Accessible Toronto Part 1: Our Trip to the ROM
Every summer, we plan to take a mini vacation somewhere. Since we live about 2 hours away from Toronto, we decided to go back to my hometown for a couple of days. This was the destination of choice for another reason, too: I wanted to write a blog series about some of the city's tourist attractions, exploring whether they were truly wheelchair accessible. For those of you who may not know, I use a wheelchair part time as I was born with Spina Bifida and find walking long distances challenging. I am also recovering from a broken femur, so walking around a large museum such as the ROM isn't in the cards right now. Although I did bring my own chair, it should be noted that the ROM offers free wheelchair rentals for parties who require them.
We arrived at the ROM first thing in the morning and went to the desk to get our passes. This was one of the first instances (one of many) in which I would be impressed with the ROM. There is an "accessibility desk" which features a lower countertop perfect for wheelchair users so they can speak to staff eye-to-eye. I truly appreciated that. Often, visiting attractions means having to shout up from my chair to speak to a staff member behind a desk that feels impossibly high. Talk about intimidating! The ROM has that beautifully under control.
The first place we visited was a special exhibit featuring the most amazing blown glass sculptures you will ever see -- take my word for it -- in their CHIHULY exhibit. Here's just an example:
The CHIHULY exhibit is just one example of how the ROM caters to those who have special needs. This exhibit offers those with visual impairments the chance to experience the it through descriptive audio, available on iPODs, which are available free of charge to whose who are blind or visually impaired. Well done, ROM powers that be.
As we moved through each gallery, exploring ancient Egypt, the bat cave, the world of mammals, an awesome hands-on children's area, and so much more, I was amazed by the fact that not once did I struggle to navigate my chair in or through any of the spaces. Despite the fact that the ROM is absolutely full of a seemingly endless array of artifacts and other amazing things to see (did you know they have a real mummy on display?) I never, not one time, had to have help to get into or out of a difficult spot. Sure, there were some things up high that I couldn't get a really close look at, but at barely five feet tall on a good day, I wouldn't have seen those things nose-to-the-glass anyway, even if I had been standing. There was plenty to see at my level. I did not feel once as though I were missing out on anything.
The staff in the gift shop were friendly without being overbearing, having offered to help me if necessary and then letting me find them as I needed them, without hovering. I respect that.
The only minor (and it really was minor) obstacle I ran into was when I had to take my 8-year-old to the bathroom. We went to the bathrooms just off of the cafe, and discovered that one of them does not have (at least I did not see) an accessible stall. Normally, this would not be an issue for me since I can get out of my chair, but all things considered it would have been too much of a challenge right now, so we set off to find another bathroom we could both use. Fortunately, there was one just at the other end of the cafe, so it was no big deal. That was literally the only glitch in the whole day, so I can take that.
I spoke (by email) to Jaclyn Qua-Hiansen, Audience Coordinator for the ROM to get some more detailed information to pass along to you.
Says Jaclyn: "The ROM is committed to making our collections and museum experience inclusive for all audiences. We have a range of access programs, including tactile tours, ASL-interpreted tours, a ROM MagnusCard digital app for visitors with autism, and tours for visitors with dementia. A lot of our access programs are created based on stated visitor need and developed in collaboration with members of the community,"
They offer monthly ASL-interpreted Museum Highlights, as well as ASL interpretation in some of their ROOM Speaks lectures. Their tactile tours are great for those with visual impairments, as are the many tactile reproductions of some of the artifacts in the galleries. These are mounted on plinths beside the artifact and features Braille labels.
"The ROM recognizes the diversity of our visitors' abilities and needs, and we offer a variety of programs and services to ensure the accessibility of the Museum and its collections," Jaclyn adds.
I hadn't been to the ROM since I was of school-field-trip age which, let me tell you, wasn't yesterday. I loved every minute of our visit, particularly the light in my daughter's eyes as she explored and experienced this amazing institution. If you've never been, now is a great time to go! Take the whole family with you. "There's something for everyone! We have 30 galleries with millions of artifacts that explore a breadth of areas in natural history and world culture," Jaclyn explains.
If you're local to the Toronto area, the ROM also offers kids camps and Saturday morning clubs, among other programs perfectly suited to warding off those inevitable "I'm bored" summer moments.
If you've ever considered heading to the Royal Ontario Museum but were worried about whether your special needs might make being fully immersed in the museum experience challenging, fear not. Although I cannot personally speak to anything other than how they handle mobility issues, can I can in total honesty say that they do that with respect, with consideration, and with an eye toward inclusion at every turn.
Thank you very much to the ROM for hosting us. Your hospitality and customer service are unparalleled. I cannot wait to come back again.
The Royal Ontario Museum is located at 100 Queen’s Park in the heart of Toronto.