Access + Ability at the Carnegie Museum of Art

One of my favorite things about working in Oakland is how close it is to some of Pittsburgh’s best cultural attractions, especially the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History. While it’s true that I’m often at work during their open hours, on Thursday nights they stay open until 8 PM – their cafe and fantastic coffee bar stay open late, too. So it’s the perfect time for me to check out the exhibits.

I’m SO excited to be able to talk about one of the current exhibits at the Carnegie Museum of Art – Access + Ability. The exhibit is organized by Cooper Hewitt, a Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City (actually housed in the Carnegie Mansion!). It showcases all sorts of assistive devices and technology. It really spans the whole spectrum of disability – from UNO cards designed specifically for people who are colorblind, to a cane with a sensor that depicts objects from the waist up that a blind person might not otherwise know about.

I had a few personal favorites from the exhibit. The first was this voting booth designed to be fully inclusive – it has headphones that can translate to multiple languages, a touchscreen tablet that can swivel down lower so that wheelchair users can reach it, and a large pad with arrows on the side for people who struggle with a touchscreen. The device even has the ability to pair with a smartphone, allowing voters to select their choices ahead of time and then transfer them to the device to confirm. I love the thought put into this design, and how many different concerns it considers.

This jacket is one used in Germany by a symphony. It takes the music being played live and translates into tactile vibrations, so that patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing can enjoy the music. Different sections on the jacket represent different sections of the symphony (strings, brass, etc.). I would love to see this brought to Pittsburgh – it’s so inclusive and helps the arts be open to everyone!

Finally, I had to highlight this intersection of form and fashion. These are stylishly designed prosthesis, allowing users to customize their prosthetis and make it their own. I love anything that makes adaptive devices stylish – things that serve their purpose but look good, too. Just like clothes can allow a person to express themselves, their prosthesis can, too!

It was so amazing to see this exhibit on multiple levels. The first is that the exhibit exists at all. This is huge in terms of representation – it’s not an exhibit in a museum that focuses on disability. It’s an exhibit in a mainstream museum, open to all. The exhibit was also really well done. It wasn’t condescending or preachy, it was just educational and informative and interesting! I also loved how interactive it was – they had so many stations set up throughout the exhibit where you could actually touch things.

If you’re in Pittsburgh, or nearby, DEFINITELY go check out this exhibit before it leaves in early September!

Now, if only the Cafe Carnegie would provide plastic straws upon request instead of the paper ones they currently have…

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