Interpretation for Archeologists   6. Issues of Sensitivity   Distance Learning

Special Needs and Accessibility

The NPS seeks to ensure, as much as possible, that audiences who have special needs or are disabled receive the same interpretive opportunities as nondisabled people. Interpretive programs meet guidelines outlined in NPS guidance to ensure that interpretive programs, recreational activities, activities, publications, and media meet the needs of disabled people.

Ideas for ways to be inclusive of special needs visitors include:

  • Develop mobile phone apps to help disabled visitors virtually access places.
  • Produce braille translations and printed material in large font sizes for visually impaired visitors.
  • Create versions of print materials in fonts that are easier for autistic and dyslexic visitors to read.
  • Learn basic sign language for common archeological terms.
  • Use tangible items, such as artifacts or 3d fasimilies, in interpretive presentations.
  • Have all-terrain wheelchairs available for traversing backcountry or uneven paths.
  • Some special needs visitors are more comfortable if they have something to hold or hug. Choose stuffed animals or other objects that reflect the interpretive program.
  • Include questions in schools' pre-visit packets regarding special needs, sensory processing disorders, and physical disabilities. Find out if students may bring items such as fidgets or weighted blankets, or if they might need a quiet room.
  • Just in case, have scoop bags available for service animals. Explain how allowing animals to go off-path may impair archeological resources.

For Your Information

NPS Accessibility
Read about NPS actions to support accessibility in national park units.

Accessibility in Curriculum-based Education (NPS Common Learning Portal)
Learn about designing interpretive and educational products to meet accessibility needs. See, in particular, the report All in!: Accessibility in the National Park Service 2015-2020, from the NPS Task Force on Accessibility.

Hansen, Elsa, Julie Ernst, Julia Washburn
2017 "Interpretive Accommodations for National Park Service Visitors Who Are d/Deaf or Hard of Hearing", Journal of Interpretation Research, vol. 22, no. 1.

Case Study

Accessibility at Mesa Verde
Mesa Verde National Park showcases the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from AD 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States, but they are not accessible to all. Visit the park's website to see general information for visitors with limited mobility, visual impairments, hearing impairments, and service animals.

Using What You Know: Assess Your Knowledge (#7 of 10)

(icon) A ranger's hat.
  • What sensitive issues impact interpretation at your park? How might you use archeology to address a history of sensitive issues?