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Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Young people talking, one with a disability sitting in a wheelchair.

» Background

In 1973, Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act. This civil rights law sought to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination in a host of areas, including Federal employment and contracting, as well as Federally funded programs and activities. Section 504 of the Act This is a link to a page outside the NASA domain prohibits discrimination based on disability in programs receiving Federal financial assistance (Federally assisted programs) and Federally conducted, or Agency, programs.

» Compliance Requirements

» Promising Practices

Compliance Requirements

Blind person using brail to read.

Relatively little specific guidance exists for fund recipients for implementing these Section 504 requirements. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and agency regulations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 include roughly similar requirements for a designated responsible employee and grievance procedures.

Outside the formal regulatory process, the Department of Education has developed technical assistance material This is a link to a page outside the NASA domain to further inform grant recipients of how to fulfill their Title IX obligations. The Department of Justice recommends fund recipients to abide by these recommendations.

Designation and Notification of Responsible Employee

The NASA Section 504 regulations Federal Register Vol. 81, No. 14 Friday, January 22, 2016 Rules and Regulations make clear that fund recipients must designate a responsible employee to coordinate the recipients’ compliance with the regulations. While Section 504 provides relatively little specific guidance for implementing this requirement, the DOJ and NASA regulations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 include roughly similar requirements for a designated responsible employee (DRE) and grievance procedures.

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DOJ has recommended fund recipients abide by these recommendations and has summarized the responsibilities and job requirements for the Designated Responsible Employee (DRE). These responsibilities include:

  • Providing consultation and information to potential complainants,
  • Distributing and receiving grievance forms,
  • Notifying parties, scheduling hearings, moderating procedures, monitoring compliance and timeliness, maintaining records, and training staff regarding grievance processes, and
  • Providing ongoing training and technical assistance.

According to the Department of Justice, for the DRE to be effective:

  • The functions and responsibilities of the DRE must be clearly delineated and communicated to all levels of the entity, employees, and program participants, and
  • The DRE must be provided all information and authority and access necessary to enforce compliance requirements.

Because these requirements are not specifically included as part of the Section 504, they should be used as rough guidelines for Section 504 compliance and not as strict requirements.

Grievance Procedures

The NASA Section 504 regulations require recipients to develop adequate grievance procedures that provide for the prompt and equitable resolution of complaints alleging any action prohibited by Section 504. Such procedures need not to be established with respect to complaints from applicants for employment or from applicants for admission to postsecondary educational institutions.

These regulations and accompanying materials do not provide exacting details about the requirements for a grievance procedure. Nonetheless, as with the DRE, Title IX technical assistance material provides useful benchmarks for an adequate grievance procedure. While recognizing that institutions may be required to adopt unique grievance procedures, this material does outline information the basic information sought in a complaint process:

  • the name, address, and signature of the complainant;
  • a sufficient description of the alleged discrimination to let the organization know what occurred;
  • the identity of the injured party;
  • the name and address of the institution alleged to have discriminated;
  • the approximate date(s) on which the alleged discrimination took place; and
  • sufficient background information to permit the organization to commence an investigation.

Program Access

Lady in wheelchair working in office environment.

Section 504 prohibits discrimination against qualified persons with disabilities. In general, this means that people who would otherwise be qualified to participate in a program cannot be discriminated against based on their disability. This obligation prohibits discrimination in the forms of segregation, denial of participation, discriminatory eligibility criteria, and other possible forms of discrimination.

It also requires active steps to ensure equal participation by people with disabilities, such as making reasonable modifications of policies, removing architectural accessibility barriers that limit access to programs and activities (discussed later), providing accommodations and train employees on how to ensure that programs, services, and activities are accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Effective Communication

The NASA regulations provide that:

Recipients shall take appropriate steps to ensure that no handicapped individual is denied the benefits of, excluded from participation in, or otherwise subjected to discrimination in any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance because of the absence of auxiliary aids for individuals with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills.

