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  • 1. Thinking about Disabilities in the Museum setting: MOCA
    Leah Master-Huth
    EDUC 803
  • 2. Introduction
    Museum exhibitions need to cater to a wide audience. What happens when they struggle to meet the demands of Universal Design?
    Visitors with Disabilities feel unwelcome
    Educators feel uncomfortable bringing their students to the museum
    Museums unintentionally exclude segments of the population
  • 3. Principles of Universal Design
    The design is useful and interesting to people of differing abilities
    The design accommodates a wide range of personal abilities and preferences
    Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level
    The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities
    The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions
    The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue
    Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user's body size, posture, or mobility
  • 4. Disabilities to Consider
    Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD)
    Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
    Visual Impairments
    Mobility Impairments
    Hearing Impairments
  • 5. Disabilities: Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
    People with AD/HD may:
    Be easily distracted, miss details, frequently switch from one activity to another
    Have difficulty focusing on one thing
    Become bored with a task after a few minutes
    Have difficulty processing information quickly and accurately
    Dash around, touching and playing with everything in sight
    Have difficulty doing quiet tasks
    Be constantly in motion
  • 6. Disabilities: Sensory Processing Disorder
    Symptoms of SPD might include:
    Over-sensitivity to stimulation such as sounds, lights, touch, taste, and odors
    Using an inappropriate amount of force when handling objects or writing
    Difficulty focusing or unable to shift attention to a new task
    Can become disoriented on stairs, elevators, or escalators
    Difficulty following directions, especially on sequencing of events
    Impulsive, always on the go
  • 7. Disabilities: Visual Impairment
    In those with low vision, vision may fluctuate or may be influenced by inappropriate lighting, light glare, or fatigue, so colored lights, small fonts, or many things to read on one wall might be challenging
    People with low vision are text readers, but they might require adaptations, special equipment or materials
    People with visual impairments may have trouble with environmental obstacles, such as the hanging object cases in room one or the movie screens in small alcoves overlooking stairs
    Interactives should have clear signage or should appear obvious to visitors since those with low vision might have a better museum experience with the added tactile exploration offered by interactives
  • 8. Disabilities: Mobility Impairment
    The term mobility impairment refers to an expansive range of disabilities which vary in severity from stamina limitations to complete paralysis and include, but are not limited to, disorders of the skeletal, respiratory, neuromuscular, cardiovascular, and pulmonary systems (
    Mobility disorders include: cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, arthritis, muscular dystrophy, temporary orthopedic injuries, Multiple Sclerosis, spina bifida, et. al.
    People with mobility impairment sometimes require mobility aides or assistive technology
  • 9. Disabilities: Hearing Impairments
    Hearing loss can be partial or complete. There are several types of hearing loss:
    Conductive hearing loss—sound levels seem lower
    Sensorineural hearing loss—interferes with clarity of sound, understanding speech, and interpretation of sounds
    Mixed hearing loss—have both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss
    Background noise can make it even more difficult for those with hearing impairments to hear what is being said
    About 28 million Americans (almost 1 in 10) are hearing impaired or completely deaf
  • 10. Disabilities: Dyslexia
    This wall, and others like it in MOCA, are difficult for visitors with dyslexia to read
    According to, some people with dyslexia can have trouble with reading and spelling, while others struggle to write, or to tell left from right. Some children show few signs of difficulty with early reading and writing. But later on, they may have trouble with complex language skills, such as grammar, reading comprehension, and more in-depth writing.
  • 11. Beyond Disabilities: Comfort and the Average Visitor
    Surveys of walk-in visitors showed that the average visitor asked for changes to the Core Exhibition that would help disabled visitors as well, including:
    Larger font size
    Fewer objects on the wall
    More quiet spaces
    Clear signage on interactives
  • 12. Some facts about MOCA
    MOCA used to be in an old public schoolon Mulberry Street. Its new building (opened in 2009) at 215 Centre Street was designed by architect Maya Lin.
    Founded as the New York Chinatown History Project in 1980, the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) began as a community-based organization.
    MOCA describes itself as a dialogic museum, meaning that they want to have a dialogue with the audience.
    MOCA’s collection includes artifacts, personal histories, and personal objects from businesses and residents of Chinatown in Manhattan, but it also has objects from Chinese-Americans around the country.
    MOCA’s audience is diverse and includes people of all backgrounds and ages. They want everyone to relate to the Chinese experience in America.
  • 13. Using a Virtual Tour of MOCA
    The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) is a great space with an engaging approach and a unique collection. However, it makes some mistakes that lead to potential discomfort or confusion for visitors with disabilities. This virtual tour is a way to highlight some of what MOCA does right and some of what they get wrong.
