25 October 2015

Capstone Project Check-In: 10/25/2015

Can I let you in on a little secret, or two? My Capstone project has taken a back burner in the last two weeks. I came down with a nasty cold that had me snifflin' and sneezin' my way around my apartment, but I am on the mend! The other secret is that this semester has been immensely hard for me. I signed up for two very amazing very challenging classes, and my Capstone has been this thing that I do when I need a break from the other two classes. In reality, I wish my Capstone was something I had way more time to devote to, but lately it's been pushed further and further down my (never-ending) To Do list. December, I see you, and you have Capstone written across your forehead.

A MUSE second-year student wisely shared a piece of advice with me that I unfortunately did not take. The advice was plain and simple:
Do not take an excruciatingly hard class your third semester. You will not have the time for it because you will need to be working on your Capstone.
I had her advice in mind, then when I saw the course offerings for the fall, I told myself "Pshhh, I can do it. I can do it all!!" And so I signed up for what I will officially title "The Hardest Class of My Entire Life" and all I can say is - I am challenged to my core. I'm learning an immense amount, reading copious amounts of literature, and growing each week. I've even tried to find a way to link up my research for my Capstone to my final project research for this class, focusing on Jane Addams and the Progressive Era take on disability.

The point of these posts is to be honest, with myself and with any of you readers who care to know (thank you dear readers). And if we're being completely honest here, I'm going to come out and say it. This semester is really really different and really really hard. The glitz and glamour of visiting one or two museums a week has evaporated. Not working in galleries means I'm way more disconnected from my art world circuit. But worst of all, not being in any required MUSE classes means I see a lot less of my beloved 2016 cohort. The crew I grew to know and admire, the group that challenged me and rolled their eyes at all the right times. I have classes on Monday and Wednesday with two of my grad school besties, but I'm really missing the comfort of being around the folks I grew so close with.

I've come to the conclusion that while going to a big research university has it's perks (like so many classes to choose from, great opportunities for growth, amazing faculty, a Wendy's for when I need fries), it's also really easy to feel lost in the sheer size of the place. Coming from the small undergraduate bubble that was my beloved Knox College, where everyone knew everyone, and I was nestled comfortably into my department, being at UIC is something that is really foreign to me. The campus feels huge, particularly because all of my classes this semester are on a different side of campus. In a nutshell, this semester is strange and new and difficult, but we've passed the halfway marker! I just need to power through is all!

[Four young women in winter gear smiling and posing with a life-size neoclassical statue of a woman. They are posing with their arms around each other, they are friends.]

A snap of my crew from last semester. I reflect so fondly upon my time last year. First year MUSE-life is an absolute dream. We sit in circles, we go on behind the scenes tours of museums, sometimes we bring snacks to class, and there's usually some sort of a visitor from the museum world. I'm so lucky to have been able to go through this immersive, inclusive, challenging, and hands-on year!

So back to my Capstone... This coming week has a bunch of deadlines and due dates for my electives. I've turned my attention to those to get through this crunch, but after this week I am going full-Capstone.

But I have done a few good things.
  • I have done some reading, and I have written two of my three surveys. I've even started to build them on Survey Monkey!
  • I attended a webinar on the inaccessibility of some of our most beloved social media platforms. Check this out: Facebook and Youtube are the pits in terms of access. The way the websites are formatted and laid out makes it almost impossible to navigate them with assistive technologies (like web readers). Twitter it turns out, is the most accessible and easy to adapt with assistive technologies. Having read this, I'm thinking it could be a worthwhile project to practice an audit of my own blog. One thing I want to do is start to include captions of my images that describe the image itself, in addition to the contextual caption (see above image).
  • I also did my first and second audio tours as part of my study. I visited the Chicago History Museum and moved through both their general audio guide and the audio description that was created specifically for Access for All: Tom Olin's Photographs of the Disability Rights Movement the ADA anniversary photography exhibit. I noticed the differences in the style and content in both of these tours, as well as the ease of use of the technologies (both were iPods, one was a shuffle, one was not), and if the content conveyed the overall message that a non-visual learned would need. Though the ADA accessible audio guide offered both a reading of the label and a description of the photograph itself. There could have been a little bit more pizzaz or energy to the overall recordings, but the show itself was great! I also noticed a mistake in the ADA audio guide - one of the tracks was omitted. I made sure to tell those administering the guides that this needs to be corrected ASAP!
[A photograph of a framed black and white photograph with a wall label on the right. In the photograph is a woman named Sarah Triano. She is wearing a tee-shirt that says "DISABLED AND PROUD" and is speaking passionately into a microphone. Some of her talking points are on a notecard she is holding in her hard. She is speaking at a 2000 protest against the Garret vs. Alabama court decision]

What is so exciting about seeing this photograph is that I actually interviewed Sarah Triano last spring as part of my research on the activist history of the Disability and Human Development and Disability Student Union at UIC. Triano was a leading activist in Chicago in the early 2000s, and helped to co-organize the Leave Out for Equal Justice Protest in spring of 2001.

