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Strides in Accessibility at the New York Transit Museum

on Wed, 06/08/2011 - 12:39pm

Photos and captions courtesy of the New York Transit Museum

Whether you're five or sixty-five years old, there's something just plain exciting about descending into an old subway station and finding yourself in a transportation time capsule. That's the New York Transit Museum. It's housed in a 1936 IND Court Street Station in the neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights and is a place where people, young and old, can immerse themselves in the history of New York's public transportation.

On the upper platform of the old station, you can test out all the different kinds of turnstiles that have been used over time in the New York subway system — some are noisy and others squeaky, some made of wood and others of steel — and step inside an old token booth or sit in the driver's seat of a bus replica.  When you descend to the lower platform, it gets even more exciting as you step in and out of historic subway cars that take you as far back as a wooden car in 1905, cars from the World's Fairs in New York in 1939 and 1964, a money car, and more than 10 other models (most of which still work by the way).

As you can tell, we're big fans of the Transit Museum here at the Museum Access Consortium and not just because it captures just about anyone's imagination, but because they've made commendable strides in making their site and programs accessible to people of all abilities. We'd like to congratulate the Transit Museum on this past Wednesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony for their brand new accessible entrance that will provide people in wheelchairs or with mobility impairments with easier access to the museum.

accessible entrance to New York Transit Museum

In the last few years, the museum has also created a designated position for a special needs educator, hosted touch tours for visitors who are blind or have low vision (click here to see photos of a touch tour for K-5th graders), and developed and piloted two programs for young people who are on the autism spectrum, an after-school program designed for 4th and 5th graders and a travel training program for middle and high school-aged students. Director of Education, Lynette Morse, said, "Even before we launched these programs, visitors on the autism spectrum were already coming to the museum. We saw this interest as an opportunity to make our programs more accessible and address specific needs for children who are on the autism spectrum, their teachers, and their families."

On May 4th, we attended the grand finale of the Subway Sleuths! After-School Program. Eight students between the ages of eight and twelve from Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan participated in the program this winter and spring. They met once a week after school for nine weeks and learned to do "careful looking" as subway sleuths. For the grand finale, the students made presentations about their experiences and took their parents and families on a scavenger hunt of the old train cars in the museum. They learned a lot about the history of subway cars and New York, but most importantly they made new friends. We've included photographs above of some of the highlights from their after-school workshops.

Over the next three years, we'll be following the progress of the New York Transit Museum and the Museum at Eldridge Street as both institutions develop programs geared specifically toward the needs of children who have autism. We will be tracking their stories on this blog and in MAC workshops in the hopes that other museums will learn from their experiences and pursue their own adapted programming for visitors who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Subway Sleuths! will be starting again in September with a whole new group of recruits between the ages of 8 and 12. Please help spread the word and, if you or someone you know is interested in learning more about how to apply, please reach out to Lynette Morse, Director of Education at the New York Transit Museum, at

And… a THANK YOU to The Far Fund.