Wednesday, March 14, 2018

It’s Time for a National Museum on the American Experience with Disabilities

Two weeks ago, at the University of Hawaii I attended a lecture by Lonnie Bunch, III. He is a historian and the founding director of the newest museum on the Nation’s Mall – the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Dr. Bunch talked about how in 2005 he and his initial team of two, started with literally nothing and today offer visitors to Washington, D.C a museum that educates all about the American experience with slavery, segregation, heroes and heroines, and triumphs of the human spirit expressed in everyday events and culture over 400 years, as well as glimpses into tomorrow’s intersection between America and its African Americans. It has 6,000 visitors a day, 1/3 more than expected.

He told a fascinating story about how he started with nothing, secured prime real estate and treasured artifacts (using the Antiques Roadshow approach), raised money, around a billion dollars, and navigated Congress. Everyone thought he would never pull it off and should be happy with just a website! When he was initially hired, security would not let him into his office. He found a crowbar to let himself in. We could learn from this amazing man.

We need to build a museum about the American experience with disabilities. Anything that happens to a human being has happened to human beings who are individuals with disabilities, their families, and their social networks. It may have been more intense. It may have had either short term or long term effects. It could have been good or bad. Nonetheless, people who interact and engage around a disability-related experience are changed. I would argue changed for the better. Such an experience can develop or heightened understanding of another. The experience can make a person appreciate time and timing, recognize the difference between special treatment and practical accommodation, appreciate collaboration, celebrate problem solving and thinking out of the box, and value real inclusion and the opportunity to fully participate and contribute. These are powerful lessons about life, and of course there are more!

The 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act is July 26, 2020. Let’s all work together to draft and introduce legislation that would authorize the Smithsonian to establish a National Museum on the American Experience with Disabilities. Let me know what you think. It’s our turn, opportunity, and challenge. We can do it.

Thank you.

Common Grounder