This "effective communication" requirement means that Federal fund recipients must take steps to ensure that people with disabilities are not excluded based on disabilities that affect communication. This requirement may include providing sign language interpreters, transcripts, or Braille or audio information.

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The term "auxiliary aids" is not specifically defined in the NASA Section 504 definitions. The DOJ Section 504 regulation, which agency regulations must conform with, defines "auxiliary aid" as:

Auxiliary aids means services or devices that enable persons with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills to have an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, programs or activities conducted by the agency. For example, auxiliary aids useful for persons with impaired vision include readers, Brailled materials, audio recordings, telecommunications devices and other similar services and devices. Auxiliary aids useful for persons with impaired hearing include telephone handset amplifiers, telephones compatible with hearing aids, telecommunication devices for deaf persons (TDD’s), interpreters, note takers, written materials, and other similar services and devices.

Because meeting the "effective communication" requirement is essential for program participants in deriving equal opportunities and benefits from the Aquarium’s programs, it is essential for meeting the Aquarium’s overall program access requirements under Section 504.

Architectural/Facilities Accessibility

The NASA Section 504 regulations distinguish between existing facilities and newly constructed or altered facilities. Newly constructed facilities and alterations must be "readily accessible to and usable by" people with disabilities. In general, this means that such facilities and alterations must meet the stringent Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS). However, in light of revisions to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations in 2010, DOJ recently advised grant awarding agencies that they can allow grant recipients to choose between using UFAS or the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design This is a link to a page outside the NASA domain (the 2010 Standards) for any new construction and alterations, until such time as the agencies adopt the 2010 Standards. NASA expects to revise its Section 504 regulations in 2013 to require grantees to use the 2010 ADA standards."

By contrast, for existing facilities, NASA fund recipients must ensure that their programs or activities are accessible "when viewed in their entirety." This requirement does not mean that every physical feature of a facility must meet the UFAS standards, but the UFAS standards generally provide a useful benchmark for those portions of a facility that are used for programs, services, or activities.

Instead, the recipient may choose to redesign equipment, reassign services to accessible locations, or choose other methods that ensure accessibility for people with disabilities: "In choosing among available methods for meeting the requirement of paragraph (a) of this section, a recipient shall give priority to those methods that offer programs and activities to handicapped persons in the most integrated setting appropriate."

Promising Practices

Designation and Notification of Responsible Employee

Formal Accessibility Committee

Denver Museum of Natural Science building, where the Accessibility Committee works with the Very Special Arts of Colorado.

The Denver Museum of Natural Science (DMNS) created an Accessibility Committee to ensure that it was provided a welcoming and positive experience for everyone. This of course involves making the building physically accessible as well as psychologically, emotionally, and intellectually safe and inviting for guests and employees.

Through the Accessibility Committee the Museum works with Very Special Arts (VSA) of Colorado, an affiliate of VSA Arts International.... in cooperation with VSA Arts Colorado the Museum completes periodic walk-through's to ensure our building is accessible for all audiences the most recent walk-through was conducted on November 15, 2007. In addition to walk-through's, VSA Colorado conducted Customer Service Accessibility training for all front-line visitor-facing staff and volunteers and a general accessibility information session/training open to all staff in February and June of 2007.

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In general, the work of the Accessibility Committee and the Museum's partnership with VSA were both highly received. VSA Arts is a national organization, which receives funding from the Department of Education.

VSA in Colorado works with the Rocky Mountain Disability & Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC). VSA has been working with DMNS for about three years. The effort started as a workshop and gradually picked up momentum.

DMNS also formed an Inclusivity Committee to further the Museum's mission of serving a broader cross-section of the Denver community. The Inclusivity Committee is based on a blueprint document developed by the Denver Foundation. As noted in DMNS's 20/20 Strategic Plan, a key objective is to "Diversify the ethnic and economic makeup of the Museum's visitors and members by increasing participation by underserved audiences."

