WAM: Accessibility Assessment Executive Summary

Sponsor Student Researchers Goals and Objectives Executive Summary Final Report and Video

There are approximately one billion people that have a disability in the world. According to the United Nations, people with a disability are “the world’s largest minority”. Of that one billion, 56.7 million people live in the United States of America as of 2010. (“Factsheet on Persons with Disabilities,”). To put that in perspective, roughly one in every five Americans (18.7 %) is challenged with some sort of disability every single day (Brault, 2012).

In the United States, the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) began the prohibition of the discrimination of people with disabilities and provided equal opportunity in many facets of life such as employment, transportation, and buildings open to the public(ADA, 2014). Providing equal opportunity for people with disabilities entails providing accommodations in accordance with the ADA. As a result, the passage of the ADA initiated reform for making buildings open for public use more accessible.

With the reform, buildings open for public use, like restaurants and museums; need to provide appropriate accommodations to be accessible. There are many factors to consider when trying to make a building open to the public accessible. These are due to the wide range of disabilities that need to be considered. As a result, the necessary reforms are often difficult and costly for many buildings or facilities. Specifically, older buildings, built before the enactment of the ADA, had no accessibility standards to follow.

One such building is the Worcester Art Museum (WAM). Built in 1898, the WAM is a vital member of the Worcester community; providing important insight on artistic aspects of cultures from around the world and generally promoting art in all its various forms. It is their vision to become more visitor friendly and inclusive to all demographics (“Worcester Art Museum,” 2014). Consequently, the Worcester Art Museum is committed to increasing their level of accessibility.

Accessibility at the WAM is important for many reasons. Currently the WAM is lacking accommodations for a certain demographic; those with physical disabilities. In order to address this, the Worcester Art Museum has sought the help of students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute to provide an initial assessment of their current level of accessibility.

Of note, the Worcester Art Museum is not only interested in meeting the ADA and its implementing regulations, they want to surpass the legal requirements. The museum cares deeply about its visitors and the visitor experience at the museum and wants to ensure that each individual has an equal experience while touring the museum.



The Worcester Art Museum has requested an assessment of their building on its level of accessibility for visitors with physical impairments. The goal of this project was to work in collaboration with the WAM to study the museum building and offer recommendations on changes the WAM can make to become more inclusive to their visitors. With the assistance of the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, we identified potential areas for improvement and offered our recommendations. To accomplish our goal of developing recommendations for the museum we came up with five objectives:

1.) Educate ourselves on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and its Amendments, and identify relevant/applicable building standards.

2.) Identify potential areas to improve visitor experience.

3.) Assess the Worcester Art Museum’s level of compliance with the building standards identified in Objective 1.

4.) Assess changes that the Worcester Art Museum could make to increase visitor satisfaction based on what other institutions have done.

5.) Develop recommendations for the Worcester Art Museum to help increase their level of accessibility.

For our project, we predominately worked with the museum staff and visitors. We sought out different professionals with expertise making facilities more accessible to people with disabilities. Simultaneously, we looked for other museums that have undertaken recent improvements to make their building more accessible. Below we detail the methods we used to accomplish our objectives.

To achieve these objectives we used various methods. We conducted interviews with our sponsors to determine what title the WAM fell under within the ADA. We performed a content analysis of the ADA, identifying relevant standards and guidelines. We surveyed visitors in order to gauge their experience while visiting the WAM. In addition to distributing these surveys, we utilized participant observations of visitors at the WAM to see how visitors interacted with the museum. We then conducted interviews with employees of the WAM to understand their experiences and observations with visitors and how to improve their experience. We also conducted additional interviews with staff at other museums to see what they have done to become more accessible. After conducting this research, we performed fieldwork within the WAM, assessing its level of compliance with the standards set by the ADA. Our deliverable to the WAM was a list of suggested recommendations to increase their level of accessibility and improve their overall visitor experience.


From the various methods and research we have done to help the museum, we identified numerous findings that allowed us to deduce relevant and useful recommendations for the WAM. The following is an outline of our findings.

