Nefertiti Matos walks with a sighted guide in MoMA’s Sculpture Garden. Video still image by J6 MediaWorks, from Disability Equality and Museums Episode 7: Meet Nefertiti. Image description: Two women walk together down the steps of MoMA’s sculpture garden, with their arms linked. The woman to the left wears an orange dress and extends a long black cane in front of her. The other woman wears black pants and boots. Both women look downward.

Disability, Equality, and Museums

It’s time to think beyond wheelchair ramps and touch tours.

Many thanks to Lara Schweller, Theresa Rodewald, and Elli Dimaki.

July is Disability Pride Month. This may seem like an oxymoron to some, as often disability is seen as a flaw, a loss, or something to be cured. But many of those living with disability see it as a fundamental part of their identity—their unique way of navigating the world. And, as such, a source of pride.

It’s not blindness, hearing loss, or the need for a wheelchair that disables someone. Rather, it’s the unavailability of Braille signage or image descriptions, the lack of assistive listening devices or captioned video, the absence of ramps or elevators—the kinds of barriers that can prevent people from engaging in all the activities of daily life. Yet many individuals with disabilities report that other people’s attitudes are the biggest barrier they face in society.

Recognizing this, MoMA’s Community and Access Programs team, with the support of the museum-wide Accessibility Task Force, offers disability equality workshops, where staff reflect on their own lived experiences, and learn to identify and transform language, attitudes, and behaviors that negatively impact MoMA’s visitors with disabilities. Through a series of video interviews created by the team, staff hear firsthand from New Yorkers with disabilities who also share a passion for art.

One of these New Yorkers is Nefertiti Matos, an assistive technology instructor, who has been blind since age four due to a brain tumor. She says she no longer thinks of her blindness as a hindrance. “I now view it as something that’s very empowering…. It’s just a matter of being creative and figuring things out, maybe in an unorthodox way.”

Shelly Guy is a high school teacher, an American Sign Language consultant for theater productions, and an artist. Growing up, she was the only deaf person in a hearing school. Her life changed when she discovered Deaf culture and sign language. “That was the first time I was able to really express myself fully and express who I am,” she says. “I could really reframe my thinking and my perspective of myself and look at deafness as a positive thing.”

Nefertiti Matos talks about feeling “normal.” Learn more from Nefertiti.
Shelly Guy explains two different ways of understanding disability. Learn more from Shelly.

July 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, a law brought into being by thousands of people with disabilities—our nation’s most diverse minority group, and one anyone can join at any time—whose efforts coalesced into a civil rights movement. This year, to celebrate Disability Pride, we are sharing the voices of eight New Yorkers living with disabilities. We hope that these videos will help open discussions around dismantling attitudinal barriers in museums.

People with disabilities are our families, our friends, and often, ourselves. In museums, they are also our colleagues, artists, donors, and visitors. Disability is part of the human experience, and disability pride is about embracing difference. It’s about celebrating the diverse ways that people interact with the world. And as Nefertiti says, “we probably need more of that.”

Learn more from Nefertiti, Shelly, and many others through the Disability Equality and Museums playlist on MoMA’s YouTube channel.

New Yorkers offer their perspectives on living with disabilities and accessing museums.

Find more resources related to disability equality

Volkswagen of America is proud to be MoMA’s lead partner of education.

Access and Community Programs are supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF).

Major support is provided by The Taft Foundation and by the Werner and Elaine Dannheisser Fund for Older Adults at MoMA in honor of Agnes Gund.

Additional funding is provided by the Sarah K. de Coizart Article 5th Charitable Trust, Allene Reuss Memorial Trust, the Carroll and Milton Petrie Education Program Endowment, Bloomingdale’s, J.E. and Z.B. Butler Foundation, Von Seebeck-Share B. Charitable Trust, The Elroy and Terry Krumholz Foundation, Karen Bedrosian Richardson, and the Annual Education Fund.