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A Garden for Everyone

Later this month marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While many cultural institutions across the country will celebrate this significant milestone, it is also a time to reflect and look forward. The U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG) is committed to welcoming every visitor into our garden spaces by providing both accessible facilities and inclusive programming.

As an accredited museum, we look to the recommendations promulgated by the American Alliance of Museum's (AAM) guidance document "Everyone's Welcome: The American with Disabilities Act and Museums," which incorporates ADA compliance as well as voluntary measures surrounding universal accessibility and design.

Several efforts ensure that visitors can explore every corner of the Garden, including our historic building. Accessible routes throughout the Garden are designated on our maps and shared with visitors upon entry by our friendly front desk staff. Installation of hand rails in our Conservatory allow visitors to more easily and safely navigate stairs through our Jungle space. Routine inspection and maintenance of our elevator allows all visitors to access the Jungle catwalk to further their exploration and enjoy a different vantage point – not to mention a peek over at Bartholdi Fountain! We recently added two all-terrain wheelchairs to our fleet available for loan. These new additions assist with maneuvering over various ground cover in our outdoor garden spaces.

We have made great strides to welcome visitors through printed, audio and programmatic offerings. Our visitor guides are available in Braille, large print and nine languages. Our cell phone tour covers both indoor and outdoor garden spaces. We have collaborated with our neighbors at the Office of Congressional Accessibility Services (OCAS) to provide sign language interpretation for public programs as well as guided tours. Hearing-aid compatible assistive listening devices are available upon request. Multi-sensory and tactile tours serve our visitors who are blind or have low vision.

The Garden regularly welcomes special education classrooms to our living plant museum, in particular, teachers and students from Saint Coletta of Greater Washington, a school serving children and adults with intellectual disabilities. By facilitating hands-on, experiential learning opportunities, we are able to offer greater access to our collections. Our Roots and Reflections program (pictured above) is designed specifically for individuals with dementia and their care providers, allowing them to reminisce and connect with each other. It provides attendees with an opportunity to engage with the world outside their care facility, creating positive experiences along the way.

The Explore4 program at the Garden.

This past spring, the U.S. Botanic Garden hosted two student volunteers participating in the District of the Columbia Public School (DCPS) Explore4 program. Explore4 provides DCPS high school students with disabilities the opportunity to experience four weeks of job-shadowing and skills development activities at local institutions. The goal of Explore4 is to better expose students with disabilities to a variety of careers so that they are able to make informed decisions about their postsecondary options. Both students trained on the chocolate discovery cart and engaged with the visiting public, strengthening their public speaking skills and delivery of information.

As we look ahead, there are several exciting initiatives on the horizon. We are in the beginning stages of developing pre-visit materials and planning for early opening opportunities for families with children on the autism spectrum in order to facilitate a successful museum visit. With the dedication of The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial just across from Bartholdi Park, the Garden is poised to collaborate with the National Park Service to work with our service men and women living with disabilities. Planning is also ongoing for a 2016 exhibit focused on therapeutic gardening in order to demonstrate the idea of health through horticulture.

As these, and other efforts get underway, the Garden is committed to the visitor-centered museum experience, ensuring access to the broadest audience, facilitating opportunities for meaning-making and creating lasting memories.

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