  • 14. Maya Lin and MOCA
    Maya Lin describes her design of MOCA:
  • 15. What MOCA gets right
    MOCA is a beautiful, welcoming space
  • 16. What MOCA gets right
    MOCA is a beautiful, welcoming space
    It has an easy-to-use, wide entryway for people with mobility impairment
  • 17. What MOCA gets right
    MOCA is a beautiful, welcoming space
    It has an easy, wide entryway for people with mobility impairment
    The museum brings in visitors of every background and age group
  • 18. What MOCA gets right
    MOCA is a beautiful, welcoming space
    It has an easy, wide entryway for people with mobility impairment
    The museum brings in visitors of every background and age group
    MOCA educates people about sensitive topics such as racism and immigration
  • 19. What MOCA gets right
    MOCA is a beautiful, welcoming space
    It has an easy, wide entryway for people with mobility impairment
    The museum brings in visitors of every background and age group
    MOCA educates people about sensitive topics like racism and immigration
    MOCA’s interactives give visitors hands-on experiences
  • 20. MOCA’s Core Exhibition
    With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America
    “The exhibit is an exploration of the Chinese American experience—from the first steps of early Chinese immigrants on the American frontier, to the dramatic story of a people caught between the power and politics of two nations, to the continuing journey to understand what it means to be Chinese American, and ultimately, America’s own journey as a nation.”
    (MOCA’s informational brochure)
  • 21. In the Entryway
    At My Eye level, about 5’3” up from the floor
  • 22. In the Entryway
    The same screen, as seen from below (Children, shorter people, and visitors in wheelchairs get this view)
    At My Eye level, about 5’3” up from the floor
  • 23. Room 1: Immigration
  • 24. Room 1: Immigration
    Photos in frames hanging from high above
    Movie Screen, Movie on repeat, Volume on high
    Light Boxes with biographies, brightly lit
    Strings from floor to ceiling with Plexiglas boxes holding objects
  • 25. Room 1: Immigration
    The wall has many objects and labels on it
    Labels scroll across the bottom of the wall, organized chronologically from right to left
  • 26. Room 1: Immigration
    The room is filled with objects from floor to ceiling. The lighting is from above, the side, and from the light boxes and screens. Lighting is green and white
    The number of objects, the lighting and the loud movie might be difficult for visitors with Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
  • 27. Movies in MOCA
    Movies are loud, set on repeat, and are constant background noise
    Movie are projected on a window overlooking the central staircase
  • 28. Movies in MOCA
    • The movies at MOCA include personal histories that help visitors make personal connections to the collection
    • 29. Movies at MOCA might be distracting for those with AD/HD, Sensory Processing Disorder, or Visual Impairments
    • 30. The location and orientation of the movies—with the stairs and downstairs activities visible below—might lead to anxiety for visitors with SPD
    • 31. The movies are loud and clash with conversations and other audio interactives, which might be difficult for those with hearing impairment, SPD, or AD/HD
    • 32. These movies are a single hue in a dark alcove, which might cause problems for those with visual impairments
  • Room 2: Entering the USA
    This room talks about the difficulties Chinese immigrants faced when they tried to enter the United States. The room takes on an emotionally difficult topic with some great objects, but maybe there are too many objects??
  • 33. Room 2: Entering the USA
    Text scrolls from floor to ceiling. Red text is hard to read on the paneling
    This video is directly across from another movie
    Wow! Look at all these objects
  • 34. Room 2: Entering the USA
    This is an interesting interactive that makes you think about the arrival process at Angel Island (the West Coast’s Ellis Island). However, it is hard to follow since it is a low-pitched voice barking at you in a low volume in a room with another loud movie.
    This interactive only works if you can sit in the chair and stay there!
  • 35. Room 2: Entering the USA
    Low, green light a reflection from the movie across from the wall
    Letters start down at the floor and go up to the ceiling, more than 8 feet up
    Font size is very small on the letters
    These letters and pictures make the experiences of the new Chinese immigrants relatable and interesting
  • 36. Room 3: The Laundry
    Unfortunately, the dim red lighting on the side of the room makes reading challenging
    This table is at a good height for children and people in wheelchairs
    The interactives in this room are great for every visitor. The heavy iron is a fantastic teaching tool.
  • 37. Signs in MOCA
    Interesting stories and poems appear all over the museum on boards like these—with text superimposed on photographs. Distracting and hard to read for everyone! Very hard for those with AD/HD, SPD, autism, and visual impairments.
  • 38. Room 4: Movies and Chinese Food
    The lighting in this room is red-hued and creates a glare that can be challenging to visitors
    This case is at a great height for children and those in wheelchairs
  • 39. Room 4: Movies and Chinese Food
    Again, a sign that is hard to read because of background pictures
    This radio plays low-pitched voices doing commercials. It is not very loud. Two other movies are going on in the room.
    Push this button to hear this radio
  • 40. Room 5: Festivals
    3 chairs, the lion and some quiet music make this room a great place to rest and think about the Chinese-American experience
  • 41. Room 5: Festivals
    Use this handle to turn this scroll
    This scroll is very close to the wall and might be hard for visitors in wheelchairs or with other mobility impairments to turn
    Black font on red with a red case is very hard to read
  • 42. Room 6: Post Office and Store
    Lots to see, hear, and touch. How do you know what NOT to touch?
  • 43. Room 6: Post Office and Store
    This room is great for experiential learning, but it can be hard for children with impulse control problems to avoid the loose objects on shelves and in alcoves. There are few DO NOT TOUCH signs.
