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March 29, 2013 / ivytechartspartner

Kristina Johnson: Dedicated to Advancing Accessibility in Museums

In many ways, Kristina Johnson is not a typical graduate student from IUPUI. She readily admits she was an unmotivated student in undergraduate studies, but she discovered her passion much later in her academic life. Some might say she discovered a new life later in life, and all of it came about with the sudden onset of hearing loss.
After completing her undergraduate studies, she was looking for some career direction. She worked in banking, real estate, and retail for a time while trying to figure out her path. She considered going back to school to pursue a career in education, then her “disability” brought into sharp focus the direction her life was to take.
“Then I began losing my hearing, it was easy to think, ‘well, what do I do now?'” she said.
Through a friend who was doing some writing for an online publication, Johnson decided to try her hand at writing about cultural activities. She soon found that her love of concerts was compromised by her diminished hearing, but decided to give museums a try because she’d always enjoyed the experience. However, she soon discovered that even museums were not “totally accessible” to everyone with a disability. But she did find a group in New York City, The Museum Access Consortium, that inspired ideas for her next step.
The group worked with cultural groups to get them engaged and talking about all of the challenges that are missed by just complying with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) guidelines. As Johnson states, “meeting the needs of this population goes beyond building ramps or having printed material in Braille.”
This realization changed her view of her life, her education and career goals. She completed a degree program and, at age 33, entered the IUPUI Graduate School in Museum Studies. The course she chose provided her with the opportunity to pursue and shape three internships at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis where she made significant impact. She has also taken the initiative to visit and network with other Indianapolis area museums and offer consultations with the purpose of raising awareness, offer advice, and build her own knowledge of different museum environments and their accessibility challenges.
“I’ve offered to walk through their facility as a person with a disability, and I often found some accessibility issues,” she said. “I’m like the intern who never goes home.”
In each case, her observations and recommendations have been taken to heart and prompted action. Her advocacy for greater accessibility has also prompted the creation of a roundtable series entitled Access Indy.
Founded by Johnson, with support from the IUPUI Museum Studies Department and an advisory committee of local museum professionals, Access Indy is described in their publicity as ‘a movement to unite museums and cultural arts professionals as they work toward improving access and inclusion for visitors with disabilities.’
A series of panel discussions addressing issues such as Alzheimer’s, Autism, and other cognitive disabilities began in November and continued into mid April providing opportunities for discussion and education for the cultural community. If all this sounds like the New York City non-profit model, it has been no accident.
“I would like to see Access Indy become a permanent fixture here, and it would be great if every major city in this country established something like it,” she said. “A group like this can then reach out to museums and cultural organizations in smaller communities too. The need is everywhere, but how do you break the invisible wall that we don’t always think of when we think about disabilities?”
To read more of Kristina’s story, please click here.

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