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Accessibility at the Mütter Museum

sjeffcoat's picture

This past weekend I made a visit to the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, a museum of medical history that exists under the auspices of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. After our discussions in class last week about the myriad of ways in which so many museums and exhibits are inaccessible, particularly for individuals with sensory and mobility impairments, I wanted to pay close attention to the accessibility of the exhibits I was touring. 

While the main entrance had only stairs, with no ramp or wheelchair lift, the museum’s website states that they have a wheelchair accessible entrance on another side of the building. Unfortunately, the accessibility section of their website is very sparse. I did see on the website and when purchasing tickets that Personal Care Assistants (PCAs) visiting with their clients are provided complimentary admission. The lower level of the exhibit appeared to only be reachable by stair, but according to their website there is an elevator that can only be accessed with the aid of a visitor service assistant. As the presence of any elevators was not obvious and this information was not communicated at the admission desk, I felt that this was not really an accessible option. It’s possible that they volunteer this information to individuals with visible disabilities, but that leaves a large swath of disabled patrons without knowledge of accessibility options. 

For some reason, the written descriptions for the majority of the items on display were placed around ground level, so I had to sit down on the ground in order to read many of them. Not only is this an annoyance for the able-bodied patrons, it makes moving through the museum significantly more difficult for anyone with mobility issues or disabilities like arthritis that make crouching a hardship. Additionally, the text on many of the labels was very small, an issue that is addressed on the museum’s FAQ page with an unsatisfying answer: “While most of the labels in the Museum have been updated in a larger font, some of the older text and labels remain. This is an ongoing project that we hope to complete in the near future.” Apparently, they also offer sign language and “multi-sensory” tours, but I was unable to find much information about what these entail. Certain areas of the museum, such as the garden of medicinal plants, appeared to be only accessible via stairs. 

Overall, I felt that the accessibility of the Mütter Museum was lacking. This issue is especially egregious in light of how the institution showcases disability and physical difference. If you are going to be displaying the corpses and body parts of disabled individuals, the least you can do is ensure that your exhibits are accessible to the population you profit from.