My book is out!

How did I let a month go by without posting this immediately?  A sign of the life of a museum director, I suppose.  In this week’s adventures, my assistant found a squatter set up on the back porch of our secondary historic home. Playing Xbox.

Anyway… without further ado…

That's my name! On the front of my book!

That’s my name! On the front of my book!

In case you haven’t followed the story of publication and proposals and writing and so forth, here is a short description:

Programming for People with Special Needs: A Guide for Museums and Historic Sites will help museums and historic sites become truly inclusive educational experiences. The book is unique because it covers education and inclusion for those with both intellectual and learning disabilities.

The book features the seven key components of creating effective programming for people with special needs, especially elementary and secondary students with intellectual disabilities:

  • 1442227605Sensitivity and awareness training
  • Planning and communication
  • Timing
  • Engagement and social/life skills
  • Object-centered and inquiry-based programs
  • Structure
  • Flexibility


In addition, this book features and discusses programs such as the Museum of Modern Art‘s Meet Me program and ones for children with autism at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn as models for other organizations to adapt for their use.

Its focus on visitors of all ages who have cognitive or intellectual disabilities or special needs makes this title essential for all museum and historic site professionals, especially educators or administrators, but also for museum studies students and those interested in informal education.

I already have two reviews of the book, too!  Here is what my esteemed colleagues had to say about the book:
Programming for People with Special Needs is an invaluable manual with clear, concise examples of how museums benefit when they open their doors, exhibits, and programming to all audiences in a community. A commitment to common-sense universal design principles opens the dialogue about what matters in our history and culture to every citizen, thus enriching our communities through better education and community engagement.
— Carroll Van West, director of the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee University, and Tennessee State Historian

Programming for People with Special Needs is an important new resource for any museum or historic site serious about expanding their current audience base and preparing for tomorrow’s visitors. While the ADA already requires us to accommodate visitors’ physical needs, it is equally important that our programs consider the needs of visitors experiencing various forms of learning and intellectual disabilities, including memory loss, especially since their numbers are expected to increase dramatically over the next several decades. This thorough and practical volume can help your institution accomplish this goal and, in turn, become a museum or historic site better prepared for the future.
— Karen Graham Wade, director, Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California

I hope that if you work at a historic site, historic house, history museum, or small museum that you will encourage your supervisor or staff to read this book.  I really did approach this topic with real-world implications in mind.
You can purchase the book from the publisher on their website.  I suggest hardcover. 😉
Thanks everyone for their support throughout this project, especially my parents, my Charles, Dr. West, and my publisher at R&L Charles.

TAM It 2013 – Recap and Highlights

The most wonderful time of the year: TAM 2013

The most wonderful time of the year: TAM 2013

It is once again the time for me to regale you all with tales from the Tennessee Association of Museums Annual Conference.  This year, the meeting was held just up the road in Franklin, which gave participants a great opportunity to visit the sites of near-by Columbia and the rich Civil War history of Franklin.

This year I attended as a conference presenter (twice!), PhD Candidate for MTSU, and as the Director of Collections, Interpretation, and Development for the Sam Davis Home and Museum (that’s a whole other post – if you’ve wondered where I have been, there is your answer – I intend to post more updates in the next week).

In among the sessions, great lunch and dinner breaks, site visits, and of course, hospitality suite shenanigans, I had a great opportunity to chat with and learn from other museum professionals about struggles and triumphs that we all share.  This fit in very well with the theme of this year’s conference, “Against All Odds: Stories of Determination and Resilience.”

Meredith, me, and RKD at the Awards Dinner

Meredith, me, and RKD at the Awards Dinner

The first day we traveled to Columbia, Tennessee to visit the James K. Polk Home, the Athenaeum, and a private residence.  We then had the awards dinner and tons of fun at the Veteran’s Memorial Hall.