This includes "implement[ing] the Blueprint for Inclusiveness with annual benchmarks" and "achiev[ing] annual improvement against 2008 baseline." Each year, the committee develops a blueprint that sets forth its overall focus. The committee meets once a month and the current focus is on ethnic diversity. The goal is to ensure that DMNS reflects the needs of the community. Currently, there are 22 people on the Inclusivity Committee -- 20 staff members and two volunteers.

Communications Systems in Place to Address Immediate Visitor Needs.

Seattle Aquarium has an excellent communication system within its operations to address the immediate needs of its visitors. Staff members carry two-way radios so that visitor questions and needs are addressed almost immediately through directly responsible supervisors.

This “team approach” can be utilized in combination with a Section 504 Designated Responsible Employee (DRE) for the organization. Indeed, many other organizations have succeeded best with a single DRE working in concert with a team of others who implement accessibility policies in a manner specific to the different aspects of the organization.

Grievance Procedures

Visitor Experience Monitoring Process

The Visitor Experience Monitoring Process being implemented by the Museum of Science in Boston may be a useful step in gathering information regarding the needs of individuals with disabilities. Participant feedback is one of the most important means of ensuring that program participants with disabilities are being afforded equal access to the goods and services of a program. At the same time, collecting candid and meaningful feedback can be a daunting task. Online ticketing and the Internet provide an innovative tool for collecting better and more useful information from program participants.

Program Access: Organization, Effective Communication, and Architectural Accessibility

Demonstrated Organizational Commitment to the Needs of Visitors with Disabilities

As a customer-focused organization, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center This is a link to a page outside the NASA domain (USSRC) and its space camp spend considerable resources training its staff and provides four weeks of training for each of its counselors. This dedication to the needs of its visitors is also reflected in the low incidence of complaints by visitors. During our Section 504 compliance review of USSRC, NASA was only able to identify less than a half-dozen complaints, which is remarkably low for an organization that receives approximately one half million visitors each year.

The Center has demonstrated a strong commitment to the needs of visitors with disabilities. Through the special camps that it operates for people with disabilities, its success in integrating people with disabilities into its regular operations, and its close working relationship with the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind This is a link to a page outside the NASA domain, the Center has excellent resources available to it. Bringing these resources together with regular committee meetings is an excellent strategy that the center should reestablish in the future.

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The Center has noted that they have had an increasing number of children with disabilities participating in their Space Camp program. It has also seen an increase in the number of students with multiple disabilities. The center has also observed an increase in the number of students who are autistic or who have Asperger Syndrome.

The Center originally hired counselors who were focused on a science background. More recently and in response to their changing needs, it has focused on hiring counselors who had experience or expertise on special education and teaching careers. Some of their counselors have disabilities and others are trained to work with particular types of disabilities.

When new counselors are hired, the Center tries to identify particular types of accommodations that they are good at. For instance, the Center will identify counselors with a background in special education or with a proficiency in sign language. The center also tries to identify those areas that counselors are not good at or prefer to avoid. In so doing, the center tries to align the needs of Space Camp participants with the special skills and abilities of its counselors.

Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students (SCIVIS) Program

Rocket at Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students.

The USSRC Space Camp has a close working relationship with the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, resulting in the Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students (SCIVIS) Program This is a link to a page outside the NASA domain. This special program offers students with hearing and vision impairments a unique immersive opportunity without the stigma of "special" treatment. The SCIVIS program originated with a group of blind students who came to the Center in 1989. Since then, it has expanded to include 150 to 200 students for each of its two camps (including the Space Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing This is a link to a page outside the NASA domain, described below).

To make the SCIVIS program effective, the Center works with approximately 50 to 100 facilitators from around the country to ensure that all of the needs of its participants are met. In addition, a blind engineer from the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and other vision-impaired speakers visit the SCIVIS program, which encourages participants to consider career opportunities in space technology.

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The Center also operates Space Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, which focuses on the specific needs of students with hearing impairments. During this week-long course, students are provided with sign language interpreters, closed-circuit televisions for real-time communications during missions, video phones, TTYs, close captioning, and deaf education teachers.

