Washington DC: tech@lead museum accessibility and access in the city!

street with zebra crossing

Crossing the street on the National Mall in Washington DC

I was lucky enough to be invited (as from Connect Culture)  to Tech@Lead, ‘a pilot event that will bring together diverse experts and practitioners from a variety of fields, including the arts, education, design, exhibition, media, electronic and information technology, online experiences and mobile and portable device development and manufacture – all to advance the development and application of innovative technologies that support the inclusion of people with disabilities in the cultural life of our world.’ It was held at the Kennedy Center in collaboration with the Carl and Ruth Shapiro National Center for Accessible Media at WGBH and the Smithsonian Institution.

The conference was amazing and energising in having so many leading people in the fields of design, art, technology, museums, and gaming who created a focused conversation at how we can work together to make art of all forms accessible to the disabled community. People like Sina Bahram whom I found effervesent in his enthusiam for technological solutions, Nancy Proctor an inspiration from the Smithsonian and Museums and the Web, Halsey Burgund who excited me with his audio art and many others. I tried Google Glass and ByteLight and thought I saw a glimpse into the future.

Sina Bahram and neal Stimler demonstrating Google Glass

Sina Bahram and Neal Stimler demonstrating Google Glass

Thanks to Nancy I was also invited to the Smithsonian event the next day. As the Americans say – it was awesome! I was able to talk about the paper we contributed in the July 2013 special issue on accessibility of Curator Journal. These discussions gave me new ideas and inspiration for the Moving On Accessible Transport event we ‘re holding in November at the Coventry Transport Museum. It’s turning to be an international event because Scott Rains   (world traveller and universal design evangelist) will be able to join us and Christiane Link who will be speaking about German transport.

The tech@lead conference was only for the day but I stayed for longer than that to give myself a chance to get over the jet lag which I knew would hit me from previous experience. But here, I would like to talk a bit about the access in Washington DC – to give an idea to others who would like to visit or who will be visiting the city.

First of all, I stayed at 2 different hotels – both at Foggy Bottom, the George Washington University Inn and the Melrose. The GWU Inn is a boutique hotel, I loved the townhouses in this neighbourhood.  The accessible entrance is at the back and the room is comfortable (with 2 double beds!) and it even has its own coffee maker, microwave and fridge. The bathroom was spacious however, the toilet is very low and it is a bath and not a roll in shower. They do provide a bathseat which I found sturdy and I didnt have any problems transferring. (Would be much better with a helper). If I had any complaints it would be that each light and lamp need to be individually switched off, there was no central switch – which can be problematic if you cannot quite reach the appliances in question. I found the staff attentive and helpful (especially a woman named Vanessa).  It was also useful that they had a nice cosy restaurant on the premises.

I had to switch hotels because there were no accessible room available for me after the weekend. The Melrose was about 5 minutes away. Its a much bigger hotel and to get to the lifts, there was a platform lift . However obliging the staff were, there were quite a few times I had to wait for them to clear the trolley out to work it for me. I really like the shower room though. It was cosy and felt ‘safe’. However, I think the bathroom floor had a slippery surface.

If I were to complain it was that staff were less attentive – an engineer which was supposed to come did not turn up – my television did not work properly. (and there was only children’s HBO anyway so maybe it was not such a great loss). However lights flashed when the doorbell rang – so I would have been alerted if I was deaf. There was no microwave. I found both Trader Joe and Wholefood Supermarket close by – so a microwave would have been handy.

Foggy Bottom Metro station

Foggy Bottom Metro station

(to be continued)


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