Early the next morning, I chaired a panel called, “Acting on Accessibility in a Post-ADA America” with Dr. Brenden Martin from MTSU, Jared Norwood from MTSU, and Ashleigh Oatts from Marble Springs State Historic Site.  We asked such questions as: Is compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) enough? Is your site targeting and building an important audience by creating new opportunities for visitors with disabilities? The session  discussed ways that museums and historic sites can develop accessibility through exhibits, site layout, and program offerings in a post-ADA world by going beyond the typical “fixes” of ramps and benches.  Topics covered included the historical context of ADA, universal and exhibit design, reaching out to Special Education classrooms and individuals with cognitive delay, and struggles specific to historic sites and historic house museums.  Strategies and tips were provided, and we facilitated a short discussion about possibilities and solutions for specific sites.  Below is my presentation: 

Emerging Professionals Discussion

Emerging Professionals Discussion

The same afternoon, fellow PhD Candidate Rebecca Duke and Rachael South Bogema from the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa joined me for a session called, “Rookie Roundtable: Discussions and Tips for Young Emerging Professionals.”  The session was designed as a group discussion to talk about challenges, issues, and advice for people just getting started in the field, students, or those that are trying to figure out where to go next.  We had a great conversation with people from all over the state, and everyone had great stories and advice to share! Please see Rachael’s blog on the C.H. Nash Museum site for more information!

Table 1 is victorious at the TAM Auction

Table 1 is victorious at the TAM Auction

 

 

Thursday night we visited Carnton Plantation, and then we got to experience the highly-anticipated dinner and live auction!  Table 1 walked away victorious, with every person seated there taking home at least one prize.  I even walked away with the most coveted prize: the Hospitality Suite Painting, which was created in the bathtub of the suite by TAM members the evening before the auction.

On Friday I attended two great sessions: “Against All Odds: Social Media Strategy and Planning on a Shoestring Budget” with Catherine Shtyenberg, assistant curator/web and social media coordinator, at the Frank H. McClung Museum and then a session about commemoration at historic sites which included: Melissa Davis from Humanities Tennessee,  Myers Brown from the TN State Museum, Charlie Rhodarmer from the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, and Jeff Wells from TN State Parks.  I know I took a lot away from both of these sessions, including a great program through Humanities Tennessee that will take place at the Sam Davis Home next month!  More information here.

You can see Shtyenberg’s wonderful and informative presentation on slideshare by clicking this link.

As always, I could go on much longer about how wonderful TAM was this year (as it is every year).  Instead, I will include these pictures from Rebecca Duke and Tori Mason and the official TAM facebook page so you can live vicariously:

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Programming at The Transit Museum

As I mentioned in my last blog, my trip to the Transit Museum in Brooklyn, run by the Transit Authority, was one of my most favorite parts of my time in New York City.

How cool is this entrance??

On Thursday, still excited from my wonderful meeting with Lori, I headed over to Brooklyn to visit the Transit Museum (and the Pierogi Gallery later that morning, AND some good Vinnie’s Pizza, AND THEN Coney Island!).  After a weird Dunkin Donuts experience and walking the wrong way for a while because the NYPD cop on the corner lied and said the museum was right down that road, I finally found the entrance to the Transit Museum.

I descended down the steps into a subway station that has been cut off from the running lines.  At the “ticket booth” I asked for Lynette Morse, and then we went down to the tracks for my meeting with the educator.  As I mentioned before, the site contains many trains from throughout the subway history that visitors can go through and explore.

I had heard a lot about the opportunities that the Transit Museum offers to children with special needs from other museums I had met with throughout the week, from the MAC website, and from Lori the previous day.   I was excited to see and hear first-hand about these offerings.  Lynette and I chose a train car to sit in and began our conversation.

When these programs first got started, the museum had a goal to focus on better programming for the audiences that were already coming to visit the museum.  There were many special education groups visiting, but there wasn’t any special programming in place yet.  Students were visiting to study New York history and compare the past to the present.  This museum is perfect for the students to be immersed in history, since it is an actual historical site.

Many of the older student groups that were coming to the museum has more severe disabilities and they were there to learn life skills such as how to ride the subway.  Since the trains there are in a safe environment, don’t move, and are similar to the “real” trains in the city, this is the perfect place for students to learn.   Visitors to the independent living program would come to the museum multiple times to learn about safety and proper behavior on a train.  For instance, students were taught not to stare at people, how to sit or stand depending on the other people on the train, where to sit, how to interact with other people and more.  One of my favorite anecdotes about this program is the involvement of the staff.  During this program, many staff members participate as “angry New Yorker subway riders.”  They even have staff act as panhandlers to teach the participants how to interact (i.e. – don’t reach in and take money from the panhandlers’ cups).  This is a great example of a museum really interacting with its community not only to tell the history of the site, but to also help the visitors with their needs.