The Center indicates that they have also worked closely with the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, and the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, as well as the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind, to provide a "meaningful and inspirational experience" for these students. As described in the program pamphlet:

[p]rogram highlights may include a presentation by blind and/or deaf professionals on career choices and working in the space industry. Enlarged print, sign language interpreters, attention to mobility hazards and other special considerations are extended to put trainees at ease. Blind students also benefit from the latest technology in the field, including tactile Braille displays and synthetic speech for computers.

The special programs run by the Center for students with disabilities is one of the most promising practices and should serve as a model for other NASA recipients with an educational mission. For two weeks each year, the center completely redesigns its Space Camp facilities to specially accommodate the needs of vision impaired and deaf participants.

For its blind and low vision participants, the Center provides Braille embossed overlays for instrument panels, large print manuals for low vision participants, and Braille manuals for blind participants. For its deaf and hearing-impaired participants, the Center provides video connections that enable participants to use sign language to communicate with each other. The programs that the students engage in are identical to the missions run by other Space Camp programs.

By enabling them to perform critical missions without the stigma of their disabilities, many students gain confidence that they would not otherwise be able to achieve in a more mainstream environment. This opportunity also enables students from rural communities to meet other students with similar disabilities from around the world, develop friendships, and overcome the isolation that many have experienced for their entire lives.

At the same time, Space Camp counselors develop special sensitivity and skills in accommodating the needs of students with disabilities. The counselors and theCcenter carry over these lessons learned to its other camps. If students with vision or hearing impairments chooses not to attend a SCIVIS camp, the Center tries to provide the same level of accommodations as the SCIVIS program (because SCIVIS attracts a large number of counselors with special training and students with similar disabilities, however, the Center cannot fully replicate the accommodations or immersive experience available at SCIVIS).

During our Section 504 compliance review of USSRC, NASA noted that many students with disabilities take part in the mainstream camps offered by the center.  This suggests that students with disabilities are not segregated by the center and are not denied the opportunity to fully integrate with students without disabilities.

Employee Training

The USSRC indicates that employees (and particularly counselors) are given extensive training, including specific training geared towards the needs of people with disabilities. All employees receive orientation training on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and personnel policies are carefully reviewed with them.

Each year, the Center hires a large number of counselors for its Space Camp programs. All counselors receive an unusually long four-week intensive training course that completely reviews their job responsibilities and includes special attention towards the needs of people with disabilities. The center makes a point of ensuring that its lessons learned from its strong efforts in accommodating people with disabilities carries over in this training.

The Center’s Director of Nursing, who works in the Aerospace Division of the Center, provides two hours of special needs training that is devoted entirely to the special needs of participants with disabilities, which is critical to better ensuring equality of access.

Predictive Sales System

The USSRC Guest Services department at the Center estimates that 10-15% of visitors have disabilities. For visitors who arrive as part of groups, the Guest Services sales staff asks about special needs and they find that it is much easier to provide needed accommodations. To the maximum extent possible, the center tries to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities in advance of their arrival.

For instance, for school groups that arrange their visits in advance, it tries to understand the special needs of their visitors and makes special arrangements ahead of time to ensure that their needs are met. For these visitors, the Center uses a special software program to ensure that resources (including accommodations for visitors with disabilities) are available. The Center can use this data to help predict needs and ensure that adequate resources are available at all times.

Early Identification of Need for Visitor Accommodations

The USSRC has little trouble accommodating the needs of students when disabilities are identified ahead of time. The Center makes sure to request this information, both in its application materials and in its general medical intake forms that are part of the admissions process.

All Space Camp participants must sign up at least two weeks in advance of Space Camp. Advertising material for Space Camp advises parents that they make special efforts to accommodate the special needs of participants with disabilities, but advance notice of the special-needs is required on the healthcare form for all participants.

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The health form requires that students identify all medical conditions, physical or learning disabilities, and any emotional or behavioral problems. In addition, students are required to identify any medication that they are required to take during their attendance. Trainees are also advised that, "during simulator training, individuals may experience up to three G's gravitational force, strobe or flashing lights, or fluid shifts. Persons with cardiac conditions, severe pulmonary dysfunctions, sensory handicaps or chronic illness may not be able to participate fully in the program."

