The Art of Making Museums Fun for Everyone Two experienced SLPs use their skills at promoting inclusion to lead tours for special education students at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the Limelight
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In the Limelight  |   March 01, 2018
The Art of Making Museums Fun for Everyone
Author Notes
  • Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for the ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org
    Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for the ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   March 01, 2018
The Art of Making Museums Fun for Everyone
The ASHA Leader, March 2018, Vol. 23, 26-27. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.23032018.26
The ASHA Leader, March 2018, Vol. 23, 26-27. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.23032018.26
Names: Claire Gilgannon, MS, CCC-SLP; Heidi Katz, MA, CCC-SLP
Title: Co-captains, Special Education Services School Groups, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Hometowns: New York City; Oakland, New Jersey
New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) enlists the help of more than 1,400 volunteers. Of those, nearly 400 are trained volunteer guides and only 26 make up the special education services group, which offers tours for students with special needs from far and wide. Two of those 26 specially trained guides are speech-language pathologists who tap into their expertise to make tours even more inclusive, and help train other guides to do the same.
Those two SLPs—out of hundreds of Met volunteers—somehow ended up in the same museum tour-guide training class and are now co-captains of the special education services team.
In 2004, Claire Gilgannon left her full-time career after more than 30 years as an SLP working for the Eastern Suffolk (New York) Board of Cooperative Education Services, in early intervention and in private practice. She moved to the city to enjoy a stimulating partial retirement—she worked part-time as a clinical supervisor at Touro College’s Speech and Hearing Center and as a private contractor for New York City’s Board of Education—and applied to become a docent for the Met. Gilgannon then waited two years for an opening.
Heidi Katz volunteered in the museum’s education department for those same two years, while serving clients in her part-time private practice. Katz also had decades of experience working in public schools and private practice with children of all ages. Knowing her background, a museum staff member approached Katz and asked her to become a docent in the special education schools group.

Gilgannon and Katz lead tours for every age, from kindergarten through young adult, and welcome any type of group—from small, self-contained special education groups to big general education inclusion classes.

A palette of useful skills
When Katz and Gilgannon met in 2007 to begin their year-long training course, they soon became friends. They also quickly realized how their education, experience and skills as SLPs gave them a significant advantage as docents working with children—especially for groups of students with special needs.
“Our backgrounds give us a framework to quickly assess the group,” Katz says. “Once we assess their skill level, we can scaffold our interactions using open-ended and non-threatening questions.”
A museum spanning nearly four city blocks can feel overwhelming, especially to people with communication, sensory, social, developmental, neurological or physical disorders. Gilgannon and Katz lead tours for every age, from kindergarten through young adult. They also welcome any type of group—from small, self-contained special education groups to big general education inclusion classes (bit.ly/metschltours).
Before their assigned groups come to the museum, Gilgannon and Katz gather information from the school, including student skill levels, current curriculum goals, learning styles—tactile, visual, multimodal—and the group’s make-up. Tour topics typically revolve around school curriculums, then guides develop their individual tours in coordination with state K–12 education standards. The two SLPs further hone the plans to best meet each group’s needs. For example, they offer drawing activities for visual learners, a bag of art materials for tactile learners, and language boards and tablets for nonverbal kids.
“We adapt lesson plans and materials to fit student needs,” Gilgannon says, “but usually one question or a few nonverbal cues alert us if we need to change our approach because of student language skills, interests or behaviors.”
The SLPs also lead tours using a sign language interpreter or assisted listening devices for students with hearing loss. They can put together a “touch tour” for students with visual impairments to visit objects they are allowed to feel, like sculptures. The museum also offers access programs run by staff who work with families, adults, young children and groups with a range of disabilities, including severe hearing or vision loss, and people needing tours in other languages. One staff member uses a communication board and leads tours for people using augmentative and alternative communication devices.
One of Gilgannon’ s favorite experiences highlights how much her SLP skills benefit her: She showed a group of students a framed piece of canvas, and they spontaneously started tapping the canvas with fingers and paintbrushes to make different sounds. Gilgannon followed their lead and shifted her focus by blending the group’s auditory interest and the paintings’ visual aspects by asking kids to pick the paintbrush size they think the artist used in a specific section and what sound that paintbrush might make.

They include drawing activities for visual learners, a bag of art materials for tactile learners, or language boards and tablets for nonverbal kids.

A design for wider reach
Gilgannon and Katz recently agreed to serve as co-captains for the special education services volunteers. This two-year appointment involves communicating museum policies and news to their group, updating museum staff on their work, and other administrative tasks. It also opens up more avenues to tap into their skills as SLPs.
One way they’ve already done this is by organizing and presenting a training session for other volunteer guides leading school tours. They share some of their approaches to positively address certain behaviors—a student who doesn’t want to sit on the floor because of sensory issues, for example—to engage students who might need more processing time, or to change a lesson plan on the fly in response to questions.
“For example, some students may not be comfortable sitting on the floor,” Katz says, “which may be a reflection of their sensory needs, not an oppositional behavior. Knowing this, guides can easily continue with their tour.”
Especially as inclusion classrooms become more common, they hope this additional training will make all tours more welcoming for different types of learners and communicators. Gilgannon says they also hope to recruit more tour guides—and perhaps other SLPs—to their special education services team. In addition, they want to spread the word to more schools and educators. The SLPs met with New York City’s deputy chancellor for special education soon after taking on their co-captain roles. They want to work with her office to raise area schools’ awareness of the accommodations available to students.
“The big goal is for all students to feel like the museum is welcoming and barrier-free,” Gilgannon says. “We want everyone to know they can access and enjoy this art without stress, no matter what their disability.”
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March 2018
Volume 23, Issue 3