Another opportunity the site has is an after-school program called Subway Sleuths.  This program meets once a week for ten weeks and is offered to students with autism.  The program helps to build social and communication skills while also teaching some history.  Subway Sleuths teaches the history of transit, electricity and science, and more.  This is EXACTLY what I was looking for in my research, and this is a great model for other sites!  The students have the opportunity, in the safe subway station environment to put their hands on the history.  They also learn social skills by using historical objects and situations.

The museum works with special education teachers and speech and language pathologists in addition to their museum educators.  Their programs are very popular with around 8 classes coming to the museum per week.  The museum employs one educator to work with students in the 4th grade and above and another to teach pre-K to 3rd grade.   The educators also have degrees in Special Education as well as museum education backgrounds.

Subway Station Exhibits

The museum is also not just modifying existing programs for special needs students but creating all new programming opportunities.  One program uses a visual magnetic board with images.  This can help students to build on what they already know.  In the train cars, students will look for five things such as lights, seats, doors, advertisements, holds, or other features.   They will then compare and contrast these characteristics in trains from various time periods.  If they start at the newest train and work their way back, they will realize that as they go back in time there is no longer air conditioning, plastic, etc.  This site is really perfect for immersion in history and being able to truly time-travel to see the changes.

In structuring tours for children with special needs, the educators saw that language was important.  Educators use the inquiry method: “is this train newer or older than the last train we were in?”  Thinking about using language in a particular way can be over-whelming.  Using declarative language can also be helpful in getting students to talk.  Educators might say, “This train looks really old to me!” to elicit responses from students telling what it is that they notice about the train.

Programs are evaluated by teachers and parents.  In the past, teachers were given a one page evaluation with a postage-paid envelope.  Unfortunately there was only about a 29% return rate of these evaluations.   Teachers are busy, as we all know, and sometimes evaluations can get lost in the slew of lesson plans, teaching, and being in the classroom.  Now the museum asks teachers to write bullet points to evaluate how children are doing and progressing, they ask the parents for feedback, and they make sure there are different goals for each child to meet.

Overall, this is one of the best museums I have been to.  The whole site is interactive, there are things to touch and climb on, visitors can pretend to drive a bus, hand out subway tickets, and go through old-timey turnstiles.  The museum even incorporates science and technology into the history through discussions of electricity and production.  I wish I had had more time to go through the museum and enjoy all aspects, but instead, I will post some pictures below from my adventures at the Transit Museum.

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Accessibility at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum

Tenement Museum Visitor Center

The Tenement Museum has been on my radar since taking Museum Studies classes with Dr. Robert Connolly and Dr. Leslie Luebbers at the University of Memphis.  It has been a beacon for community involvement and innovative programming, and it continues to be a pioneer for HISTORY museums in reaching out to populations with disabilities.  I was elated when Sara Litvin, an educator at the museum, responded to my emails and agreed to meet with me at the museum during my research trip.

In May, I ventured down to the Lower East Side and experienced 97 Orchard Street for myself.  The museum tells the stories of the people who lived in the tenement building on Orchard Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  The mission of the museum is, “The Tenement Museum preserves and interprets the history of immigration through the personal experiences of the generations of newcomers who settled in and built lives on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, America’s iconic immigrant neighborhood; forges emotional connections between visitors and immigrants past and present; and enhances appreciation for the profound role immigration has played and continues to play in shaping America’s evolving national identity.” (http://www.tenement.org/about.html)  This mission is seen throughout the museum and the programs and events offered by the museum.

97 Orchard interior stairs, from http://www.tenement.org/about.html

97 Orchard interior stairs, from http://www.tenement.org/about.html

Visitors may only visit by taking a guided tour of the building.  The museum offers many tours including, Hard Times, Sweatshop Workers, Irish Outsiders, and Exploring 97 Orchard Street.  They also offer school group tours, and community involvement opportunities.

I attended the Sweatshop Workers tour on my visit to the museum.  It was a rainy, overcast day when I visited, which seemed a fitting atmosphere for visiting this historic site.  We began by walking up the steps of the tenement at 97 Orchard Street into a dark hall.  The tour group then climbed the steps, holding on to the original banister that so many people in the past had held before us.  We continued on to the Levine family apartment, which was used not only for living, but also for running the family’s garment industry business.

