The Accessibility Program

Making all visitors feel welcome

The Accessibility Program supports the Smithsonian in providing consistent, effortless access to the Institution’s programs, collections, and facilities. Specific accessibility information for visiting museums is available through our Visit Pages.

Responsibilities of the Accessibility Program include:

  • Advising on and implementing policy, practices, and procedures related to access for people with disabilities.
  • Reviewing facility and exhibition designs.
  • Providing technical assistance.
  • Conducting outreach to the disability community and other cultural arts organizations.
  • Providing staff education on disability topics.
  • Working with Smithsonian museums and offices to provide direct visitor services, including sign language interpretation, real time captioning, and alternate formats of publications.

Our Programs and Resources include:

ENTERING THE MUSEUMS: All visitors must go through the security process at the entrance of the museums, which includes a hand check of bags and walking through a metal detector. If your child has difficulty waiting quietly in line, plan accordingly and bring fidgets, music headphones, or a manipulative toy.
SOCIAL STORIES: Waiting in Line and Museum Security Rules and Routines 

ITEMS NOT ALLOWED IN THE MUSEUM: Items such as markers, colored pencils, silly putty, play dough, food and drinks are not allowed in the museum. 

MUSEUM NOISE: If your child is sensitive to sound, consider bringing noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs. 

INTERACTIVE COMPUTER AREAS: There are computer interactives in many of the exhibition areas. If the computers distract your child, use the Sensory Map to make a note of where these interactives are located so that you may avoid them. 


ALARMS: For some objects in the museum, an alarm will go off if someone gets too close to the object. We want your child to be able to roam freely through the museum, but please do not cross barriers protecting objects.
SOCIAL STORY: Keeping People in the Right Place 

CHILD IDENTIFICATION: Make sure your child is wearing, or has identification with him/her, including a contact cell phone number.
The museums are quite large. If your child should wander away from the exhibition area, the cell phone number will enable staff to be able to contact you immediately. Please keep the contact's cell phone ON. Also, you may want to include with the identification information a strategy for what staff can say or do to keep your child calm while we locate you (for example; sing, suggest s/he play with a particular toy, etc.). 

BATHROOMS: Bathrooms are located throughout the museums. Some museums have a Family/Companion Care restroom. Please inquire at the Information Desk or look at the museum's map to find bathroom locations. Most museum bathrooms have automatic flush toilets, on/off sinks, and hand dryers. The hand dryers are very loud and powerful. The automatic flush on the toilet can be loud.

This training covers the basics of autism spectrum disorders and how museums can better engage families with children on the Autism spectrum.

Pre-visit Stories are designed to help prepare your child for situations he/she may encounter at the Smithsonian Institution Museums. There are Pre-visit Stories that address what to expect, museum rules and routines, safety information, and more.

A paid internship program for young adults with disabilities. The goal of Access to Opportunities is to assist people with disabilities in their transition from school to adulthood to the world of work by providing internships at the Smithsonian that are tailored to interns’ areas of interest, and that will open the doors of knowledge and opportunity for these young people.

A project of the Smithsonian Institution's Accessibility Program and the Smithsonian Museums. Guided by a Community Advisory Committee comprised of museum educators, exhibit designers, professionals who work with children on the Autism Spectrum, parents, and self-advocates, the Smithsonian has developed a series of pre-visit materials designed to help children on the spectrum and their families enjoy a visit to the Smithsonian Museums.

Preparatory research was conducted to determine what kinds of programs other museums are offering. A Community Advisory Committee was established. Advisors are either self-advocates or professionals in medicine, education, or therapy who work with children on the autism spectrum and their families.

The project has narrowed its focus to four areas: web-based pre-visit materials including social stories, sensory maps, picture schedules, and visit tips; Morning at the Museum which offers early admission to a SI museum once a month; training curricula for staff, docents, and volunteers; and a University of MD/Smithsonian research project on the motivations, expectations, and behaviors of museum visits for families that include children on the autism spectrum.

Art Signs gallery talks are presented in American Sign Language by Deaf gallery guides at the Smithssonian American Art Museum. ASL interpreters voice information and observations allowing hearing and Deaf audiences to discover art together under the leadership of a Deaf guide. For more information, email updates, and links to videos, connect with SAAM. 

Project SEARCH Smithsonian was initiated in 2013 to create unpaid internship opportunities to help young adults who have developmental disabilities gain knowledge and skills that can lead to paid employment. This ten- month school-to-work transition program targets job seekers who benefit from total immersion in a business setting. The Project SEARCH model was founded in 1996 at the Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center and has been replicated more than 250 times through the U.S. and internationally. Project SEARCH interns participate in daily classroom instruction and gain hands-on work experiences by rotating among three 10-week unique unpaid internships. Project SEARCH interns can be found working throughout the Smithsonian Institution performing tasks that are valuable to their coworkers and Smithsonian visitors.

For additional information on access services, please contact the Accessibility Program at (202) 633-2921 (voice) or email the Accessibility Program.

Contact Information

PO Box 37012 NMAH, Room 1050, 
MRC 607 Washington, DC 20013

202.633.2921 (Voice) 
Accessibility Program

Beth Ziebarth, Director
Ashley Terrell-Rea, Program Specialist