This advance notice gives the center time to align participants with the special skills of their counselors. Information from the applications and health intake forms for Space Camp participants are computerized and, before students arrive, counselors receive a detailed printout outlining the special needs for each of their students. Counselors also have the opportunity to receive special handling instructions from parents. Also, the center allows parents or guardians of children with disabilities to accompany their children (if necessary or requested) free of charge.

Use of Universal Design Principles in Exhibit Design

Museum of Science, Boston, MA.

The Museum of Science (MOS) in Boston does an exceptional job at meeting the needs of participants with disabilities in its exhibit design. MOS goes beyond the basic incorporation of Universal Design This is a link to a page outside the NASA domain principles in its exhibits—instead, it considers the full cognitive and social impact of its designs.

Also, by creating a seamless experience for all users, MOS’s innovative staff creates a more enriching and thought-provoking experience for all users. NASA views MOS as a leader in this area. MOS has had great success with research on the needs of deaf and hard of hearing visitors in accessing exhibits within the museum. As technology improves, the usefulness of handheld technologies for eliminating barriers for people with disabilities will likely improve.

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Starting in the late 1980s, MOS started to focus on exhibit designs to include a multi-sensory experience. This effort extended to include the older exhibits, many of which were never designed with accessibility in mind. Since then, MOS has rapidly become a leader in the area of universal design for displays and computer interactive exhibits. At MOS, the focus is on ensuring that exhibits fully incorporate universal design beyond just usability to ensure the exhibits are socially inclusive and facilitate learning from a variety of perspectives.

MOS provided a listing of 30 publications since 1990 (10 since 2007) focused on accessibility and universal design principles in the museum setting.1 For instance, MOS developed universal design guidelines in 2007 under grant from the National Science Foundation. These guidelines included a strong focus beyond accessibility and examined how to ensure social inclusion and cognitive access.2 MOS has led the field in conducting research studies focused on ensuring that deaf visitors benefit to the same extent as hearing visitors.

For instance, they have experimented with handheld video tours and different learning modalities to more fully appreciate the cultural differences of "life in translation" and have developed best practices internally based on deaf user focus groups.3 This work combined the efforts of MOS with the British-based Antenna Audio, which focuses on audio interpretation technology for museums. Although the results were inconclusive (largely because, unlike art museums, science museum rely so heavily on interaction), it is valuable research and an incentive for additional research as handheld technologies improve.

MOS has also conducted research focus groups involving users of various ages and with different disabilities to assess usefulness and interactivity of different methods of computer interactive exhibits.4 MOS recognizes that museums need to go beyond ordinary accessibility rules because they are learning environments and because they have a high degree of control over how to design exhibits to facilitate learning.5

In addition to their leadership in research on universal design principles, MOS has also implemented many best practices in the design of their exhibits. Exhibit design considers how to be inclusive from a physical, cognitive, and social way and they have found that the best way to accomplish these goals is to ensure that displays are flexible and use several different modalities.6

MOS has developed processes for considering how an exhibit creates opportunities and challenges for people with disabilities. MOS breaks this evaluation process down into different stages (e.g. formative, summative, etc.) that gives the museum standard ways of looking at the problem at different stages of an exhibit's development. Part of the MOS process also involves recruiting users with disabilities to help test and evaluate exhibit design and developing metrics around different approaches. This gives MOS the ability to wrap objective data around different accessibility choices. MOS reaches out to state and local disability commissions, university disability centers and VSA (Very Special Arts) for advice on exhibit design.

Staff Training on Accessibility

The Denver Museum of Natural Science (DMNS) partnered with Very Special Arts of Colorado, an affiliate of the International Organization on Arts and Disabilities, to provide a one-day panel training to help the Museum understand the day to day needs of people with disabilities at the Museum. All of the public-facing staff were required to attend the training and everyone we interviewed remembers the training clearly and thought that it was particularly useful. Some participant recalled that the training enabled them to think more broadly about what accessibility meant -- particularly in the area of cognitive disabilities.