1.      The Worcester Art Museum is committed to increasing their level of accessibility.

After working with the WAM, we found that the museum staff and executives are committed to increasing their level of accessibility. Through working with our sponsors and witnessing the work the WAM has already initiated, including construction of the new Access Bridge at the Salisbury Street entrance, we found that the WAM is dedicated to becoming more accommodating to their visitors.

2.      The Worcester Art Museum falls under Title III of the ADA.

While interviewing with our sponsor we were able to conclude that the WAM fell under Title III of the ADA based on three criteria. The criteria are: 1) the WAM is privately owned, 2) the WAM is not operated by state or local government, and 3) the WAM is not federally funded.

3.       The areas of the WAM that required assessment are: parking, entrances/exits, signage, lobbies, restrooms, galleries, and classrooms.

Among the covered topics within the ADA, we chose to specifically target and evaluate parking, entrances/exits, signage, lobbies, restrooms, galleries, and classrooms. We found that these areas are the most important to assess due to their high traffic within the museum and frequency of which they appeared in the 108 visitor complaints that we analyzed. The distribution of complaints can be seen below in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Distribution of WAM Visitor Complaints from June 2011 to September 2014

  visitor complaintsss

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4.      The structures that required assessment within the WAM were: doorways, pathways, restrooms, signage, stairs, elevators, desks, and water fountains.

We narrowed our focus to certain structures including doorways, pathways, restrooms, signage, stairs, elevators, desks, and water fountains. Visitors felt these areas needed improvement based on complaints they filled out at the WAM. The list was comprised of areas that were feasible for us to assess in our short seven-week time frame.

5.      We found that the necessary tools to assess the compliance of the WAM with the ADA are a level, a measuring tape and a pressure gauge.

For our data collection process, we needed certain measurement tools to complete all of the tests that are required to verify compliance. We discovered a “Checklist” on the ADA website that presented a list of measurement tools that would be needed to conduct the appropriate tests. The list of measurement tools included: a level, measuring tape, and a pressure gauge.

6.      All of the currently available parking lots at the WAM are ADA compliant.

Upon conducting fieldwork within the WAM, we found that of the parking lots that we assessed, 100% of the available parking lots were compliant with the ADA. For our assessment of the parking lots, we evaluated the widths of car spaces, van spaces, and accessible aisles.

Table 1: Data Collection Table of WAM Parking Lots

 table 1

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Additionally we looked at the number of handicap parking spots and signage within each lot. The table we used to organize this data is shown in Table 1.


7.      Of the doors that we assessed, 0 % were ADA compliant with the required amount of force to open them.

When conducting fieldwork within the WAM, we found that all of the 44 doors (22 sets of double doors) we assessed were not compliant with the ADA. For each door, we used a pressure gauge to test the amount of force to open each door in both directions. To receive the most accurate measurement, we tested each door twice and took the average of those values. We tested each door in both directions to account for the fact that the doors opened in either direction and that the amount of force varied from which direction the door opened from. In Table 2 shown below, gives an example of our data collection table.

Table 2: Data Collection Table of Force to Open Doors

table 2

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After the fieldwork, 13 interviews of the WAM staff, and four additional interviews of professional staff at other institutions and organizations, we compiled a list of recommendations for the Worcester Art Museum to become more accessible. We offered the following recommendations:

1.       Improve signage around exterior of WAM so visitors have greater ease finding available lots.

2.      Include more signage leading from interstates to museum.

3.      Talk to nearby church to suggest allowing overflow parking in Church lot for special events.

4.      Build a parking garage in the existing Lancaster Street Lot.

5.      Inspect each door hinge and door closer to make sure they are working properly.

6.      Check to see if door is warped or misaligned.

7.      Perform humidity tests in closed galleries to verify that doors need to be closed at all times.

8.      Install automatic door openers or door assist mechanisms.

9.      Provide training to the WAM employee staff on navigation of elevators.

The WAM’s vision to become more accessible was essential to the culmination of our work. The museum’s intention to increase accessibility for visitors with disabilities is evident from hosting our project and the work they are continuing to undertake on their facility. The WAM’s determination for change along with the foundation provided by our project will move them forward to a more accessible future.