Photo by Jacob Riis of the garment industry and tenement life

We looked at primary documents related to the neighborhood, garment industry, and reforms, and also looked at the artifacts and furnishing that were typical to tenement family rooms.  Next we went to the Rogarshevskys apartment to learn about the Jewish family and their struggles with keeping the Sabbath while their daughters were employed in garment factories that required them to work on their Holy Days.

Standing in the same building where these people from the past lived and worked, looking at the artifacts they used each day, and hearing the sounds outside the tenement evoked feelings that wouldn’t be possible in another location or artificial setting.  This brings up the question of, how do people with special accessibility needs experience this site to the same degree as those who are at the physical location?

Accessible options in the visitor center

The accessibility section of the museum website offers touch tours for people with sight impairments and sign language tours for people with hearing impairments.  The orientation film is captioned for those with hearing impairments, and braille and large print versions of primary sources are also available upon request. Additionally, in the Visitor Center, there is an “Accessible Learning Center” which includes a talking tablet and a tablet with a raised façade of the main building and floor plans for people with sight impairments to “see.” I really enjoyed the tactile tablet, in spite of being able to see the site and the building.  It explains various aspects of the museum that weren’t explained on my tour.  This is yet another example of the positives of universal design… the product is designed for those with disabilities, but the entire population can benefit from it.  I can also see this as an interactive that (supervised) children could enjoy when not being utilized by the intended population.

The “talking tablet” with raised facade and floor plan

The historic building offers many challenges to people with disabilities, especially those with physical disabilities or difficulties.  The front building is accessed by several steep steps to the front door, and once inside, visitors are greeted by the original, old wooden staircase which must be traversed to experience the guided tour.  The website does offer other opportunities for those using wheelchairs or other implements, including, a new exhibit opening in 2012 called, “Shop Life”, which will explore the many businesses housed at 97 Orchard Street. This will be the Museum’s first-ever wheelchair-accessible exhibit at 97 Orchard Street. The exhibit is still under construction at this time, but updates are available on their blog, including this one about construction progress.  The event called, “Tour the Neighborhood” is wheelchair accessible, and during the winter, the “Foods of the Lower East Side” is held in a wheelchair accessible room.   Additionally, the Visitors Center is has universally designed elevators and restrooms on the ground level.

Front of the historic building

There is also a “virtual tour” which benefits not only people with disabilities that can not visit the historic building, but really anyone who wants to experience the site without a visit to New York City.  This tour is available on their blog at: http://www.tenement.org/Virtual-Tour/index_virtual.html

More information about accessible features at the Tenement Museum are available online by clicking this link.   Really, there is a ton of information on their website and blog, and I could spend hours research and telling you all about it.  I’m not going to do that, but you should check it out!!

The website does not address programs for children with special needs (which is central to my research), but in my discussions with Sara at the museum, I did learn a lot about the opportunities they are taking advantage of and fine-tuning to reach that audience.  In general, their programs are modifications of the programs that are already in place rather than all-new programs developed for students with special needs.  The next blog post I will publish will be a Q&A on museum programs and disability with Sara Litvin from the Tenement Museum.

Accessibility at the Jewish Museum, NYC

When I started researching museums that are working extensively with accessibility, especially accessibility for people with cognitive, developmental, or learning disabilities, I was fortunate to find the Museum Access Consortium of New York City.  This was one of the main reasons I chose New York City as my main research hub; there is a huge concentration of museums, and the citizens of the metro area value and support museums to a greater extent than many other areas of the country.  The MAC website led me to several different museum websites where I was able to learn about programs available to people with special needs.

The Jewish Museum

The first museum I visited was the Jewish Museum at 5th Avenue and 92nd Street, which is principally an art museum.  There I met with Dara Cohen, the School Programs Coordinator.  The museum offers several types of programs for people with special needs including: access school programs,  visitors with sight impairments, hearing impairments, dementia, and learning or developmental disabilities.  The museum also works with all general access groups including groups with autism, emotional disturbances, and more.