  • 44. Room 6: Post Office and Store
    Both of these buttons play audio segments that are very interesting, but also hard to hear and understand for those with hearing impairments. Accented speech further complicates understanding.
    This is a recurring problem in MOCA, especially in the other, louder rooms.
  • 45. Rooms 7 and 8: WWII and Today
    The last two rooms have multiple interactives. They provide great ways to enter into mid-twentieth century and contemporary Chinese-American culture
  • 46. Rooms 7 and 8: WWII and Today
    The last two rooms have many videos, lots of text, lots of audio and multiple distractions
  • 47. Rooms 7 and 8: WWII and Today
    What a great solution for blocking out background noise for the hearing impaired, those with SPD, AD/HD, or auditory processing disorder!
    If only the screen was visible from below
  • 48. Problems facing visitors with AD/HD at MOCA
    People with AD/HD face many distractions in MOCA
    • Walls with many labels, objects and images
    • 49. Objects dangling from the ceiling
    • 50. Multiple types of lighting
    • 51. Loud sounds
    • 52. Interactives next to objects that say DO NOT TOUCH
  • Disabilities: Visual Impairments at MOCA
    • People with low vision would find it difficult to read the font sizes on the labels and some of the exhibitions at MOCA
    • 53. The lighting at MOCA might make it difficult for those with visual impairments to see the objects or read the labels
    • 54. Color choices for fonts and for displays might make reading challenging for people with visual impairments
    • 55. Those with AD/HD, SPD, autism, or even people who require reading glasses might find it difficult to read with all of the light, font, and color choices in the museum
    • 56. Surveys and interviews with older walk-in visitors found that font size and the amount of text interfered with the comfort of the average visitor.
  • Mobility Impairments and MOCA
    The Americans with Disabilities Act gives standards institutions must meet in their design for visitors with disabilities. This new building for MOCA meets the standards for those with physical disabilities, with a few potential problems that might limit experiences in MOCA.
    Some screens and labels are not visible from wheelchair sight level
    Some interactives cannot be manipulated by those with neurological weaknesses or those in wheelchairs
    Many of the display cases are at a good height for those in wheelchairs
  • 57. Summary
    MOCA is a beautifully-designed museum that teaches visitors about the experiences of the Chinese in America
    The museum imparts a lot of valuable information in interesting and exciting ways
    For visitors with AD/HD, SPD, visual impairments, mobility impairments, hearing impairments, or dyslexia, there may be some challenges in the space
    Sometimes the museum’s designs are very welcoming to those with disabilities (interactive elements, accessible display cases). Sometimes they are not (small font size, dim lighting, screens that are not visible from below, too many objects on the wall)
    MOCA might want to think about the principles of universal design in core exhibition so that people of all backgrounds have comfortable, enjoyable, educational experiences in the museum
  • 58. Some Suggestions for MOCA
    Place fewer objects and labels on wall to limit distractions
    Make movies have on/off modes with buttons for visitors to push
    Increase font size
    Include more earphones for audio features and then turn up the volume
    Provide a handheld guide in large print
    Check that screens are visible for everyone of all heights, in wheelchairs or walking
    Take some objects that are at ceiling or floor level and reproduce them in a handheld booklet available to all visitors
    Make buttons and interactives more obvious with clearer signage
    Include fewer written passages superimposed on photos and increase the amount of text on simple backgrounds
  • 59. Some Suggestions for Visitors to MOCA with Disabilities
    For those with AD/HD or SPD, think about bringing ear plugs or headphones to block out unwanted noises.
    MOCA is a dialogic museum that prides itself on having personnel available to visitors much of the day—ask for a helper or guide to lead you through the museum.
    Plan to look at only one level of information on the walls or think about only looking at pictures or only white labels or only movies, etc. Return later to see more of the museum.
    Use MOCA’s interactive website to do some learning in advance so the visit can be entirely experience-based.
  • 60. More Suggestions for Visitors to MOCA with Disabilities
    For those who are hard of hearing, ask if there is a printed transcript of movies and audio interactives
    For those who are visually impaired, ask if there are large font print-outs of labels or other textual components
    Teachers with students with AD/HD should make sure to talk to the children in advance about not touching unless told to touch an object. The teacher should also try to find places for the student to focus closely on a topic or object rather than seeing the overwhelming whole.
  • 61. Sources
    Abraham, S., E. Fisher, and L. Master-Huth. (2010, December 20). MOCA Research Report. Report for EDUC 616.
    CATEA/Access E-Learning:
    CDC/Autism Spectrum Disorders:
    The Center for Universal Design—Universal Design Principles:
    Guidance on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design:
  • 62. Sources
    MOCA’s Informational Brochure
    MOCA’s website:
    Museum of Science/Exhibition Development Resource (Universal Design):
    National Center for Learning Disabilities/What is Dyslexia?:
    National Institute of Mental Health/What are the symptoms of ADHD in children?:
    National Resource Center for ADHD/What is ADHD?:
  • 63. Sources
    “Sensing Trouble” (2010, March 1). The Boston Globe.:
    Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation/red flags:
    Strategies for Teaching Students with Visual Impairments:
    TeensHealth/Hearing Impairment:
    YouTube tour with Maya Lin: