Accessibility Policies Done Right: The Legion of Honor in San Francisco

The other day, abby jean and I were discussing the formidable and delectable works on paper collections at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco1, and I was poking around their website to find something I wanted to show her when I noticed that they had an accessibility policy. And, well, it was right there in the sidebar so I clicked it, because I was curious to know what it said.

I was so bowled over that I promptly sent it to abby and said “LOOK!” Because, people, the Legion of Honor’s accessibility policy is pretty comprehensive2. And I really think that some places could use it as a model, whether they have accessibility policies or not.

Some of the key features about this policy which stand out are:

  • Noting that disability goes beyond wheelchair users, people with visual impairments, and people who are Deaf/hearing impaired. A lot of accessibility policies try to hit this “big three,” as it were, but aren’t really attentive to other disability issues, which is extremely unfortunate, because it perpetuates the idea that you must be visually impaired/hearing impaired/using a wheelchair to be “disabled,” so a lot of accessibility policies actually wind up reinforcing cultural beliefs about disability and the hierarchy of disability. At the same time, accommodations for the “big three” may not even be adequate at all.
  • Specifically providing clear information about accessible transportation and parking options. Now, MUNI isn’t always as accessible as it seems on paper; the 18, for example, is supposed to be accessible but often the buses are broken or the drivers don’t feel like dealing with disabled passengers so they pretend not to see folks waiting at the stops. But MUNI’s accessibility problems aren’t the Legion’s fault.
  • Clearly stating that workshops at the museum are designed to be accessible and adaptable. A lot of times I look at museum workshops and think “that looks interesting, but I wonder if…” and I like that it’s right out there in the open that you can ask for and receive accommodations.
  • “People with disabilities have the option of requesting docent tours of exhibitions during times when exhibitions are less crowded and extra seating is provided.” This. So huge. There are exhibitions I want to see, like Tut at the De Young, that I am afraid to go to because of crowds. Providing extended hours for docent tours is awesome.
  • Sign language ‘terps AND a TTY phone!

Now, obviously, an accessibility policy does not accessibility make3. I haven’t gone to the Legion of Honor in a while and I don’t know if they actually follow through on this policy, although the next time I am there I will do some casting about to see. Obviously, the desire to have an accessible space does not mean that it somehow becomes accessible through osmosis or something. But it can be a good start and I really like the framing of this policy.

I think that this policy really speaks to the amount of activism which the disability community has been involved in across the Bay Area. In Berkeley in particular, people with disabilities have been very active and very outspoken and have played a major role in shaping policy and pushing for accessibility. The Legion of Honor’s policy isn’t the result of forward-thinking museum employees, it’s the result of pressure from the community and efforts to increase awareness of disability issues.

We shouldn’t have to make a lot of noise to be noticed and to get people to acknowledge that we should be accommodated. But cases like this show that noise can be awfully effective and give me hopes that maybe someday we won’t have to constantly assert our right to exist.

Checking out the Legion of Honor’s accessibility policy, are there any changes you would recommend? Do you think there are steps which could be taken to make it more inclusive? If you’ve actually visited the Legion, how much do you think that the museum lives up to the promises in this policy? Are there ways in which the museum itself could be made more welcoming to disabled patrons?

  1. No, really. We were. It’s not really relevant at all to the story, but we were, I swear. Really I just am in love with this footnote plugin and thus come up with excuses to write footnotes.
  2. Their sister museum, the De Young, has a comparable policy.
  3. For example, I note that the accessibility policy itself is not very accessible; the WAVE tool at WebAIM identified 73 accessibility errors on that page.

About s.e. smith

s.e. smith is a recalcitrant, grumpy person with disabilities who enjoys riling people up, talking about language, tearing apart poor science reporting, and chasing cats around the house with squeaky mice in hand. Ou personal website can be found at this ain't livin'.

One thought on “Accessibility Policies Done Right: The Legion of Honor in San Francisco

  1. They should mention whether and where there are surveillance cameras, or better yet, have a policy regarding what should and should not be photographed (i.e., you are photographing the exhibits, NOT the visitors–don’t be careless with your camera, and give warnings if you can). That’s the major accessibility issue for me, and it’s often very hard to find out whether a place meets that standard.

    I’m hopeful that you all here will take that seriously. I have a more common disability too, with its own set of accessibility issues, and nine times out of ten, when I can’t do something I want to do, it’s not the more common disability, it’s the cameras–yet it’s constantly trivialized, dismissed and ignored.

Comments are closed.