Ideas for linguistic accessibility in museums

This article was first published by Museums + Heritage.

Though the word “accessibility” has often been equated with giving access to those with disabilities, it can also mean something broader. Accessibility means looking at everything we create through the lens of inclusivity and diversity and asking questions not just about access but equal access. Does the Deaf or Hard of Hearing community have access to everything you have to offer? Will those whose native language is not English feel welcome at your institution? What communities have you been, perhaps unknowingly, excluding?

This is what I call cultural and linguistic accessibility. Cultural accessibility involves giving access and representation to communities that have been historically underrepresented in your institution. An often-overlooked extension of this is linguistic accessibility—also known as “language equity.” The definition of language equity is threefold:

1.Creating opportunities for people whose native language is not English to feel welcomed at your museum and able to join its community.
2.Extending opportunities for staff members to partake in multiple languages.
3.Taking the active position that every language is a window into a culture and therefore worth preserving.

When linguistic accessibility techniques are used effectively, the results can be truly remarkable. Some museums have already actively worked towards creating change in that direction. Here are four strategies that pioneering institutions are currently using to embrace linguistic accessibility in 2023, and ways in which you can apply them to your organization.