Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series on issues in the deaf community.
Read “Baylor sign language policy sparks class credit debate”.
Read “Deaf fight for access, equality”.
By Sara Tirrito
Progress is important to Dr. Lewis Lummer, lecturer of communication sciences and disorders, and he has plans to bring it about, if only others will listen.
As a member of the deaf community in Waco, Lummer has noticed a lack of accessibility to the deaf at many local institutions. But there is one in particular that he would like to help change.
After visiting the Mayborn Museum Complex, located across the street from Baylor’s campus, Lummer said he felt the museum didn’t have sufficient accommodations for the deaf.
He was frustrated by not having sufficient information available so he could explain the exhibits to his two children, and the lack of captions on some exhibits that have auditory functions, among other things.
Lummer expressed his concerns to the museum staff in August and November 2010 and left his contact information. Though he thought the staff had seemed willing to help address his concerns at the time, Lummer said he never heard back from anyone at the museum.
The Lariat became aware of the situation in January and contacted the museum.
When the issue was brought to the attention of the museum’s staff, they said they were unaware that any complaints had been made.
“We’re a large place and we have lots of staff, volunteers, student workers, and most of the time they’re in my office with any sort of comments or suggestions from people for us to follow up on,” Dr. Ellie Caston, director of the museum, said. “We just obviously did not get that message.”
Communication was then sparked between the two parties, which eventually led to conversation between Caston and Lummer. Though no plans have yet been set to improve the museum’s accessibility to the deaf community, Caston said she and Lummer are in the process of discussing what can be done.
“At this point I think it’s very positive and we look forward to hearing what he has to say and what we might do to make things better,” Caston said. “I do think the outcome has been very positive and that we’ve established genuine communication, because I think a lot of it was sort of caused by miscommunication.”
Lummer said he believes the museum is now headed in a positive direction as far as becoming more accessible, and that he will be meeting with Caston in the near future.
“I believe that Dr. Caston and I will have a wonderful professional relationship and we look forward to working together to develop plans that represent our image at Baylor,” Lummer said. “It is a good start for both sides.”
In making the museum more accessible, Lummer hopes to involve various members of the Baylor family. Among other things, he would like to involve students with ASL-interpretation and deaf education minors in giving tours to deaf visitors at the museum and involve the English and visual arts departments in helping to shoot scenes for video demonstration clips that have text and are narrated in American Sign Language.
Having ASL narrators at the museum would also help enhance the experience of deaf visitors, Lummer said, because it allows them to relax from reading in the same way that listening allows hearing visitors to relax.
“How will people like the idea of reading, reading, reading, reading all the day at the museum without getting [to relax], taking a break from reading English everywhere?” Lummer said. “Why are there voices being narrated? It is for the pleasure.”
Currently, the museum does not have any ASL interpreters or narrators on staff, but staff members often try to learn some signs if they are expecting a group of deaf visitors, said Lesa Bush, assistant director of visitor experience.
“We don’t have any on staff, but we have a lot of former educators that have picked up some [ASL] in the classroom; they’ve had a lot of exposure to a lot of different kinds of special needs and so we’re very, very flexible by the nature of what we do,” Bush said. “So if we know for example that we’re going to have a hearing-impaired group, we might look at the program that they’ve signed up for and then maybe figure out a few of the signs that would help us to interact with one another within that program, but a lot of times the groups that come will bring an interpreter with them.”
Safety concerns, such as making sure those who are deaf have a way to communicate if they are stuck in an elevator, also need to be addressed, Lummer said.
Making changes at the museum and getting his students involved is important to Lummer because he wants to see progress made toward equality for the deaf community.
“Just equal opportunity. Increased knowledge, increased awareness,” Lummer said. “The Mayborn, that’s one way it can promote progress. I think that a lot of the deaf people — they should have equal opportunity and they have their rights for equal sharing of information, and so it’s really just to keep that going and make progress.”
Sonya Maness, assistant education coordinator, said having access to professors and students at Baylor who are professionals in their fields is a benefit to the museum because they can be resources in creating a more accessible museum experience.
“Part of the reason that we don’t specifically have special needs programming is because we know and respect our boundaries,” Maness said. “We’re not going to create a special needs program for hearing impaired people because we don’t have hearing impaired specialists on staff, and if we create the wrong thing that’s more damaging and more offensive than if we say to Baylor professors and students who are doing this for a living and preparing to do this for a living, ‘Please come in and work with us.’”
Caston said the museum staff is interested in ideas to make the exhibits more accessible to all visitors.
“One of the things that we find in the museum profession … is that usually when we make an exhibition or an exhibit more accessible for the hearing impaired or the visually impaired, it just makes the exhibit better for everybody, because we all like to touch, we all like to listen — if we can’t see something — to sounds and sights and more entertainment than just reading a label,” Caston said. “So we’ve found that good programming is good programming, and we’re always happy to make it better.”
Museums in general need to expand their programs and become more people-centric for all groups of people, including both the hearing and the deaf, Lummer said. He hopes the Mayborn Museum Complex will soon become an example to other museums.
“That’s my goal: progress. That’s all. For everybody to benefit, everybody to benefit,” Lummer said. “I want the museum to be a great example of taking the lead and becoming the model for how things are supposed to be. I want other people to look at them and copy them. That’s my goal.”