Our discussion focused primarily on their programs for learning and developmental disabilities.  The Jewish Museum adapted their current programs for special needs groups that cater to groups with fewer children.  The museum has specific access educators and hopes to train all educators sometime soon.  Educators contact the school teacher in advance and talk with the teacher to adapt the programming; this provides more avenues for participation by the students.  Dara made it clear that even with planning, there is still a lot of “on your feet” teaching and critical thinking involved with presenting programs to children with special needs.

Accessibility at the Jewish Museum

Being an art museum, the programs are very visual; they have a studio art component for all elementary age groups and access groups of all ages.  For participation they might pick out a shape from the art piece and hold it, look at it, make the shape with their body, count the times the shape appears, etc.

The museum also holds  Sunday Workshops 4 times per year, that are open to the whole family, not just students.  The audience is generally people with learning and development disabilities. This program was adapted from MOMA and Met offerings that were changed to fit the Jewish Museum.  Dara estimated that 95% of students who attended these workshops have autism, a small percentage have Down Syndrome, and the rest of the percentage is made up of other disabilities or multiple disabilities.  In the morning, the workshop is set up for children ages 5-17, which generally seems to skew to the 5-12 age group.  The afternoon is for 18+ adults.   Tours are led by an access educator, and they have gallery and studio time for a total time of 1-1.5 hours.

Kehinde WIley, Napoleon leading the army over the alps, 2005

A recent example of a Sunday workshop activity was done in conjunction with the Kehinde Wiley exhibit.  The group spends half an hour in the gallery with the works of art, and the gallery guide engages all members of the family with the art and subject.  Wiley’s art is generally a African American male subject in traditional portrait form with an elaborate backgrounds which are inspired by Jewish paper cut-outs.  In the studio, the family has a photocopy of one of the subjects that they can place on different backgrounds to explore how background, color, and shape can change the mood and expression of the art.  In the studio, the family creates a paper cut out from butcher paper that they can use as their own background for a family portrait taken in the studio.  Parental involvement is important at these workshops, and the museum wants to expand into a family day event with school partnerships.  Attendance at the workshops varies, but including the family (siblings, parents of the special needs child) there are usually 15-20 people in attendance, with 7-8 of the attendees being the special needs child/adult.  These programs are fully funded through grants, and they are free for the families.

Dara is responsible for all access educator training, and the group of educators meet 4-5 times a year to duscuss teaching strategies about specific art pieces, listen to talks by consultants to help on certain things such as dementia, general management, strategies, different disabilities, and more.

The Jewish Museum started creating these programs to expand and diversify their audiences.  They looked at who was coming to visit the museum, and then explored how they could better serve them.  It seems as if art museums have an easier time at adapting programs and drawing in the special needs audience.  One reason for this might be that art museums are more about experimenting with concepts and the abstract.  Concepts at history museums are somewhat more challenging to adapt.

Some tips that the Jewish Museum shared when working with special needs audiences are:

  • Sometimes open-ended questions can be very abstract.  If students are struggling to respond verbally to open-ended questions, try asking more concrete questions or narrowing the focus (i.e. focusing on a particular part of the painting like the figure or the figure’s clothing or the sky instead of asking general questions like “what’s going on in this painting”)
  • Sometimes yes/no questions can be useful, despite the fact that museum education courses usually stress the importance of asking open-ended questions.  Yes/no questions should be used in conjunction with open-ended questions, and with other activities that allow students to participate non-verbally (i.e. through sketching, movement exercises, etc.)
  • Giving the students the language to use helps (is this hard or soft?)
  • Reaching out to accessibility groups benefits other groups and the museum as a whole (wheelchair ramps can be used by people with strollers or knee problems)
  • Sensitivity and awareness training is important – educators are not the only ones who need to be trained
  • Security guards need to have some level of training to be comfortable working with people is disabilities.

I had a wonderful time at the Jewish Museum (in spite of being 10 minutes late because of a subway mishap), and I want to thank the museum and Dara Cohen for having me and discussing their programs openly with me.

What’s the story with this dissertation?

Starting on Monday, I will begin a series of posts about my dissertation and research trip to New York City… but first….

