The Michael C. Carlos Museum

We are trying something new at Compassionate Atlanta. Leanne Rubenstein and I are launching a new project together to go out to different places around Atlanta to see how inclusive these locations are for people living with disabilities. Come along with Leanne and me as we embark on this new adventure.

Leanne and I recently went to the Carlos Museum to have an accessibility experience.

The Carlos Museum is located on the Emory University campus in Atlanta. The museum’s slogan is “Spend the Day a World Away” which is spot on. The permanent collections contain artifacts from Egypt, Africa, Asia, the Americas, and more. It is amazing to see ancient relics that are thousands of years old from so many different cultures.

The original collection dates all the way back to 1876 where it was displayed in Oxford, Georgia. It moved to Emory’s main campus in 1919 where it has continued to grow and improve. The expanded, impressive museum you visit today opened in 1993. The museum is wonderful to explore at your own pace, but the museum also offers docent-led tours on Sundays and by appointment on other days for groups of five or more.

In addition to the permanent collections, the Carlos Museum also houses special exhibits, including, right now, until September 11th, Atlanta artist Charmaine Minniefield’s Indigo Prayers: A Creation Story, a series of paintings inspired by her time in The Gambia, West Africa searching for her grandmother’s ancestral lines.

In her artist’s statement, Minniefield said, “I knew we could stand in an institution like Emory and ask the hard questions about equity, and legacy, and belonging, and access–”

Interestingly, access to the Carlos Museum for a person with a disability can be challenging.

The handicapped entrance is at the back of the building on the plaza level, but first you have to figure out how to get to the back of the building. But once you are there, the entrance doors are wide and easy to use and the elevator to the museum level is right there.

When you first enter the lobby of the museum, the workers at the front desk are welcoming and helpful. Once you get into the museum gallery, there are displays everywhere, and you can roam and look in any direction. The space is sufficiently open for my power chair to maneuver so I am able to see all the exhibits.

The information on the placards throughout the museum is interesting to read especially if you love history. However, if you have a visual impairment, the size of the type on the descriptions is rather small, and I did not see any Braille placards.  Also, in the past, the museum offered the use of headsets to listen to an audio tour; however, those went away during COVID and have not come back.

One thing you need to know is that the handicapped parking causes some difficulty. Right now the handicapped parking located adjacent to the museum is for faculty only. Visitors needing handicapped parking are directed to park in the Oxford Road Visitor’s Deck which is about ⅓ of a mile away from the museum itself.  When we visited, the staff expressed their concern about the lack of visitor handicapped parking near the museum which will hopefully lead to more conversation in the future.

On the Carlos Museum website under Accessible Parking, they have posted a very helpful map showing how to get from the parking garage to the handicapped entrance at the back of the museum. If you want to visit, I recommend looking at all the information on their website ahead of time to get your bearings.

An important thing to know is that the museum is committed to working toward greater diversity, equity, and inclusion.  The museum website says they have established a committee to “address systems and practices that consciously or unconsciously perpetuate prejudice, privilege, or injustice; and to facilitate greater engagement with Emory and the wider Atlanta community and its diverse population.” The DEI committee welcomes comments and suggestions. I appreciate their willingness to listen to and respond to everyone’s needs and journeys.

I have actually been to the Carlos Museum before this trip, but not as an employee of Compassionate Atlanta. It was really interesting to go with my boss Leanne so she could see firsthand how I access and maneuver places in my power chair. We will have another adventure soon–I’ll let you know what we discover!

The Takeaways:

Celebrate:

  • The exhibits are beautiful, interesting, and informative.

  • The museum is spacious and well laid out for patrons who use wheelchairs.

  • The staff is friendly and helpful.

  • The museum has a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee willing to listen and take suggestions.

Educate:  

  • Clearer signage from the parking garage to the handicapped entrance would be helpful.

  • Handicapped parking is quite a distance from the museum. Educate yourself regarding parking and routes to the handicapped entrance before you go.

  • Some information in the museum might be difficult to access for those with a visual impairment.

Jimmy Freels
Community Outreach Associate
Compassionate Atlanta
http://jimmyfreels.com

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