Extensive Outreach Efforts to Disability Groups

The DMNS also engages in extensive efforts to reach out to and work with various organizations to bring home best practices for helping its visitors with disabilities. The Museum has worked with science coordination teams in different school districts and other cultural institutions that face similar challenges in meeting the needs of visitors with disabilities.

The Museum also has worked with the Anchor Center for the Blind This is a link to a page outside the NASA domain, which is one of their customers. The Anchor Center appreciates the fact that DMNS has so many touch-based experiences for students and has a generally accessible route throughout the facility. DMNS has created a Youth and Teacher Initiative, which includes members from the community (such as the Boys Club and Girls Club), K-12 participation, higher education (such as University of Colorado) and other organizations.

Some of the work that they have been doing recently influences design of the new facility to incorporate different modes of learning. The Museum's Edge of the Wild exhibit was recently given an award by the American Association of Museums (AAM) for accessibility. In addition, they worked with an outside consultant to develop descriptive audio and the DMNS Mineral Hall.

Flexibility and Willingness to Accommodate People with Disabilities

The DMNS's flexibility and willingness to accommodate people with disabilities is evident in its ability to provide accommodations for its visitors with disabilities. For visually impaired visitors, the Museum assigns a volunteer to accompany the visitor and provide information and assistance with only a request for about two or three weeks notice in advance to provide this accommodation.

About once a month, DMNS receives a request from a school group for touch-based exhibits to assist school children with vision disabilities. The Museum also lets children stay overnight (as part of their camp programs) and they have little difficulty providing accommodations in the setting.

DMNS also offers summer and weekend camps (sometimes with parents) and they had provided accommodations in this setting. The review team observed that the DMNS is able to tailor accommodations requests to the context of the exhibit experience.

For example, they were able to allow deaf students in the planetarium to communicate through American Sign Language using flashlights in the back of the planetarium and then used glow-in-the-dark gloves which provide an even more tailored experience for deaf students. DMNS staff also has great facility for effectively accommodating the needs of people with developmental or cognitive disabilities.

Additionally, the Museum allows attendees for people with disabilities free admission to the Museum. Wheelchairs are also available at the front desk on a "first come first serve" basis -- but a visitor can call ahead and reserve one.

Special Accommodations that Go Beyond the Basic Requirements of Program Access.

Seattle Aquarium building.

The Seattle Aquarium has special accommodations that go beyond the basic requirements of program access for ensuring inclusion of the disabled community. For instance, the Aquarium maintains four loaner wheelchairs (and two backup loaner wheelchairs) for use on premises. These are available free of charge from the front desk.

This service greatly eases the burden of extended standing for the Aquarium’s visitors with mobility impairments or elderly visitors. In addition, while all people with disabilities are not offered free admission, their attendants are. The Aquarium does provide free admission to a large number of people with disabilities in the Seattle area.

In 2010, the Aquarium offered free admission to 1,100 “flash card” holders (a Seattle program for people with disabilities) and 3,200 “gold card” holders (a Seattle program for senior citizens—many of whom have disabilities).

Volunteer Programs

The Aquarium effectively develops and utilizes the skills, abilities, and enthusiasm of its hundreds of volunteers to meet the needs of many of its visitors, including those with disabilities, particularly in the Aquarium’s “Life on the Edge” exhibit. In addition to the 92 employees at the Aquarium, the Aquarium relies on its 500-800 volunteers, who donate over 60,000 hours annually to the Aquarium.

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Volunteers are required to attend training and the Aquarium has had a volunteer training program for many years. This training has included a Safety and Disability Awareness Program since 2001. The Aquarium has worked with Little Bit Therapeutic in Woodinville, Washington in developing this course for its volunteer training program.

In addition, the Aquarium and Little Bit have worked together to create an overnight adventure camp specific to people with disabilities. The volunteer selection process is tightly integrated with the training program. Several times a year, the Aquarium holds a three-hour Orientation Session to acquaint prospective volunteers about the Volunteer program. If the prospective volunteer is still interested, they can submit an application and then go through an interview process.