  • I read this article and am really excited to read about the more experimental and non-traditional ways that house museums can engage their visitors. I've ordered Vagnone's book already!
In conclusion - rather than beat myself up on the woulda, shoulda, couldas, here's my ongoing to do list!
  • Meetings with advisors
  • Finalize my interview questions
  • Finalize building my surveys in Survey Monkey
  • Continue to gather a list of house museums
  • Read "The Anarchist's Guide to House Museums"
  • Write Protocol
  • Update Exemption Paperwork
  • Finish attaining approval from OPRS
  • Begin to administer my surveys
  • Continue reading my amazing list of articles on museum access

06 October 2015

Capstone Project Check-In: 10/6/15

Hello! As you can imagine from my sporadic absence, I've been busy as a bee. All good things really, making some fantastic connections, filling out plenty of paperwork, and my project is moving forward wonderfully.

The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum


  • My first big required deadline was last Friday. I turned in my MUSE Capstone Project Approval Form, which entailed an updated project proposal, the names of my advisors, a detailed timeline, milestones I'm trying to hit, and some justification for the project itself. 
  • On Thursday, we had our first required all-cohort meeting to present our initial thoughts and progress to one another. The main takeaway for me is that I really need to nail down what question I am asking through my project. 
    • What am I hoping to address? 
    • How does my project fit into existing work in the field? 
    • What am I going to do with the data I collect?
  • I've made a lot of important connections in the last two weeks.
    • Jennifer Scott, the Director of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum has generously agreed to collaborate with the museum and their staff to conduct my research
    • Peter Berg, the Project Coordinator for Technical Assistance and Employer Outreach for Great Lakes ADA met with me last week to discuss how I can get in touch with members of the low-vision community in Chicago to conduct a survey. He also provided me with MANY resources around legal issues in making public spaces ADA compliant. He tipped me off to two recent court settlements around access in museums in DC, which I might use as examples for how access goes beyond architectural barriers.
    • I met Byron Harden of I See Music, LLC last night. He runs a production company and recording studio that also doubles as a vocational school for low-vision and blind students, teaching them how to record, produce, and edit audio of all sorts. This serendipitous meeting has me thinking what a fantastic fit his company would be to record, produce, and edit the audio tour for the Hull-House at a later date.
    • I also chatted with Danielle Linzer, the Director of Access and Public Engagement at the Whitney Museum about the museum's offerings for low-vision visitors. She informed me that they make all of their tactile educational models in house, and that they aren't merely 3-D reproductions of the original art object. Rather, they are reproductions of the art made by education staff - the focus is not only on the tactile quality of the educational tool, but the materiality and process of making it. They made a reproduction of a Mike Kelley sculpture in which they had to go to thrift stores in search of used stuffed animals to repurpose for a replica. The matted worn materials as well as the smell of the toys added a layer of meaning to the way educators and visitors engage with the object. 
    • I met Steve Landau, of Touch Graphics Inc. while at the ICOM-CECA Conference in Washington, DC. This was also pretty serendipitous, given that I'd interacted with one of his 3D audio descriptive models while visiting the San Diego Museum of Art back in January. The experience of touching a reproduction of a painting that was programmed to walk me through the visual components and historical context of the work is something that has stuck with me since I touched the painting earlier this year. To actually meet the man who made it was surreal!
  • I finally finished my CITI Training and have begun to move through the arduous, jargony, time-consuming paperwork for IRB review. Well actually, I'm technically exempt, which means I don't have to go through the full convening of the Board, but I still need to fill out loads of paperwork explaining my research methodology, the point of my project, the surveys I plan on administering, how I will attain consent from the survey participants, and how I will securely store the survey results. I have my work cut out for me!!

  • Tackle the IRB paperwork
    • Write my research protocol
    • Edit the Exemption form
    • Finish writing my survey for vision-impaired individuals
    • Finish writing my interview questions for those working in audio descriptive lines of work
    • Write my consent language
    • Submit, cross fingers, attain approval!
  • Reading all of the articles and books I've gathered on how vision-impairment has been addressed in various ways at different museums in the United States
  • Begin to build my house museum cohort for house museum survey (I would like to email at least 100 spaces)
  • Learn about ADA requirements for access in museums (thanks to Peter Berg for giving me great resources!!)
  • Continue to meet with my advisors about project updates