, President and CEO of the Museums. “Our vision is to have every visitor say: ‘Wow, they thought of everything!’”

MORE ABOUT THE UNIVERSAL PARTICIPATION INITIATIVE

The Springfield Museums became designated in the Universal Participation Initiative facilitated by Charles Baldwin of the Mass Cultural Council in the spring of 2019. After a series of workshops over the course of six months, expert-user site visits, and a lot of discernment and action, the Museums together with a cohort of other Massachusetts museums, theaters, and arts programs are on their way to ensuring their facilities, exhibits, and programs are accessible to people of all abilities.

The Universal Participation Initiative (UP) aims to break down barriers and bring full civic participation in Massachusetts’ cultural sector, said Baldwin, who is the Program Officer for the Universal Participation Initiative. Both a movement and a designation, UP creates opportunities for leadership, peer networking, and education in universal design principles, audience engagement strategies, and ADA compliance.

“Our visitors are the force that keep our Museums alive,” said Kay Simpson, CEO and President of the Springfield Museums. “Their interest, their curiosity, their excitement enliven our collections.” The Museums’ mission is to inspire curiosity and creativity for all who visit, Simpson said. The Springfield Museums, she added, are committed to moving forward with relevance into the future, engaging new and trusted audiences with exhibits, programs, and collections that inspire curiosity, creativity, and caring. “And we want to do that in a way that all who visit feel truly welcome.”