Candidates are selected based on the results of the interview process, as well as their schedule of availability. If they are selected, then they enter training. In addition to be trained on accessibility, volunteers are held accountable. Volunteers at the Aquarium are subject to routine personal review and evaluation and, in the event of inappropriate behavior; the Aquarium uses a three-step disciplinary procedure ultimately culminating in termination of the volunteer.

Open Captioning on All Video Displays

Although all museums have an obligation to ensure effective communication, relatively few provide open captioning on all of their video displays something accomplished by the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Based on its experience with its special camps devoted to students with disabilities, the center realized a need for ensuring that this content was comprehensible to people with hearing impairments. As a consequence, the Center spent considerable resources captioning its existing content to ensure that it was accessible to people who are deaf or who had hearing impairments.

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The Center is also unusual insofar as it provides front window captioning in its IMAX theater. This feature is a small captioning display that is visible only from specific locations—thus enabling deaf individuals to enjoy a presentation without disturbing sighted participants. This feature can accommodate 50 to 60 seats that have line of sight to the captioning display. Then it is requested, the usher takes care of the seating and ensures that patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing are seated in the proper locations.

The Center also does an admirable job of ensuring that its Space Camp is accessible and provides effective communication to its participants. As noted above, the center makes unusual efforts to ensure that deaf or hearing-impaired participants can communicate effectively with each other and with counselors.

In addition, for its blind and vision impaired participants, the Center makes special efforts to ensure that complex instrument panels and instruction manuals are fully accessible through Braille and large print, thereby enabling blind and vision impaired participants to fully take advantage of the programs offered at Space Camp. The Center has provided a video describing these special camps, which made clear that participants engage in the same missions and perform exactly the same activities as provided during its other camps.

Picture Frame Seating in IMAX Theater

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s IMAX theater includes special accommodations for people who are wheelchair users. Because IMAX theaters have a very large field of vision, wheelchair users may find it difficult or uncomfortable to view an IMAX presentation in its regular format. Recognizing this need, the Center has created special "picture frame" seating for wheelchair users (12 to 13 seats) that provide a special presentation of movies, but limited to a much smaller field of vision.

Accessible Transportation Systems

The USSRC purchased an accessible tramway system (similar to those used at major entertainment venues) to facilitate transporting patrons between its facilities and remote areas in its large parking lots.  The Center made special efforts to ensure that this tramway was accessible. The Center has also committed itself to ensuring that all new buses used for Space Camp are accessible and lift-equipped. The Center has been making special efforts to ensure that it can buy lift equipped buses from a local bus manufacturer.  The Center also uses a special lift-equipped Econoline van for persons with disabilities.  The Center also works with the city of Huntsville to obtain accessible transportation when needed.

1 Museum of Science, Boston, Bibliography of Access-Related Materials (Jan. 13, 2009).

2 Christine Reich, Universal Design Guidelines for Public Programs in Science Museums.

3 Elissa Chin and Christine Reich, Lessons from the Museum of Science’s First Multimedia Handheld Tour: The Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination Multimedia Tour (Aug. 2006)(funded by the NIST); Elissa Chin and Christine Reich, "Life in Translation": Addressing Deaf Visitors in Museums with an American Sign Language (ASL) Multimedia Tour (July 2006)(funded by the NIST).

4 Christine Reich, Universal Design for Computer Interactives for Science Museum Exhibitions (presented at 2006 Annual Meeting of the National Association of Research in Science Teaching (NARST)).

5 Christine Reich, Universal Design Guidelines for Public Programs in Science Museums.

6 Christine Reich & Anna Lindgren-Streicher, Conducting Evaluations with Persons with Disabilities (PowerPoint Presentation for 2007 Visitor Studies Association Conference).

7 See Howe letter, pp. 8-10, for steps MOS has taken and plans to take in regard to effective communication.

8 See This is a link to a page outside the NASA domain.

9 See This is a link to a page outside the NASA domain.