How to make online museum content more accessible. Also, Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf makes preservation plans and shows a movie.
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Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium

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Session tackles accessibility of online museum archives—issues and solutions


Marac Conference coverA talk at the October Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) tackled how archives can make their collections more accessible to people with disabilities. Sierra Green, archivist at the Heinz History Center’s Detre Library and Archives and Coalition steering committee member, went to the 90-minute session titled “We Can Improve: Equal Access to Collections for Patrons with Disabilities.”

Three speakers led the discussion, which was part of MARAC’s three-day conference in Buffalo, N.Y. Courtney Yevich Tkacz, of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts spoke of a project funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities to enhance online access to the museum’s collections. The initiative involved digitizing materials from archival collections as well as artifacts. As Tkacz began to assess the website’s compliance with Americans with Disabilities (ADA) guidelines, she realized that people with hearing and/or vision impairment could not fully engage with the digital collections. Tkacz shared tools and strategies that the museum used to first assess and then enhance the online experience of users with hearing and/or vision impairment.
  • An online tool called WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool), which evaluates the accessibility of websites and highlights errors.
  • Enriching the written descriptions of digitized images or documents via crowdsourcing, volunteers, and professionals trained in audio description.
  • Enriching the viewing experience of people with hearing impairment by closed captioning digitized films
Tkacz acknowledged that many organizations are working with limited resources. As a result, some archives may need to prioritize which items and films get the most attention and enhanced description. Tkacz also highlighted the Describing Visual Resources Toolkit developed by the University of Michigan.

A second speaker, Doug Platt from the Museum of disABILITY History in Buffalo, N.Y., gave a history of how the museum came to be established in 1998. The museum was consciously designed to be accessible for people with disabilities. It is possibly the only museum in the U.S. and one of two in the world fully dedicated to the subject of disability history (not counting online-only museums). For those not able to visit, the museum’s website offers a rich online experience along with a listing of traveling exhibits.

Finally, Michael Rembis, Director of the Center for Disability Studies and an Associate P­rofessor of History at the University at Buffalo, reflected on the history of the relatively new and evolving fields of Disability Studies and Disability History. He emphasized the critical role archivists play in collecting and preserving disability history as institutions close.

As Green explains, “The work that is done to tell the history of people with disabilities is predicated on the information that historians can find within archival collections. So we as archivists have a responsibility to ensure that the voices of people with disabilities are strong and are represented in our collections.”
MARAC’s April conference in Hershey, Pa. will include a session about the Pennsylvania State Archives’ collaboration with statewide organizations to preserve the history of institutionalization and the experiences of people with intellectual disabilities in the state. Speakers at that session will include Dana Olsen of the Pennsylvania History Coalition Honoring People with Disability and Lisa Sonneborn of the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University. Both organizations are founding members of the Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Consortium. Read more about the session on page 13 of the conference program.
Historical items at Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf
Some of the historical items preserved at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf are various technological aids used over the years, sports uniforms, and photographs.

Heinz archivists share expertise with Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf


Sierra Green and Emily Ruby of the Heinz History Center recently met with Aaron and Chris Noschese at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf to discuss preservation. Green, Ruby, and Chris Noschese are members of the Consortium steering committee.

The school has an extensive collection of original items that reflects its history, including photographs, yearbooks, correspondence, newsletters, film, athletic uniforms, desks, and much more. They’ve already integrated some of these materials into historical displays throughout the school.

“They understand the wonderful history that they have and they’re really hoping to take steps to proactively care for it and preserve the pieces of history that they have and create a space for people to engage with the history of the school,” said Green.
Notably, they have a significant run of the school’s internal newsletter. Green said this type of communication can offer an incredible window into what day-to-day life was like for students and teachers at the school.
The school’s long-term plans include creating an onsite museum and organizing and preserving the items they’ve saved. Green and Ruby offered some general advice on preservation, including blocking natural light and keeping the temperature and humidity as stable as possible in spaces where historical items are stored or displayed. As the school moves forward with the preservation project, the Heinz History Center will share their expertise as needed.

Read more about the school’s history in an article from a previous visit by Consortium members.

The Consortium can provide guidance to individuals and organizations about preserving and finding repositories for historic materials. Take our survey to share information about your historic materials or contact the Consortium at

School for the Deaf hosts movie screening


The Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf will show the movie Hedy & Heidi – The Lost Sister on February 24 at 7 p.m. Heidi Branch, who is deaf, plays both lead roles in this heartfelt comedy about sisters separated at birth.

Get more information and a link to buy tickets on the school's website. Tickets are $20, $15 for students, and doors open at 6 p.m. Sound and captions included. Watch a trailer here

Have you taken our survey?


If you haven't taken our survey yet, please do. The Consortium serves as a clearinghouse for records and artifacts that tell the story of disability rights history and activism in Western Pennsylvania. 

If you know of such items or information, we'd like to add them to the listings on our website. If you need help preserving them, we can help with that too. 

Contact us at
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