What is the story with this dissertation that I’m writing?  I have a feeling that my blog posts are about to start reflecting a lot more about my research and dissertation in the coming months.  I don’t presume that any of you have taken the time to read my proposal or bibliography, and looking back at past posts, it doesn’t seem that I ever explicitly stated my intents.  So please allow me take a moment to explain…

I am currently researching and writing my dissertation, which is titled, “Serving Under-served Communities in Museums and Historical Organizations: Creating Meaningful Public Programming.

One of the most simple ways to explain this is to share my abstract, “Throughout history there have been many populations that have been discriminated against or ignored by institutions and organizations of all types.  The same is true of museums, and some might argue that those problems still exist today.   Even with the Americans with Disabilities Act it seems that museums and historic organizations are still behind in reaching out to and welcoming people with learning or developmental disabilities.  This dissertation will explore past and current relationships and attempts at inclusion of people with developmental or cognitive disabilities, and possible alternatives and programming developed specifically for secondary education students who are in special education classrooms at museums and historical organizations.  This dissertation will also include a model for museums to use in developing programming and welcoming under-served populations into organizations.”

The park where it all began…

I can pinpoint the exact moment that this idea first popped into my head.  In April of 2011, I was attending the National Council on Public History conference in Pensacola, Florida.  Each day we walked through a park, and on one of the last days, my fellow student Rebecca and I were strolling back to the hotel through this park.  A group of adults from an assisted living program were having a gathering at the gazebo.  As we walked by, I realized that I had not really ever seen programs for children with special needs at museums.  I immediately got excited and started spouting out ideas to a confused and excited Rebecca.

Looking back to my own experiences in education departments at museums and historical sites and organizations, I realized that there is a severe lack of opportunities for people with special needs or learning disabilities and in many cases the complete nonexistence of programming for this group of people. Through this process, I will create programs for special education students that help them also see the world as an interconnected, diverse place where all are welcomed to interact and engage with the various communities in existence.

I will present information about how museums react to learning disabled visitors, as well as sensitivity and awareness to issues regarding these visitors, especially at the secondary level.  Lastly, I will present a model for museums to use to develop specific programming and exhibits for people with learning disabilities.

Coney Island Sideshows and Museum

The historical context for this dissertation is found in information about institutions such as the Mutter Museum of Medical Curiosities in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and at the Sideshows of Coney Island, New York and other places around the world.   By looking at the past treatment of people with disabilities by museums and exhibits in the not-so-distant past, where they were essentially treated as exhibits instead of valued visitors, I will investigate the history of these exhibits and offer alternatives to this previous relationship.

The Main Questions that I will address are:

  • —  How people with disabilities, predominantly students in special education classrooms, can be better served by professionals in the public history field, principally through educational programs in museums and historical organizations.
  • —  The past relationship between museums and people with disabilities
  • —  The history of special education
  • —  The history of museums as collections of curiosities
  • —  Why students in special education classes are not taken on more educational field trips
  • —  What the obstacles and challenges are to taking students on field trips, and why field trips to museums or cultural organizations would be beneficial as field trip sites.
  • —  Explore user-friendly tactics for students, teachers, aides, and museum professionals and staff members.

There are several outcomes that I hope to gain from my research and dissertation.  First, through historical context I hope to understand how the past informs the present, especially in relation to the way museums view people with disabilities.  I also want to create a model for cultural organizations.  Once this new model is established and in use, a new audience will be able to visit museums, which benefits the visitors and the museum for obvious reasons.  The field trips that will result from the programs will provide new opportunities for special education students and teachers.  And lastly, the dissertation will provide guidelines and best practices for sensitivity, awareness, and welcoming new groups to the museum or cultural organization.

This dissertation will also carry over into the future in many ways.  I know that within the writing year I will not be able to do everything, so I will have future research problems and questions.   I will also need to continue to raise awareness and work on marketing the model to both museums and teachers.  Eventually I would like to publish my dissertation either as a manuscript or as separate articles.  I’ve also gained a pretty strong interest in freakshows and sideshow, and I would love to write a scholarly article or book about that topic as well.  Ideally, this process will lead to consulting and working with cultural organizations to implement programs.

If you or someone you know has experience with special education in museums, please comment below or pass along this survey for special education teachers!

Over the coming weeks, I will be starting to post information about my recent research trip to New York City and other information as it develops.  Please join me on this adventure and share your thoughts, ideas, or comments with me!