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The Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace Concludes IMLS Grant

The Access for All: Advancing Girl Scouts' Commitment to Disability Inclusion project has concluded and we’ve learned so much! As we move forward, the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace is committed to the continuation of learning opportunities about inclusion and disability. We'd like to express our gratitude to everyone who supported the success of our grant and public education series, especially our community partners that continue to make a difference in Savannah. 

A special thank you to the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS), which is the primary source of federal support to the nation's libraries and museums. Their mission is to advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. IMLS funded this unique opportunity and was an integral part of shaping our grant operations.  

The Institute for Human-Centered Design (IHCD) served as a strategic partner in assessing the state of the Birthplace's accessibility regarding facilities, programs, policies, and website. As an organization, they are committed to advancing the role of design in expanding opportunity and enhancing the experience for people of all ages, abilities, and cultures through excellence in design. IHCD provided insight and expertise that guided meaningful improvements to our site. 

Thank you to our partners, PBS Books and Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB), who helped make our virtual programs a success. The Birthplace was honored to join them to produce two programs, a discussion of All the Way to the Top with author Annette Pimentel and activist Jennifer Chaffins-Keelan, and a conversation with disability rights activist and author of Being Heumann and Rolling Warrior Judy Heumann.  

The Savannah Cultural Arts Center hosted our film screenings, including The Changing Reality of Disability in America and Code of Freaks. Their modern space and central location were perfect for sparking conversation about disability understanding. We express our gratitude to our host and all the individuals who served as experts on our panels, including PJ Moynihan, filmmaker; Patsy Grainger, Senior Citizens, Inc.; Betsy Powers, LPC; Michael A. Schwartz, New South Law, LLC; Yvonne Prior, Inner City Night Shelter; Chris O'Malley, Team Savannah for Veterans; Carrie Sandahl, filmmaker; Michael Chaney, SCAD film professor; and Megan Lombardo, SCAD film professor

We'd also like to recognize the panelists who participated in discussions at the Birthplace. Savannah disability advocate Tom Kohler led an informative lecture about his own experiences and the experiences of the people he worked with in the context of the national disability rights movement. You can access "The History of Disability in Savannah" here. Next, we heard the heritage tourism community and local disability advocates discuss how heritage tourism can better accommodate people with disabilities. A special thank you to our panelists Jamie Credle, Davenport House Museum; Shelby Beatty, Fort Pulaski; Angel Denardi, LIFE, Inc., and Mayor Van Johnson. Access "Heritage Tourism and Disability" here

As an extension of our public programming, Manager of Tours & Education Kat White presented accessibility topics to museum studies students, museum professionals, local civic groups, Girl Scout volunteers, and GSUSA staff. Workshop activities included accessibility tours of our site, troubleshooting real-life scenarios to understand barriers to access people with disabilities might face during a museum experience or Girl Scout activity, disability rights history highlights, discussions about language used to describe disability and how to avoid reinforcing pervasive stereotypes about disabled people, and sharing lessons we learned while we worked to make our site, tours, and events accessible to all visitors.

A brand-new program was launched at the Birthplace to teach our visiting Girl Scouts about accessibility and universal design. Spearheaded by Program Specialist Elizabeth Srsic, “House for All” is a strategy game where girls trade cards and collaborate with teammates to design a welcoming, accessible place for imaginary clients to live, work, and play. After playing, girls take away a new understanding of inclusive design and how designing for accessibility first can make the world a better place for everyone. Not only did Elizabeth create the program's content from the ground up, but she incorporated an innovative gameplay design utilizing a magnetic dollhouse where the renovations take place. 

In addition to public programming, our grant afforded us the opportunity to renovate our physical site and make much-needed changes to accommodate visitors of different abilities. New retail, program, outdoor space, and visitor services areas at the Birthplace were built to create a S.A.F.E. (Sustainable. Accessible. Flexible. Engaged.) environment that promotes forward-thinking heritage tourism and preservation. As of 2022, the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace is the only fully ADA-accessible historic house museum in Savannah. 

Our grant’s success would not have been possible without the collaboration of all the partners listed above. We are grateful for everyone’s participation and look forward to supporting initiatives that change how we see disability and inclusion in our local community.